GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

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CHAPTER TWO

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:29 pm

"My Cernan is a watchful man, Vilthavia," said Elendis, "and little escapes his wandering eye in his protection of me, bless him, despite his many years. Therefore, I must assume that there is some merit in his observations of you."

Seeing the look of confusion upon the young Rhovanion's face she frowned slightly and offered further clarification.

"For example, how did you learn my name and for what reason?"

"Your name has been uttered many times by the men in this company since we left the vales, lady."

Vilthavia hesitated, realizing that his answer possessed a conspiratorial air to it. The frown deepened upon the girl's face at this so Vilthavia quickly amended his explanation and tried to sound more confident.

"That is to say, since you are the only lady among all us men the name of one so," once again he paused clumsily with a grin, "so - fair and feminine may be easily plucked from the air in the overbearing company of so many masculine brutes."

Elendis narrowed her brow for a moment at this before allowing a sudden giggle to escape her lips. She smiled as she brushed back a stray column of hair that peeped out beneath the front of her white shawl and hung loosely over her brow. Vilthavia quickly became aware of how lame his attempt at being coy and clever must have come off to her. He felt the urge to once again improve upon his failing attempt to sound intelligent in his flattery of her.

"It is not that I find the company of these men irksome, of course, yet you must admit that one such as myself might hardly be blamed by becoming somewhat - intrigued by your situation."

"Do I have a 'situation', as you say?" she asked him, her smile slowly disappearing. "If so I was not aware of it."

"A young woman alone among a company of grim and older men would be considered as such by many, I would guess. You will forgive me if I seem curious, I hope."

The horse that stood next to her was begining to get impatient with idleness by now, and began to snort loudly as it bobbed its head up and down three times. Elendis uttered a few brief calming words into the beast's ear as she patted him softly.

"I may forgive you, assuming you continue to speak fairly of me, Vilthavia," she said as she turned back to him. "At least you are more modest than the other young men who seek an audience with me."

Vilthavia began to realize that she had misinterpreted his introduction as an attempt at flirtation. He had certainly not meant to do so before he had approached her, but knew it must have seemed so to her. She went on.

"The others were more direct and even uncouth. None of them hold my interest anyway, for I am not interested in such matters. Yet even had they swayed me, this is a most unsuitable place and circumstance for courtship. I told them so straight away. I think it best if I proclaim that fact right now."

Elendis fell silent for a moment as she awaited a response from Vilthavia, who simply nodded and said nothing. Off to their right they could hear ther voice of Wildaria speaking privately to Vilthavia's uncle and Vidui, who also stood by. Vilthavia turned his head and looked in their direction but could not make out their words. He guessed that they were dicussing himself and his decision to abandon the journey and return to the Anduin vales. The chieftain, who had had little or nothing at all to say to the young Vilthavia thus far had been observing him with a curioius eye now from a distance as he held discourse with Elendis.

"What, may I ask," inquired Elendis again, "seems to be ailing you, Vilthavia? It must be serious for you to hike all the way back down the mountain side alone."

"By body is not adapted for such high elevations, alas," he replied, glancing back at her but avoiding her eyes for embarrassment. "I feel like my abdomen shall come up through my throat the higher up we go."

"I am sorry for you. Yet are there not herbal concoctions that may be consumed to remedy such illnesses? I am sure that our men travel with such things, for you are not the only one among us who suffers thus."

"I know it well. I have just finished drinking just such a medicine and am beginning to feel its effect. Yet one can only consume so much medicinal tea before exhausting one's supply. They say that the journey is long and everyone must conserve what they have in their baggage in case of emergencies. Besides, the tea that I drank was not my own."

"I could instruct Cernan to give you some of what we possess if it would sustain you long enough to cross these mountains," offered Elendis. "He looks large and threatening but it is mostly a ruse, really. He will do what I ask of him."

Vilthavia looked again into her eyes and at length ventured to offer Elendis a warming smile in return for her kindly offer. He was a little susrpised to see her crook her lip slightly in token of a brief grin. Vilthavia felt a stab of tenderness emerging through the girl's tough-seeming countenance.

"You are kind to be sure," said Vitlhavia, "but I must return home. I am afraid that I joined this expedition on a bit of an immature whim and now I ought to go back and fulfill my obligations at home while I still can. I have had my opportunity to see the wide world and now it is over. Yet, as I mentioned a few moments ago, I did want to extend my humble good wishes to you and the others for a safe and uneventful trip into Eriador."

"Very well," replied Elendis with a shrugg of her shoulders. Her brief glimpse of tenderness was again replaced by a more remote indifference; almost as if it were a well practiced technique she had mastered to shield her from emotional harm. "I thank you, Vilthavia. Yet let our errand be not too uneventful. I want to see more of what these mountains may offer in terms of excitement and wildlife. Do you know that the rare red-horned mountain stag inhabits some of the highest elevations of these high passes? Cernan says that the females are in heat at this time of year and climb up to the upper paths of the mountains where the males do battle with their horns with one another in competition. They are among the largest beasts of their kind and tis said that their meat is a delicacy among the folk on the other side of the mountains. A pity that you shall miss it."

These last words were nearly drowned out by a sudden gust of wind that swirled through the campsite and made both Elendis and Vilthavia shudder. Elendis winced at the high-pitched windy howl. One of the men in the company cursed loud enough for Vilthavia to hear him as the man's hat got away from him and bounced across the stones before plummeting over a steep drop. There would be no retrieving it now.

Vilthavia was about to make his final comments to Elendis before taking his leave from her when he suddenly heard the angry voice of his uncle nearby. Vitlhavia and Elendis turned to see the burly Urlavia striding over towards them with a dark scowl upon his face.

"What is this I hear about you, nephew?" Vilthavia knew the man was wroth with him, for he always called him by his familial title as opposed to his name when he became angry.

"What is wrong with you now?" Urlavia came up towards Vilthavia now with Vidui close behind him. "It is always something with you! What disordered malady do you suffer from today? Stubbed your toes on the rocks? Sore feet? Maybe you caught a whiff of cold and can't breathe through one of your nostrils? Blast it, boy! You must learn to endure such discomfortures in order to achieve your manhood. Now I hear that you desire that I escort you back down the mountainside so you can take your leisure along the banks of the Anduin? Is that true?"

Vilthavia was shocked at his uncle's angry tone and felt a renewed sense of embarrassment at this sudden chastisement by him in front of Elendis. Many others among the company had paused in their taveling preparations to observe the angry scene.

"Uncle," began Vilthavia nervously, "I am stricken with the altitude sickness. The leech men have already proclaimed it as such. Two others also have the same illness it seems."

"I warned you that things were different up here, did I not? Before we left the vales I told you what to expect. Yet you insisted that your consitution would endure it. Now it is time for you to live up to your word - for once in your life."

"Urlavia!" protested Vidui, who had come up beside Vilthavia in his defense. "Your tongue wags before your head has the chance to comunicate to it! I was the one who counciled Vitlhavia to reconsider the journey forward and return home. The boy wanted to remain with the company and I found it difficult to persuade him. Therefore do not slight him his bravery!"

Urlavia, who was himself somewhat of a hulking figure in stature, turned his gaze to Vidui and frowned at him.

"Silence, young Vidui! I have not addressed you. You interfere with a private matter here - as is your wont. Yet I might have expected it. If you think it better that the lad abandons the journey now than it should be you, not I, who must escort him back down the mountain. I shall not turn back at this point. I shall not suffer myself to be so punished by his errors!"

"Uncle Urlavia," intervened Vilthavia hastily, "You are my mother's brother! Did you not openly promise in my mother's presence to accompany me and look after me on so long a road? Would you break such a promise to her now?"

"Would that you had heeded her council to remain in Rhovanion! Yet I promised your mother that I would see you safely through the Misties and into Eriador. We have yet to embark upon that stage of the quest. But not unknown to you at the time of our agreement was the fact that I am obliged to come into Rhudaur at a predetermined date - no later than the first half of the ninth month of the year, as the men of Rhudaur reckon it. I would be risking much to turn around now simply to accomodate your exagerated ailments. Such a backwards path might cost me my position with the king of Rhudaur himself! Nay! I will not have it! Let Vidui escort you back down to the vales if he will, but I cannot."

All eyes then turned to Vidui, who stood uneasily alongside Vilthavia. Though no one spoke it aloud it was plain that they awaited his reply to Urlavia's last suggestion. Knowing his friend's heart-felt desire to come into Eriador, Vilthavia spoke for him.

"It is not the place of Vidui to do such a thing when a family guardian - such as yourself, uncle - is present. You dishonor my mother by abandoning me."

These words struck deep into the well of anger that seethed inside of Urlavia, and as a result the uncle sought to increase the growing abashment that the nephew was experiencing before so many of his onlooking companions.

"What is it that really ails you, Vilthavia?" asked his uncle with deliberate suspicion. "Is it your fear of high places again? Aye! that is it, is it not? Your feet will not willingly tread the high passes without shaking at the knees. I had thought that you had conquered this old fear of yours by now. Well, I fear it is a little late for such second thoughts, nephew."

"Nay, you mistake me," chimed Vilthavia quickly. His uncle ignored the protestation.

"Will you always be subject to this obstinate and irrational fear? You should have told me of it ere we left Rhovanion and saved both of us much trouble."

"I do not deny that I take no joy in high places, uncle. Yet I would not allow such a petty obstacle alone prevent me from continuing forward and inconveniencing the entire company. I had no clear idea that my body would react so violently to these altitudes."

"We here possess among us herbal remedies that forbear such ailments that you describe. You know this well enough. I, for one, will donate my current stock of them to you right now, for I need them not. Others, too, might be induced to give you theirs as well, no doubt."

A scattering of nearby voices, men who had been listening to the words between uncle and nephew, called out that they would lend Vilthavia whatever medicinal needs he might require in order to sustain himself long enough to cross the mountains. Urlavia nodded his head in affirmattion of this.

"There it is, Vilthavia," he said to his nephew with a grunt of finality. "You have the support and sympathy of many of your companions - some of whom I doubt you have even bothered to acquaint yourself with yet. Now you may go forward with one care the less to fret about. Yet as for your fear of high places..."

"Urlavia!" interceded Vidui again. "A private word with you aside, if you please."

Vidui stepped up to Urlavia and made a gesture with a crook of his head for Urlavia to speak with him behind a pair of lonely evergreens nearby. Urlavia shook his head in denial at first, saying that time did not allow it, but eventually relented at Vidui's urging. The two men then spoke together alone behind the trees, leaving Vilthavia quite alone for the moment, as Elendis, not wishing to add to Vilthavia's embarrassment, had withdrawn with her horse to rejoin Cernan. All others were now nearly ready to depart for their morning hike up into the high passes.

"Urlavia," spoke Vidui seriously, "it is not the boy's fear of heights that lends weight to his desire to return home, but rather the fulfillment of his obligations to his family at home. He and his mother, as you may know it, parted on sour terms. She did not wish for Vilthavia to depart as such. It is a hard thing for a mother of an only child to do, as you must understand."

"You dare lecture me on the merits of parenthood, Vidui; you who have born no children of your own? I have two sons of my own. By the time that they reached the same age as Vilthavia - nay, even younger - I had already sent them out into the world at large. My oldest boy is now a successful rancher with a lucrative farming family nigh the lakelands of dale in the north. Two years have come and gone since we have last seen one another, yet I do not regret it. My younger boy shall soon begin his training as a page with a Gondorian man-at-arms and will relocate to the city of Osgiliath in the far south. It may be years more ere I see him again. Yet neither he nor me would have it otherwise. It is good for youths of their age to make these long journeys; to bring out the man in them that so longs to come out from inside them. I believe the same thing here in my nephew's case. He is soft - too soft for his own good. I do not think that this so-called 'ailment' of his, which I guess to be little more than aggravated nausea, will hold for long. He is merely uneasy about all of it. This mountain hike will strengthen him, Vidui. It is for his own good, I say."

"I, too, willingly left my home in Rhovanion to travel early, Urlavia," explained Vidui, "yet not all youths come of age in such parallel courses. I know not your two boys nor how they bear themselves in such curcimstances. But Vilthavia is not ready for this quest yet; to search and roam the wilds of Eriador in search of his lost father - who may or may not even be alive by now; to say nothing of traversing the heights of the Misty Mountains. Frankly, I am shocked that you would so willingly assist him in so hopeless an endeavor."

"Is it for me to dash to pieces the boy's fondest desires? He longs for his father! Can one blame him for that? Yet you speak as if Eriador is teeming with wild enemies and villains just awaiting the opportunity to snatch up the boy forever and send him some place far away to wither away in a state of thralldom. Rhudaur is governed by a respected and well-intentioned king. Denethil still holds his kingdom in a state of peace."

"I speak not of Rhudaur in particular," argued Vidui, "but of the whole of Eriador, which, if the tidings be accurate, has begun to fall into decline as it experiences further infiltrations of foreign incendiaries harassing unsuspecting folk on the roads. I am sure you have heard of such reports yourself."

"The same may be said," replied Urlavia with a dismissive wave of his hand, "of our native Rhovanion. Yea, for several years now the unruly Easterlings nigh Rhun and south of there have been conducting their raids upon us with deadly effect. Yet where is your call of alarm in this? Indeed, I think it safe to proclaim Eriador safer than Rhovanion by far, for at least the Dunedain still thrive in the lands that once made up old Arnor and strive to keep evil at bay with mostly successful results. Therefore, your logic is flawed."

"Urlavia! The boy misses his father, no doubt, but he does not truly long for him. Nay, rather he genuinely longs for a reunification with his mother, who is, as it seems to me, Vilthavia's only true parent. It is she whom he truly loves, not his absent father."

"My sister entrusted me to look after her son on his journey to locate his father and I shall do so. She will thank me upon our return for it, you shall see. All shall be well."

"What is it that truly drives you so, Urlavia?" Vidui deliberately spiked the question with an air of suspicion. "You and I go to the same place once we arrive in Rhudaur: to Cameth Brin and the court of King Denethil. Yet vague have you been thus far with your reasoning. You already know that I have prearranged business with the prince Ermegil and will serve under his employ. I have the official papers to prove it. But what about yourself? You have stated that you seek to buy and trade in horses, and that may be so, but why such haste? You could escort Vilthavia back down into the vales and then hire more men to accompany you back up the mountain again. There are always men enough that seek to cross the mountains on various errands."

"No I may not!" exclaimed Urlavia with a scowl. "The weather shall not permit it! Winter arrives early in the high passes. Such a delay as you suggest might cost me fifty gold crowns in hiring enough men to do the return job. That is to say nothing of what it would cost me in lost revenue with this present stock of mares that we have here. Many of these beasts are already spoken for even as we speak by the king's men in Rhudaur. I cannot afford such a loss, Vidui, and I will not stand for it."

"I will personally compensate you for any loss that you might experience once we are settled in at Cameth Brin. You have my word on it, Urlavia."

Even as he spoke they heard the last call for marching orders by the chieftain and his bodyguards. Nearly all else were packed up and ready to depart on the next stage of their lofty journey. Urlavia shook his head at Vidui and scoffed at his offer.

"You shall repay me? Ha! With what? Nay, nay - stay your wagging tongue, Vidui. Do not go on. Vilthavia shall complete the journey over the mountains and be quite safe. There! I have done with it. You have delayed me long enough with this. I must speak with Wildaria regarding other matters now. Get yourself and, since his welfare concerns you so, get my nephew ready to leave at once, or you shall both be left behind. I will speak with him later."

There was nothing else to be done about it. Vilthavia would have to endure whatever illness or inner fears that plagued him now and face the crossing of the Misty mountains.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER THREE

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Oct 14, 2010 6:55 am

Vilthavia was given little time to come to terms with the predicament that now loomed before him, and he found little sympathy with those of his companions that had witnessed the disagreement between uncle and nephew. 'The boy should have known better than to attempt such a quest', said some of them. 'He cannot expect to inconvenience the entire company due to his lack of foresight', said others. 'Let this serve as a lesson to him! If he falls into peril than surely the blame will lay upon himself', was another popular claim. Yet there were a few that felt badly for the young Rhovanion; not just for the sake of his innate fears of mountains and high places, but equally as much for the callous uncle that was charged to look after the boy by the latter's mother.

Urlavia became aware of some of the men's disapproval of his treatment of his nephew and, though not by nature an empathetic man, he was no fool either and he had no desire to earn the scorn of his companions - men who just might be required to save his life in some unforeseen calamity that might present itself over the next few days of mountain travel. Therefore, he made an effort to stay near Vilthavia as the company progressed up into the upper elevations of the high passes and the weather became colder and the snow deeper. Further still, whenever his obligations as one of the party's guides would afford it, Urlavia would fall back in the marching order and speak softly with his nephew for several moments of various topics, such as what to expect once the company came down into Eriador and what folk he deemed it wise to trust and those that would be better off avoided. When the company would be required to resume a single-file progression over some narrow walkway that sported a sheer drop to one side, or if Vilthavia would begin to lag behind due to a bout of nausea or dizziness, Urlavia would speak words of encouragement in his ear and assure him that they had already passed the half-way point and the remainder of the journey would begin to descend downwards towards Eriador.

On the afternoon of the third day of the company's march the weather had finally taken a turn for the worse. By mid-morning the sky had become exceedingly dark and gray and threatened the travelers with heavy clouds that brooded trouble for any that dared to traverse the heights of the Misties. The threat did not go unnoticed, however, and Wildaria ordered the party to halt while the scouts went ahead to get a lay of the mountains and the way ahead. The decision proved to be a wise one, for the scouts had not even time to return to the group before the winds suddenly escalated to a high pitch and swirling columns of heavy wet snow began to fall all about them. They had been fortunate thus far, as only a few bare inches had bothered to accumulate around their ankles since their hike had begun four days ago, yet now it surely seemed to threaten the entire company with an impasse that might stall them for some time.

There had been nowhere to take cover from the foul weather after it had struck. Most of the group sought to shield themselves by huddling together against a high wall of rock that jutted outwards, which would at least intercepted the brunt of the howling wind that churned around them. Wildaria had to shout in order for his orders to be heard - orders that consisted mainly of hobbling the legs of the horses and mules together as quickly as possible to prevent them from bolting off and also of securing the beasts of burden that shouldered most of the company's food supply. It was not an easy task, for the storm had frightened many of the horses and they neighed and whinnied loudly.

Vidui took special care of his own steed, Nightmare, and he smiled at his mare's bravery for exhibiting a mild and even passive disposition at the raging winds that seemed to scare the other beasts. He had trained her well and he knew it. He was proud of her and he began to harbor second thoughts about selling her once he arrived at Cameth Brin.

Vilthavia began to feel the hopelessness of his present situation now. Bitterness at his decision to accompany this wretched expedition in the first place threatened to gain mastery of all his senses. While others nearby scrambled to seek shelter or busy themselves with holding onto their possessions in the wind the young son of Hunthor and Yavinia dropped to his knees and sought to ward of the tears of frustration that welled up in the corners of his eyes. He felt the familiar pangs of despair inside himself, but he also felt the unexplained feeling of awe and utter fascination with the wild weather that raged violently through the mountainous peaks and highlands.

What was that terrible howling sound that echoed around him? How strange it was. He had heard the howling of powerful winds before when the storms of Rhovanion would slide over the plains and drench the lands with heavy rains but this was something much different. It seemed to him that the very mountains themselves possessed fell voices and they screamed in agony at cold tempest that pounded them from on high. Or were the mountains crying out in anger to the foolish travelers that dared to cross their forbidden pathways?

Vilthavia sat upon his knees in the snow that now nearly came up to his waist and shielded his eyes against the winds with his exposed fleshy hands. He ventured to crane his neck this way and that so that he could descry the lofty mountains around him. He could see little save blinding white mist and snow. He could not tell if the way they had been following thus far had indeed already begun its downward progression yet or not; nor could he even be sure of which direction that very pass now lay in, so blindingly harsh had the blowing snow so suddenly become. Yet he could see that the way off to his left presented itself with a steep grade downwards that was almost impossible for a man to scale unaided - least of all in inclement weather. There were a few large rocks with spongy shrubbery and, oddly enough, little pale yellow wildflowers that sported white-hearted centers. They seemed strangely out of place to him at that moment. It was if they existed to represent the last bastion of a short summer in the harsh climate of the high passes. The rocks and snow-covered greenery presented little else that would afford the clumsy hiker to grab hold of in case of a slippage incident in that direction.

"You must go out and retrieve the boy, Urlavia!" cried one of the men of the company who happened to be near him. "He has lost his senses it seems!"

Urlavia cursed under his breath at the sight of his nephew, who sat on his knees in the midst of the storm shielding his eyes. The boy needed fetching very soon or else he would risk losing his way in any attempt to return to the group. After a brief pause in order to rub the blowing snow from his brows Urlavia plunged back out into the raging blizzard and staggered out to where Vilthavia had halted and had become dazed.

"Confound it, Vilthavia!" shouted the boy's uncle in a rage. "Your wits have flown away with the wind! Remove yourself from this spot and return to the group at once! What are you thinking, you fool?"

Vilthavia had barely even noticed his uncle's approach. He heard the words that were barked at him from behind but he didn't comprehend them in his trance-like state. The boy was sure that the howling winds contained some kind of mystical haunted voice that sought to speak to him. He had not been sure of it at first, which would account for his awe-struck countenance at present, yet the more he listened and refrained from moving the more certain was he that a high fell voice was mingled amidst the chaos of the storm. He grimaced and clenched his teeth as he forced himself to endure the cold blowing snow in the air that hammered his face. He felt strangely rooted in place now. He tried to move his feet but something seemed to be interfering with his muscular will, as if the screaming wind beckoned him to remain still. Was that a voice that he heard among the rushing winds? Or were there several voices? A moment or two passed and the imaginary voices ceased. Did he imagine it?

No. There could be little doubt about it. There it was again! Not the voice of his irksome uncle, who now labored through the snow towards him, but a hissing cry that contained barely audible spoken words - or no! Not spoken, but rather a menacing incantation in a tongue that Vilthavia had never heard before. Sometimes it was here and sometimes there, as when the winds would rise up for a brief thrashing about, and then again it would disappear almost entirely, as if in between airily punches. The young Rhovanion felt a renewed sense of fear encroaching upon his already weakening spirits. Though he could not make out the words in the unfamiliar language he somehow felt utterly frightened at the sound of them.

The words were a product of complete unfamiliarity and horror to him as he sat as still as stone alone in the storm. He felt himself shudder uncontrollably. They were not easy to hear over the powerful winds that delivered the incantation to him on a rising and falling windy ebb. But he was sure that they were quite real and not merely some living or fell dream that he was now experiencing while wide awake. More than ever now did he bitterly regret his decision to leave his homeland.

"Vilthavia, curse you!" cried his uncle once again, who now grabbed hold of his nephew's shoulders in exasperated anger. "What are you doing? You shall be the bane of both of us ere this is all over!"

"Did you hear the voice, uncle?" asked Vilthavia in a panic-stricken voice as Urlavia layed hands upon him. "Tell me you heard that!"

Urlavia ignored the questions and sought to raise the boy up by seizing him under both arms.

"Stay a moment, uncle!"

Vilthavia struggled to free himself from his uncle's grasp in order to listen for the fell voice again. Yet whether the voice had disappeared now or else the dark chanting could not be heard over the wrathful curses of Urlavia, who renewed his efforts to dislodge the foolish lad from his present spot, Vilthavia heard the fell chanting no more.

"Get up!" yelled the uncle to his nephew. "On your feet at once! That's right! Now get back to the shelter of the wall!"

Vilthavia was unable to contend with the strength of his uncle despite himself, so he at last consented to the demand to retreat back to the 'safety' of the rest of the company. They both staggered wearily through the snowdrifts and churning winds until they had returned to the overhanging wall, which was barely any shelter in itself, but certainly better than remaining out in the open in such conditions.

Vilthavia labored past some of the bewildered men who sought to shield themselves from the winds and blowing snow until he reached the stone mountainous wall, where he collapsed in a heap. Despite the storm, he looked down at his exposed hands and saw that the tips of his fingers were white with numbing cold. If he could not find a way to warm them, he thought miserably to himself, they would slowly turn a shade of blue where frostbite would quickly set in thereafter. He plunged his hands inside his old fur-lined coat of soft leather and dug his fingers into the folds of his underclothes in order to seek a bit of warmth. His long dark locks upon his head were blowing wildly in the wind, covering his eyes and nose and obstructing his sight. Yet he did not care, for he could think of nothing around him worth observing at the moment.

His mind raced with incomprehension. If the winds had been severe a few moments ago while he sat outside the the group they seemed to suddenly pick up in intensity now. Surely none of them had ever experienced such an angry tempest before in all their lives. Many of the younger men among them cried out in renewed fear at the strength of these new sporadic gusts of furious white snow that now hounded them all. Then lo! The gusts themselves, which by their very nature come one after another in between short random intervals, suddenly joined together and became one long and uninterupted windy squall that did not abate. It was as if some monstrous heavenly dragon of ice had turned his evil wrath upon the travelers by letting out one long and intense exhalation of hellish wind upon the mountain passes with the intenet of sweeping them all clean of invaders.

In a word, Vilthavia was terrified. He heard himself let out a long and mournful wail that was incapable of being heard by anyone more than a few feet away. Without really knowing it he called out in vain for his mother but the words fell dead. He could think of nothing else to do now save curl himself up into a sort of ball and hug himself against the wall. His eyes were closed now as he huddled in abject misery amidst this almost supernatural fury that seemed to wish them all driven off of the mountains to their deaths. Vilthavia could feel his teeth chattering uncontrollably in his mouth - more through utter fear than of the cold, which was bad enough in itself. He forced himself to open his eyes just enough to catch a glimpse of the outside world around the base of the wall and his feet, which were now submerged in the snowdrift. He was sure that the wind gusts now blew completely horizontally over the mountain passes. How long would it last? How long could he or his companions endure such a horrific blizzard? Surely this could not be a normal occurrence among the high passes or no one would ever venture to tread them. The haunted and obscure - even hellish chanting that he had momentarily heard a few moments ago lent weight to his assumption to be sure.

Suddenly the terrified neighing of some of the closer horses and mules rose up above the chaos around them, indicating that something was happening. Vilthavia then heard the cries of two men that directly preceded several muffled thuds followed by panicky whinnying that quickly fell silent. Vilthavia boldly raised his head up a few inches in an irresistible urge to ascertain what had happened, though he thought he could guess at it.

The only thing he could see in the few seconds available to him ere the winds hammered his eyes closed again was that his nearest neighbor happened to be Vidui, who was also cowering in a fetal-like position. Possessing hair considerably shorter than Vilthavia, Vidui was able to see much better than his young friend and he had looked up just in enough time to two of the horses and one of the pack mules being swept off the side of the pass in the opposite direction from where he and Vilthavia now cowered against the wall. It was impossible to know just which horses had fallen prey to the winds, for anything more than a few yards away was incomprehensible in such white-out conditions. But Vidui, who had been unable to regain the ground where his beloved Nightmare had been just before the renewed fury of the storm, obviously feared the worst. He looked over to Vilthavia and met the latter's eyes only briefly as he cried out his mare's name as if to notify Vilthavia that his longtime four-legged companion was in extreme danger of being swept away off the cliff.

"Vidui!" shouted Vilthavia feebly. He then saw that Vidui now purposed to leave his present spot despite the powerful gusts of snow and wind in order to go and retrieve his mare. "No! Come back!"

Vidui either did not hear his friend or more likely ignored him. He then rose to his feet before stepping away from the rock wall where most of them huddled close together. Vilthavia knew that he was powerless to stop Vidui in the sudden panic-stricken madness that overcame his friend, and instead gave one last brief look at Vidui, who leaped out of the rising snowdrifts and disappeared into the white mountainous gale. Vilthavia shuddered and closed his eyes again.

He had just resumed his former position of shelter before flinching at what sounded like a tremendous snap from on high - a broken clap of thunder high up the mountain it sounded like to him. Again, Vilthavia cried out in misery at this new sense of dreadful foreboding, not knowing what might have caused such a loud and violent cracking sound. But then he felt a slight tremble beneath his feet. The mountain itself seemed to be quivering in its stony roots! Then he heard one of the closest men nigh to him utter a word that described what had most likely just happened somewhere in the snowy heights above them.

It was an avalanche.

Vilthavia swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes closed at this new revelation. They were doomed. His only thought now was about his impending death, which seemed near at hand now. Beyond doubt, he thought sadly to himself, they would all now perish up here in the lonely passes of the Misty Mountains. No trace of any of them would ever be seen again among mortal men. They would all soon go into that everlasting darkness where there is no return to light. Their lifeless bodies would remained entombed in the frozen snow and ice until next year's spring thaw, where only the scavenging beasts and carrion birds would welcome their presence as food for their own preservation. His mother would never come to know her son's final fate, for no tidings of it would be able to reach her ears over so long a distance. There would be no burial for the son of Yavinia, alas, and no comfort of closure would she ever receive from it.

Vilthavia lamented his present impending doom even as he felt the vibrations beneath his feet gradually grow stronger. The sound of a furious thunder could easily be heard rolling and sliding down from the heights of the mountain. He could now hear the cries of alarm and panic from many of the men now. Horses whinnied and bolted in terror. Many among the company, knowing what was about to happen and desperate to try anything rather than remain in the path of the avalanche, thought it better to try and run and scatter to any place where higher ground might be gained. There were only a few sturdy trees anywhere near the area and men clambered to them in a rush. If Vilthavia had bothered to raise his head and look round he would have beheld a most wretched spectacle. Those few that had reached the trees first were fending off their companions by way of reigning hard kicks and blows to their heads as the latter men threatened the integrity of the tree's strength by swamping their branches with their bodily weight. Those that could not find room to climb the trees cursed their companions before seeking higher ground anywhere they might find it.

Vilthavia refrained from turning round, though, and instead enleashed his tears. He was still thinking of his mother when he suddenly felt someone place their hands upon his head. Instinctively, he looked up to see who had come up to him and was surprised to see that it was Elendis. Her white shawl had blown clear away from her and Vilthavia saw her golden hair flapping and fluttering haggardly in the wind gusts as she hastily dropped to her knees beside him.

They were now huddling so close that they were practically on top of one another. The eyes of the two young travelers met and both then realized that the other had also been weeping uncontrollably, and this seemed to give the other some little bit of comfort amid the impending tragedy. She reached out her hands to Vilthavia and he quickly took them into his own in an air-tight grasp as they huddled agaist the overhanging rock wall.

"Men are fighting one another to gain the heights of the trees!" cried Elendis to Vilthavia. "They are mad with fright - like their horses!"

Vilthavia heard her words but did not offer a reply at once. He continued to hold his squinted gaze into her grey eyes and did not turn away. Elendis seemed suddenly very beautiful to him - more lovely than any creature he had ever seen. He no longer gave any heed to the calamity that threatened to devour them all, but instead just basked in this divine and unlooked for comfort and pleasure that this wonderful maiden, who now held his hands in a steely grip, now injected into him despite their impending doom. He felt he ought to say something to her, and decided to ask her if she wanted to go out and seek higher ground.

"Nay, Vilthavia," she replied stoutly, raising her voice to be heard over the wind. "Of what use will that be? We are better off where we are. At least we shall be together."

Elendis offered him a small heart-felt smile. Vilthavia forced himself to return the gesture by smiling in turn. Then, no longer able to contain the urge, Vilthavia embraced her and kissed her hard on her lips - the first time he had ever kissed a girl and likely the last. Elendis responded eagerly. Neither one of them were sure how long the kiss between them had lasted, but both were gladdened by it. But their instantaneous love was fated to be brief, for a sudden wave of snow, rock and ice tumbled down from the overhanging rock wall and crashed behind them before rolling away. It was the first shock of what was to immediately come afterwards.

"Here it comes! Brace yourself!" shouted Vilthavia in a renewed sense of panic. The two of them held each other fast and strong now.

"The Valar shall watch over us!" cried Elendis in genuine conviction despite her terror. The ground now trembled more than ever as the rolling white thunder now approached the location of the company. "Stay close to me, Vilthavia!"

"I love you, Elendis!" Vilthavia had marveled to her himself say such a thing to Elendis amid the horrendous waves of deadly wintry mix that now had reached their present location and fell down like the mountains of Aule himself above them. Yet the words arose from deep within his heart in true meaning at that fatal moment and he was glad he had proclaimed his feelings to her. Elendis again looked into his eyes, which were only a few short inches away from her own and held them there for a moment longer. She did not have time to offer him any reply, however, for the monstrous waves of rolling snow, rock and ice cascaded down from the overhanging wall high above them in a clamor that would have stiffled the cries of the vanquished Melkor in the older ages of the world.

The avalanche had reached them and they were helpless beneath it's fury.
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CHAPTER FOUR

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:57 pm

Silence permeated the upper mountain passes. The malevolent winds that had so violently churned through the rocky saddle point where the company of Rhovanion travelers had foundered had all but ceased now; they being naturally replaced by a more lazy variety of breezes that often immediately proceeded the more fierce and brutal winds of such tempests. The mountain path that they had all been following through the highlands was no longer to be seen, it being completely submerged beneath several feet of ice and snow. The force of the avalanche had subsided, leaving in its wake little that remained unaltered. What few trees that had been growing in the immediate area had been toppled and taken away by the momentum of the sliding snow where they and those men that clung so desperately to them for their salvation had been swept away, either further down the mountain, where it may be hoped that some few of them now lingered still alive, or swept down the steep grade that had caught Vilthavia's eye before the storm and plunged to their deaths down in the abyss. In short it was a scene of winter death.

Yet not all had perished. The unfortunate Vilthavia had no where to flee as the deadly avalanche struck, he being frozen with terror as he sat huddled against the sheer wall of the overhanging rock wall amid the hounding winds; nor did his fair-haired companion, Elendis of Rhudaur who cowered beside him. But it was this simple reason; their decision not to attempt a desperate flight at the last moment and instead to remain rooted in place where they sat that had ultimately preserved them from a certain death. They did not escape the effects of the avalanche, however. As the weight of the cascading debris from above had reached them and swept over them and such a terrifying speed, the overhang of the rock wall far above their heads had forced much of the snow, ice and frozen rocks to fly past them well behind their bowed backs. The last thing that Vilthavia saw before snow and ice fell down on them both like rain at the tail end of the disaster - for he had dared to look behind him to see why death had not taken them yet - was a monstrous wave of snow and rock falling down in a nearly uninterrupted sheet like some oceanic wave of snow amid the sea. Yet he and Elendis were momentarily untouched by its fury as it slid down the mountains. Despite the horror of that moment this miraculous and terrifying sight would stick in the mind of Vilthavia for years to come as one of his grandest and horrific memories.

Then the rain of snow and ice fell down on them both. He would not have imagined such a feeling of frozen burial could be possible. Both he and Elendis cried aloud in horror as they felt themselves quickly become entirely submerged beneath the weight of the snow. They had been holding each other so very tightly before the avalanche had reached them but the force of the falling columns of wintry mix had forced them apart, with Vilthavia suddenly feeling himself pulled outwards from the wall of rock with a sort of violent undertow caused by the momentum of the sliding snow. Had either one of them been so unfortunate as to have been struck by any one of a multitude of falling stones or chunks of jagged ice they would almost surely have perished. But their dooms were not so luckless as that of some of their companions who also found themselves trapped against the wall and unable to flee out of the path of the avalanche. The lovable, but somewhat over-protective Cernan, who was Elendis' temporary guardian over the mountains, was slain alongside his faithful yet venerable baggage pony, Clipper, who also perished beneath the force of the falling white wave of death. Two other men who were companions of Elendis and Cernan also perished in this manner. In all, of the fifty or so men from who had made up the ranks of the traveling party from Rhovanion, nearly half had been killed by the avalanche itself or were swept off of the mountainside to their deaths. Among these unfortunate souls was Wildaria, their leader and highly-valued chieftain, who died as he strove to save some of the horses by cutting lose the bonds that hobbled their legs together. In was a valiant but failed effort, alas.

None of this, however, was known to Vilthavia, who lay still as stone beneath a grey and oblivious weight of snow and debris. All was now utter dark and silent in his tomb of snow and ice. He felt nothing for what seemed a long while; only a sense of ethereal calm in both body and mind. Was he dead? Is this what it felt like to be trapped in the unknown life after death? His father used to speak to him of the Valar that dwell in the western heavens and would watch the unfolding of the world far removed from both sight and sound of men and elves. Had he himself died and was now waiting in the Halls of Mandos to be read his judgment?

While in this bizarre and mysterious state of frozen contemplation Vilthavia's mind began to race quickly from one random thought to another: one moment he was thinking about his mother and their little homestead back home and then the next moment he realized his mind raced to the exhilaration he felt upon his first real kiss with a woman's lips. Then his thoughts drifted to visions of frozen white waves of foam falling down from sky above before, just as briefly, turning to thoughts of warm embraces and the scent of Elendis, who he was sure he would have gone on to wed one day had he lived long enough to do so.

As instantaneous as a flash of lightning off in the distance, Vilthavia suddenly realized that he was not dead! How could he be if he was capable of controlling his thoughts as he now did? He was still alive. He had survived the deadly avalanche! Elendis had been right - the Valar were watching over them and protecting them after all! Yet despite this new and hopeful realization came that familiar sense of fear and dread that he had felt before being buried alive. Then the more physical aspects of his plight struck him, and he knew that his limbs were now painfully sore, bruised and well-nigh frozen to the bone. Breathing was difficult beneath so much snow and ice. He felt his pulse quicken as panic overcame him now. He could see nothing now. All was pitch black - black and impossibly cold. In which direction did he lay in? Which way was up? It all felt the same to him. How much snow lay above his head? Was he buried deep? He had no answers for any of these desperate questions. He tried to move his arms and succeeded in only doing so by a few laborious inches. His legs also seemed immobile. His sense of dread doubled now, for if he had broken his legs then he would surely die a slower and more agonizing death than those of his companions did. Or were some of them still alive? He tried shouting for help. The words seemed to fall dead at once, so he tried again and again. There was no response.

He then thought of Elendis. If he himself yet lived then so might Elendis. She could have very well survived just as he had done! This thought, more than any other at the moment, was what instilled Vilthavia with the necessary desire to emerge from his present state of icy entombment and rescue that lovely fair-haired young woman from a similar fate. Anger began to gain the mastery over his fear and he began to scream as hard as his weary and painful lungs would allow him to, all the while attempting to flail his arms wildly in whatever direction the weight of the heavy wet snow would yield to him.

At length his efforts began to see some success. He suddenly felt some of the cold weight on his right begin to lessen. He went on again and before long he began to wonder if his right hand had managed to pierce open an air pocket through the rough icy snow. If his fingers had not been so cold he would have felt the outside breeze on the tips of them. But at least two of his fingers were completely numb by now on that hand. Why was this effort so difficult? It was only snow, for God's sake!

Wrath overcame him. Vilthavia, who rarely ever cursed in any of the tongues that he was fluent in - it being deeply frowned upon by his mother, who was a strict disciplinarian by nature - could no longer keep his temper in check, and thus he screamed out some of the foulest and brutish obscenities that he could recall hearing from some of the younger men back home. Yet he did not regret this, for lo! A voice seemed to answer him from far off. It sounded strangely muffled and muted in its timber, the words unintelligible. Probably another poor wretch who had suffered a similar fate as himself, thought Vilthavia. If so he could not hope for any aid from whomever that man might be.

Vilthavia tried flailing his legs again. After a few frustratingly failed efforts he at least managed to kick a chunk of stubborn ice free from its grip upon his ankle deep down in the snow. He kicked again and felt something hard and sturdy beneath his left foot. Would that it would be the hard ground! Yet it was not. Most likely it was a stone or rock of some kind, for when he tried to use it as leverage by raising himself up upon it Vilthavia felt it give way and become too lose to be of much use.

The rage he had quickly felt in his overwhelming desire to be free from this disastrous live burial and entombment now began to once again give way to despair again. Vilthavia felt a throbbing in his head and, despite his near complete lack of vision beneath the snow, suddenly became aware that some of the snow by his left cheek had turned red. He was bleeding, to be sure. Somewhere upon his frozen face he was oozing blood - not much, by the look of it, but this was most likely because the snow and ice was acting to slow the blood loss. He would probably never be freed from his present state of helplessness and would slowly bleed to death. An inglorious end was his fate to be after all.

Just as he had decided it would be better to cease in his efforts and succumb peacefully to the fate that awaited him he heard a voice quite near at hand. It was a man's voice, and it was coming closer! In a last ditch effort of will Vilthavia, having no longer enough strength in his lungs to call aloud for rescue, waved his right hand back and forth and hoped that it just might be seen by the man who owned that hopeful voice. Little did he realize that his entire arm below the elbow had managed to punch open a pocket of snow and ice upon the surface of the debris and was now in full view of any would-be rescuer.

The next thing he knew Vilthavia felt his entire body slowly being raised upwards - or it might have been sideways, for he had lost all sense of direction beneath the deep snow. Then he was free. Free and alive! He had been rescued in the end. With one of his hands he sought to wipe away all of the crusty snow and ice from his eyes so that he could see the world around him. Little of what had been before the avalanche remained unaltered. It seemed that the entire landscape of the saddle point where the high pass snake its way through two rocky peaks had been well nigh swallowed up. He assumed it must have been past the mid-day hour by now but he could not be sure. All was grey and dim but the horrendous, almost supernatural, churning winds were now gone. Only a moderate breeze blew through the area presently.

"Glad am I to see you among the living, boy! It seems likely that we are among the few, alas."

Vilthavia crooked his throbbing head upwards to see the haggard figure of a man half covered by snow standing above him. He was grim to look upon, for he suffered from a cut to his forehead and a laceration upon his thigh. His reddish hair hung long and wet upon his cheeks and he held a scarred round gourd that he held out to Vilthavia. Vitlhavia did not take the gourd that was offered from him at once, and instead simply stared dumbly up at the man, trying to recall him.

"Do you thirst, son?" the strange man asked him. "Here! Take it and drink from it. It will lessen your pain, for I can see that you too are wounded."

Vilthavia continued to gaze up at the man as he sat there in the snow. After a few more moments had passed he thought he remembered the man, though he was at a loss as to what his name might be. Again, the man held the gourd out to him.

"Come now, son," the man said again with a frown. "I urge you to drink this, for what you are now experiencing is a delayed sense of shock at what has befallen us just now. Furthermore, you are shivering with cold, as might be expected. This beverage will slow the effects of cold, I assure you."

Vilthavia tried to stand up and found that even this was challenging. The red-haired man reached out his hand to steady him as he did so. For a third time he gestured for Vilthavia to drink from the gourd and Vilthavia did so. The liquid that flowed down from inside the gourd and into his mouth made him suddenly screw up his eyes in revulsion. It tasted something like a combination of sour milk with sweetener and wild rum, which he also disliked. He hastily spat out the beverage and wiped his mouth. The man's frown deepened at this and he shook his head.

"Do not do that again! This is a rare liquid opiate mixture that I obtained with great effort during my travels in the east. It's taste is strange at first to those who are unaccustomed to it, yet its restorative and healing properties are beyond question! If you will not indulge in its benefits than pray do not waste it, for there are others here beside you that shall not scorn it."

Vilthavia said nothing at first, but after sensing that the man's intentions were sincere, he slowly relented by nodding his head. He accepted the round gourd and squinted his eyes as he took a full drought of the liquid. It did not taste any better the second time around. He forced himself to quickly swallow the medicinal concoction in one heaving gulp and quickly handed the container back to the man. A silence ensued thereafter.

"There you are now. You are welcome," quipped the tall lanky man, not waiting for any open sign of gratitude from the boy. "Give it a moment or two. You shall feel its effect. I must move on and try and assist those who I may while I still can. If you are able to walk I would urge you to do the same."

The man began to turn away, but Vilthavia checked him by asking him his name.

"I am Ulric," he replied as he paused in his retreat. "I am the healer's helper and assistant - or least ways I was up until a short while ago. Our medicinal men are probably dead now; I don't know. Yet I shall not hold out much hope."

He went off to offer his aid to a man who had just called his name off in the distance. Ulric waved in acknowledgment as he quickly made his way through the high snowbanks towards the voice. Vilthavia knew that far off voice well enough, and did not need to turn his head and strain his sight in that direction to confirm the identity. It was his Uncle Urlavia, who had quite obviously managed to survive the avalanche somehow. Vilthavia felt a brief pang of disappointment that his uncle was not among those who were still missing and unaccounted for, and this feeling made him ashamed. Though he had no genuine love for his estranged uncle, he did not actually hate him. What reason had he for hatred? None at all, really. He was his beloved mother's older brother, after all. Like it or not he was family. And had Urlavia not openly offered to look after his sister's only son on his own expense of labor and coinage? True, Urlavia did scorn his plea to be excused from the expedition and was denied an escort back down the mountain, but to profess true hatred for the man was, to say the least, extreme.

He thought he heard Urlavia call out his name from off in the distance. He had obviously caught sight of Vilthavia and was shouting out at him to come down to his present location. Knowing that his uncle knew well enough by now that Vilthavia was aware of his presence, Vilthavia knew it would cause more problems for him in the long run if he were to ignore his uncle now and refuse to go to him. Yet, this he would not do - not until he had found his Elendis - that precious angelic beauty (as he was already calling her to himself) who might still be languishing beneath the fallen debris of snow and ice. He turned toward his uncle, who was now standing in waist-deep snow further down the terrain of the saddle point, and waved his hand at him in acknowledgement. But then Vilthavia turned, gathered his strength and ran through the snow up towards the rock wall where he and Elendis had been sheltering together.

It took several minutes of strenuous walking and striding through deep snow - it sometimes coming up to his neck - but at length he arrived to the place where he thought he had been before he became separated from Elendis. He did not have to look very long. There she was now- alive and well, thankfully, though she looked to be in pain by the grimace on her face. There too was his friend Vidui, who was stooped to his knees as he tended on the injured Elendis. Overjoyed to see both of them still alive Vilthavia called out to them, repeating the name of Elendis for emphasis. He waded through the cold snow banks in haste.

"Vidui! Elendis! What has happened? Elendis! you are hurt!"

Elendis, who had her back to Vilthavia at the moment, did not turn towards him at these words, but Vidui hailed him wearily. After much toil and labor, much more than he expected to encounter on his way up the covered hillside, Vilthavia pushed his way through the final mound of heavy snow and collapsed at their feet with heavy panting. He was physically exhausted in every limb now but, though he did not fully realize it at present, it was the cold effects of being submerged head to toe in so much snow and ice that was beginning to present the most danger to him. Vidui realized it by his first glance at his young friend.

"Vilthavia! I rejoice to see you, yet I see that you are in a bad way. Get over here close to the wall where the drifts are small. Quickly now! Yes, that it. You and Elendis must huddle close together in order to remain warm while I go about and look for survivors. I shall return as I may!"

With these few words Vidui rose and left them both much as they were before the impending arrival of the avalanche, save both were now wounded and suffering badly from exposure - particularly Vitlhavia, who seemed not to notice this much. He hunched down next to Elendis and wrapped his arms around her and would have embraced her tightly but for the obvious pain she seemed to be in. He looked down at where she was tenderly nursing her left arm. The sleeve of her coat and the fabric beneath it was ripped open and smeared blood was visible therein.

"Elendis, dear," said Vilthavia tenderly, "you have taken a grievous hurt! What happened?"

Elendis, who had not yet reciprocated Vilthavia's joy at being alive, did not answer him at once but rather cocked her head sideways and shot him an insipid glance of incomprehension, as if the answer to the question should be obvious under such circumstances. Vilthavia read her meaning in her eyes and immediately regretted the foolish question.

"Forgive me," he added quickly, hoping to brush over his untimely question. "It makes no difference now. My head is still clouded over, I'm afraid. Yet I would like to see your wounded arm if you can bear it."

"Why?" asked Elendis through her pain and clenched teeth. "Do you possess skill as a healer? If not, then of what avail shall it prove if you see it or not? It is maimed, suffice it to say! I am in pain and wish not to move it unnecessarily until it can be cast up somehow."

Vilthavia felt a trifle stung by the relative severity of her harsh reply but decided to dismiss it as a result of the shock of surviving an avalanche in the Misty Mountains - for how many others had succeeded in doing so and still lived to tell the tale?

"Elendis, at least try and stay close to me and absorb what bodily heat I still retain in me until Vidui or one of the others return to us. At least we are still alive! You and I! Take heart if you can, my dear, for we live! There is hope for us yet, for what other ill omen may assail us now after so evil a storm? I suspect the worst is now behind us, though I shall grieve to know the death count from all this. Yet we shall prevail, I assure you."

"'Death count'?" Elendis repeated his words. "You make the consequences of life and death sound callously cold."

"I am cold," replied Vilthavia with a shrug.

"Many of our companions are surely dead now, Vilthavia, as are our precious horses! Even the loss of one life alone is cause for mourning, that is to say nothing of many more than that. To simply make a running list of the dead and move on with the errand at hand is akin to..." she paused here as she shuddered, trying to think of the missing words she needed for her comparision. "It is akin to - to carrying out the heartless ways of the orcs of ancient Mordor in their ruthless wars against my people in the old days of the world."

Vilthavia wondered to hear her speak in such terms and again began to feel the bite of her chastisement of him at this vulnerable time. He had expected to be reunited with Elendis in a state of mutual elation, not arbitrament. Yet he swallowed his pride and forced himself to endure her fey mood, though it grieved him.

"I beg pardon, my lady," he replied meekly. "I meant nothing unkind by my words just now. Yet, I would still urge you to stay very close to me - like we were doing ere the white thunder of the mountain came down on us," these last words were spoken more tenderly, as if he sought to resurrect the memory and, albeit, brief passion of their magnetic kiss and embrace just as the avalanche fell down on them all. Elendis caught his meaning plain enough, and she again turned her head to look briefly into his eyes as she huddled so close to him. Vilthavia met her gaze and offered her a faint closed-mouth smile at the memory. But Elendis did not return the smile this time, and instead simply held his gaze and said nothing. It seemed to Vilthavia that those lovely eyes of grey that looked back at him strove to contain a sort of regret she now felt; perhaps even embarrasment or even worse still - shame. She shuddered again from cold and pain and winced, closing her eyes for a moment. Whether or not the actual pain she felt at that very instant was genuine or else an excuse to dissrupt the tender moment which now passed between them Vilthavia could not be sure of. Yet it wounded him all the same. Nevertheless, he did not loosen his embrace of her.

"Vilthavia!" said Elendis with a touch of urgency in her voice. "Your fingers! Two of them are turning blue! You are succumbing to the effects of frostbite, alas!"

Vilthavia looked down at the two smaller fingers of his left hand. They were indeed beginning to change color from a pale white to a paler shade of blue. Why had he not noticed this yet, he wondered? He reached down and cupped them in his right palm. He scarcely felt any pressure in them now as his other hand worked on them roughly. If his hands were beginning to freeze he dared not think of what his toes might be like now. Yet they, too, did not seem to bother him at present, though he knew they must also be frozen. Then he remembered that vile opiate mixture offered him by the red-haired man a short while ago. Despite its horrible taste it seemed to be working on him now. He knew his body was suffering from exposure but all the same it did not seem to weigh on him much now. Perhaps that fellow might have some more of that medicine that he could administer to Elendis in order to remove some of the pain she now felt from what was likely to be a broken arm.

"Alas, it seems so," replied Vilthavia without much emotion. "Yet what can be done about it now? I hardly noticed until just now, to tell you the truth. I shall have to endure it until help can arrive. But likely the medicinal beverage I was given after being pulled free from the snow has somehow muffled the effects of the pain. Perhaps I should go and fetch him in order for you to receive the same benefit from it as I am!"

"No!" said Elendis suddenly. "Do not go yet! Do not leave me here alone! It is getting dark now and I fear that you will not be able to return. Vidui will come back presently with more aid. Will you not wait here with me, I beg?"

"I might be able to find your Cernan out there," offered Vilthavia. "Doubtless he will be looking for you by now, my dear."

Again, Elendis looked crossly at him at these words.

"My Cernan is dead, Vilthavia! Why else would he have not come to me by now? He is buried deep along with the others and shall not return."

Vilthavia did not release his hold on her at this retort but did turn his eyes to the cold ground, not knowing what else to do or say by now. Elendis relented after a moment of silence ensued and softened her tone.

"Forgive me, my friend," she apologized to him, placing extra emphasis of the word 'friend'. "Forgive me, for I do not mean to be cross with you. But I feel like I now strive desperately with despair for mastery of my lingering spirit. Yet I have little doubt that Cernan, my old protector of old - a close friend of my father - has perished. Look out down that icy slope there." At this she gestured with a nod of her head back down where Vidui and a few others, no more than five or six fortunate souls thus far, were looking and calling out for survivors. "How many of those that fled that way, and of these there were many, might have survived such a terrible fury from above? Pray do not hold out much hope for many of our friends, for I have none."
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Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sat Nov 13, 2010 1:23 pm

CHAPTER FIVE

Sixteen men. Among the original company of fifty-five mountaineers that had embarked upon the high passes of the Misty Mountains from the vales of the Anduin only six and ten could now be accounted for in the aftermath of the calamitous avalanche that fell down upon them from on high. All else had met their end either by suffocation during live burial, plummeting rocks from above or were swept over cliffs to their dooms.

Of Wildaria, their self-appointed chieftain who had led them from the beginning, there was no trace; nor was there any sign of Cernan, nor the company's two medicinal men nor even any of their beloved horses, mules and other beasts of burden. They were gone and would never return. So too was the bulk of the company's provisions. Only a few morsels of dried biscuit, raw oats and various nuts, mushrooms and wild roots, the latter which proved to be quite edible when cooked but virtually inedible when raw, could be found after the few survivors had at last begun their laborious search of the area for what may be found of their rations. Yet even this latter deed could not be performed until all had gathered together in a crowded bunch so they might warm one another with their bodily heat up against the overhanging wall of rock.

The sixteen companions found themselves facing an evil plight indeed. It was true enough that at the time of the avalanche the company had well passed the half-way mark of their mountain journey, and before them lay mostly descending passes that would ere long lead them all into greener pastures where the snow was sure to be slight and the air warmer as they progressed down into the western foothills of the Misties. But they were not there yet. They could not hope to continue forward for long without the aid of proper rest, warmth and sustenance. Most of them found themselves experiencing a wide variety of emotions now that the area seemed settled down. A few were eleated at their own survival and found new hope of escaping the clutches of the mountains, for what greater evil might fall upon them following so terrible a chance as they had just endured? There could be none in their minds.

Yet these few were in the minority. Most of those who were left found facing this new predicament well-nigh unendurable. They were convinced that they were all lost and could no longer hope to discover any signs of the pathway that they had been following, for it was now buried deep beneath a sea of snow and ice. They could, it was admitted, manage to struggle onwards down any of the nearby adjascent slopes for an indeterminate allottment of time, but to what avail? They had all been thoroughly warned about straying away from the main pass before they even ventured into the foothills of the eastern side of the Misties. They might easily encounter any wide variety of natural perils on the way down, such as falling into hidden crevasses, coming to dead ends over cliffs or even falling into another sudden blizzard, where they would almost certainly become hopelessly lost and lose any lingering hope of retracing their steps. In such an event they would all surely perish in the cold wilderness.

So what might be done? The remaining Rhovanion mountaineers had at length gathered themselves together and, after more weeping and nursing of their wounds, decided to make an initial push down their immediate hillside, for Urlavia, who had been swept part of the way down the slope, had claimed to have spotted what looked to be, from their present vantage point, a small cave entrance further down the mountainside and across a wide valley. Knowing that they would all quickly freeze to death if they lingered underneath the overhanging rock that had served as a meager shelter from the forceful gales before the avalanche, it was a unanimous decision to make for the valley, whether Urlavia's cave entrance existed or not. At least they would be on solid ground that provided them not only with a more level terrain to walk on, but also sported many trees, which in turn just might provide enough suitable wood to create a fire.

It was not easy going. Even in the mildest of conditions such a decent would demand a calm disposition coupled with a hightened awareness for caution. Yet in their weakened and weary state, to say nothing of the numbing cold they felt, the way down proved an almost unbearable torment. There was no easy way to climb down with the burial of the main pass. Two among the survivors still had in their possession two long coils of rope, and these they used to tie around their waists in lengths so as to save one of his companions from falling down the slope to their deaths - or at the least what would certainly be broken limbs or some other irreversible injury.

One of the younger men in the group, an apprentice smithy, by trade, who went by the name of Barden, and who had already suffered from a deep laceration to his left ear (an ear that had very nearly been severed off by jagged ice) and frostbite to some of his toes, had indeed lost his footing at one precarious moment in the party's slow decent and would have fallen the remaining distance down the cliff had there been no rope to cling to. His cries of panic echoed throughout the little valley below as he clung with panting breaths to the snow and rock beneath his feet. It was some time before he could be enticed to resume climbing downwards, he being so entirely consumed with thoughts his near-death plunge. He wept openly for several minutes in morose frustration and refused to go any further, crying bitterly that they were all going to die, so what did it matter? In the end it took savage threats of abandonment (for all words of initial hope and encouragement from his companions fell on deaf ears) by Urlavia - and indeed threats of death to move Barden to resume his climb. Vilthavia's uncle had seemed to now take it upon himself to be the sixteen survivor's new leader and guide, for now he alone among them had come this way once before, many years ago though it was.

If the mood of Urlavia, huntsman, successful trader and haggler from Rhovanion, had softened in the two days before the disastrous avalanche, all signs of that brief kindness had quite vanished now. It was replaced by a severe intolerance and impatience with any who might try and supercede or undermine his new leadership of what remained of their former company. He placed all justification for his new role on his past experience in travelling the passes of the Misty mountains, though in truth he had come this way well nigh ten years previous and during the warmest times of the year when the high passes were relatively safe to navigate. But none of this did he divulge to his companions. He sought to conceal his inner feelings of terror that he experienced at his first sight of the rapid tumbling snow and ice that rained down upon the company. He, too, had his feet knocked under him as he was swept down the slope but fate was not cruel to him this day, for he had managed to grab hold of a broken tree that rode the icy current nigh him. The dead evergreen had nearly toppled over a steep drop-off but somehow became wedged between two boulders of stone and it was there that Urlavia was saved. In the end he found himself buried beneath an obscure shadowy whiteness that had no end, but he clung to his tree nonetheless and eventually squirmed his way out of the snow. He escaped the jaws of death with only a bloodly mouth along with various bumps and bruises. But the near brush with death had shaken his wits and unstable courage, and this angered him greatly and made him intemperate.

For Vilthavia this new trial of scaling down a precipitous slope that he feared could give way beneath their feet at any given moment and send them all at last to their deaths down below was one of the most trying ordeals he had ever faced in his short life. It was bad enough that he had only just survived his first avalanche and was now sore and numb in the limbs, yet also his old fear of high places was an extra knife in his side. If it were not for that mysterious liquid opiate compound that he had sipped from after his timely rescue he had not the slightest doubt that he would completely unable to perform the risky decent by rope and boot that he now, amazingly enough, found himself presently engaged in with his companions. The medicinal mixture seemed, temporarily anyway, to stave off the effects of altitude sickness and even, at least in his own case, to keep his dizzied vertigo in check.

Nonetheless, he grasped the hemped coil of rope around himself as tight as he possibly could as he slowly followed the other members of the group down the snowy slope. Whenever the company was called to a halt by his uncle Urlavia (who had taken up the first position along the rope in their single file decent) Vilthavia forced himself to raise his eyes up and look out across the enormous unfolding landscape before them. The view by any standards was spactacular. All around them the mighty Misty Mountains stretched far out in jagged brown and white peaks as far as the eye could see. His eyes roamed back and forth across the inumerable peaks, slopes and valleys in wonder. Despite their injuries and ever-present perils Vilthavia could not help but feel awestruck at what he saw. He could easily understand why Vidui was so fascinated by them. The main fact that troubled him at this sight was that he had expected to be able to see traces of more greenery off towards the west. If they were truly well past the half-way point as both Wildaria and his uncle had proclaimed, why were there no signs of green grass and meadows off in the distance. He knew his eyes were keen enough. He ought to be able to see these signs of the foothills from their present height.

He was shaken back to the situation at hand by the voice of his uncle down below. Knowing of Vilthavia's fear of high places, and seeing his nephew looking out around him with his mouth agape, Urlavia called out to him to refrain from gazing abroad and instead concentrate on the climb before him. It was not a piece of helpful advice, nor was it worded compassionately, but rather sounded like a captain barking out orders to a disobediant foot-soldier.

"If you slip and fall you shall not only kill yourself but may take one of us with you on your way down! Pay attention, Vilthavia! I shan't tell you a second time!"

Vilthavia, cold weary and sore as he was felt a stab of growing anger well up in him, and he was about to shout something offensive back down towards his uncle in reply, but Vidui, who was directly behind Vilthavia in the climbing order, counciled him to keep silent, saying, "Words of wrathful retort from you now, Vilthavia, will not help our situation here. Let the rogue have his way of things for now. It will not always be so."

Vilthavia was mildly pleased to hear Vidui refer to his irksome uncle as a 'rogue' this time. It reassured him that there were at least a few others here who might support him and take his side if things became worse later on. He paused again and turned round to look at Vidui behind him, who was perhaps a dozen yards further up the slope along the length of the rope. Immediately behind Vidui was Elendis, who now virtually clung to Vidui's back with clenched fists. She was quite obviously in considerable pain by now with her arm most likely being broken during the avalanche. Vilthavia marveled that she had been able to make it this far down the slope, let alone climb the remaining distance downwards.

He looked into her face and saw that her eyebrows and lashes were becoming caked over with icy droplets - this occuring because of the tears she was unable to restrain due to her throbbing pain. Yet despite knowing this Vilthavia could not help feeling a touch of jealously towards Vidui in his friend's temporary role of being Elendis' bodily prop and bodyguard as she leaned heavily up against him from behind as she clung to his back for support. He wished that she would turn her weary glance downwards towards him - if even for a moment in order to offer him the slightest of concilatory glances to reassure him that she knew he was there and acknowledge his compassion - but she did not. The eyes of Elendis were either closed, squinted or stared hazardly down to the white powder beneath her feet. Vidui cocked his head sideways to utter some reassuring words in her ears before gesturing down at Vilthavia that he should move on now.

It was getting darker with every passing moment as the company straggled downwards. It was slow work. The unmarked slope did not look all that long from up above, but as with many aspects of mountain travel appearances are often deceiving. Many of the clouds that had lingered above them after the storm had given way to clearer skies at the approach of the dim orange and grey dusk. This was not a wholly welcome boon for many of those already suffering from exposure among the group, for as the clouds slowly dissapated the temperatures began to drop. Wherever they found themselves this night it was sure to be a frigidly cold one.

After several more moments of achingly slow progress Urlavia called up for the group to come to a halt. At least two of the men had grown despondant at the prospect of failing to reach the bottom of this accursed cliff face before nightfall. They openly chastised Urlavia for his poor judgement in leading them all astray. Urlavia, being as weary in body and spirit as any other man among the group turned round to glare at the two complainers but had no words for them. He spat angrily and lay his coil of rope upon the deep snowdrifts and began to stride away in another direction. At this the men demanded to know where he thought he would go then, but Urlavia ignored them and labored his way off to his right and somewhat downwards. He had noticed that a section of the slope looked to level off in this direction and he had a mind to stand there and gaze out and downwards towards the floor of the valley they all longed to reach ere the coming of total darkness. He too had begun to second guess his own decision by now.

He had traversed a distance about as far as a young boy might hurl a small stone when he felt his feet strike something solid within the depths of the icy snow. He stumbled upon it and toppled sideways, extending his arms as he fell to break his fall. His first thought was that he had tripped over a stone, but when his extended hand plunged into the snow and felt something solid but far too soft to be stone. He righted himself and began to dig away the top layer of snow and ice with his hands in an attempt to uncover whatever lay buried in the snow. When some of his companions called out to inquire in regards to his actions Urlavia selected two of his more able-bodied men who still retained some of their vigour to assist him. When the three men at last managed to remove enough of the snow to unravel the mystery one of the assisting men froze as he stood up and looked down with jaws agape at the dead body of one of their missing companions. Doubtless he had been one of the victims of the avalanche and had perished by way of suffocation beneath the weight of snow much snow and ice.

"Do you recognize him?" asked one of the men to Urlavia with chattering teeth. Urlavia lowered himself to get a better look at the poor man who had died thus. The face of the deceased was turned sideways as he lay on his back in his frozen natural grave. The face had taken a bluish color by now and was as hard as ice to the touch. The man had been heavily bearded and looked ot have been past his middle years; one of the elder men of the company. His eyes were shut but his mouth was still open in a silent cry for help. Only snow lay inside that voiceless mouth now.

"Aye," replied Urlavia. "I know this man. He was Cernan, the man from Rhudaur. Poor wretch."

When the men called back up the hill to answer the inquiries of their curious companions one of the two diggers, whose wits must have surely fallen into numbness with the incessant cold, called back to them that they had found the body of one of their companions.

"Urlavia says it was the Rhudauran man," replied the fool. "Cernan, I believe his name was."

Urlavia could not stop the man from uttering the name of the deceased before the fool, whose name happened to be Harbrad from the Dale country, revealed the late Cernan's identity to their companions - including the distressed Elendis. Upon hearing of the news that the body of her old friend and much loved protector had been found Elendis let out a gasp of shock and fell to her knees in the deep snow. Her tears again began to flow down her pale cheeks as the sobs slowly began to gush out from her throat. Feeling a new wave of sympathy come over him for this girl whom he had come to feel so deeply for in so short a time, Vilthavia turned and let go of the rope and unfastened it from his belt so that he might scramble up the slope to come to comfort the distraught Elendis. Vidui, who was still at the girl's side, tried to check Vilthavia before he could leave his position in the climbing order.

"Stay where you are, Vilthavia!" barked Vidui hastily. "Do not release yourself from the rope! The snow is too loosely packed on this slope. Elendis is safe enough! Don't be the fool that your uncle is, lad!"

Elendis paid little heed to the actions of Vilthavia, nor of the exchange between him and Vidui. She tried to cuff away the freezing tears from her bloodshot eyes with her sleeve but only succeeded in smearing more snow across her face. She, too began to unhook the rope from her belt loops as she rose to her feet. Breaking his attention away from the approaching Vilthavia Vidui turned abruptly around and seized Elendis by her coat, refusing to allow her to walk off.

"I must look upon my old friend and protector once more ere we leave him, Vidui! I must bid farewell to him!"

"Nay, my lady! That you cannot do, alas! The slope is treacherous and we loose the light with the coming of nightfall. Your Cernan must remain where he lays now. Come!"

"Nay, I must see him," cried Elendis despondantly. "He had family in Rhudaur that would dearly like some sort of remembrance or weregild of him! I must at least retrieve his family amulet that he wears around his neck. It was given him by his only daughter who awaits him at home."

Again Vidui held her back firmly but gently enough not to increase the pain in her wounded arm. He spoke more comforting words to her and even pulled her close to him and embraced her, telling her that she might succeed only in falling on her way down and would achieve nothing more than her own death in the process. She buried her head into Vidui's chest as she sobbed again, at last succumbing to his advice. Vilthavia sat upon his knees in the snow as he watched Elendis sobbing into the chest of Vidui, who in turn stroked her wet blonde hair as he sought to comfort her. Vilthavia felt another and more strident pang of jealousy come over him at this sight, and he longed to show up his friend. A desperate thought occured to him then and he decided to act upon it without pondering on the wisdom of it beforehand.

"I shall retrieve it for you, Elendis," he said plainly as if he had already consigned himself to do so without a worry. Vilthavia then stood up and began wading through the deep white powder and debris down towards where his uncle and the two other men stood looking down on the submerged body of Cernan. This naturally aroused more protests from Vidui and two other men further down the length of the rope, who feared rather more delays in the young boy's brashness than of worries over his safety. But Vilthavia ignored them and forced himself onwards, nearly losing his footing twice along the way. He feared that the positive effects of the medicinal opiate that he had consumed earlier, and which had seemed to ward off some of his vertigo was quickly expiring now, for he felt his hands trembling with that old familiar terror he had known for so long.

"Get back! Get back at once, I say!" snarled Urlavia as he turned and saw his nephew clumsily making his way down the hazardous slope. "You shall get yourself killed, you foolish boy! Curse you!"

Urlavia immediately ordered his two younger companions to go back up and intercept Vilthavia in order to drag him back to the safety of the rope where the rest of the beleagured company looked on. This was accomplished in a few moments time, and as the two men each seized one arm of the youthful Vilthavia and began to force him upwards again Vilthavia protested, explaining that Elendis had a right to retrieve her old friend's belongings so that they may be returned to his family in remembrance of him.

"He is gone, boy!" replied Harbrad, who was nearly out of breath by now. "He has nothing to retrieve on him."

"His amulet!" shouted Vilthavia, struggling in vain to break free of the two men's grasp. "He wears the amulet around his neck! The lady must have it and return it to his kin! I must fetch it for her! Let me go!"

"Quit struggling, boy!" cried the other man roughly as he sought to control Vilthavia's wild movements. "You shall send all three of us down the cliff to our deaths with your resistance! Up you go!"

"Urlavia!" shouted Harbrad down to Vilthavia's uncle, who had not even bothered to watch his two companions struggle with his nephew. Instead he had been hovering over the body of Cernan with his eyes examining with uncanny scrutiny the deceased old man. Upon hearing his name he turned round.

"Urlavia, your nephew claims that the old man possesses an amulet that he wore around his neck! Do you see it still upon him in the snow? Seems the little lady desires to retrieve it for his next of kin!"

Urlavia sighed with a frown upon hearing this. He bent down and began to visibly search the body of Cernan for the piece of jewelry in question. After a few moments he turned back and claimed that the deceased bore no such amulet around his neck.

Elendis, who had turned her face away from the safety of Vidui's chest in order to watch all that was taking place with the Vilthavia and the three others, had overheard the claim of Urlavia and voiced her objections.

"It must be there!" she cried aloud down to Urlavia. "He never removes it from his neck! Aye! Pray look again! It is not large - about the size of a hen's egg and in the shape of a silver star!"

Urlavia frowned and searched the body of Cernan again. Vilthavia had stopped squirming in the clutches of the two men and looked down upon his uncle, who at length again called back up that there was no trace of the amulet that Elendis insisted must still be around old Cernan's neck. Elendis began to grow visibly wrathful with Urlavia's claims and again insisted on going down to look for herself. Urlavia pointed at her and ordered her to remain where she was.

"Your friend has lost the piece in question, lady!" replied Urlavia. "Anything might have happened to it when he was swallowed up by the avalanche! We cannot spare any time to look for it. Dusk is well at hand and we are all in peril here! We must get down into that valley ere it is completely dark or else perish from cold up where we stand!"

At that moment something dreadful occurred. Of all of the dangers one can encounter in mountainous travel few perils can match the sudden horror one feels at the sudden loss of one's footing. In some cases - if the mountaineer is skilled and experienced enough to do so - a sturdy purchase for one's footing can be gained before falling to one's death. Sometimes a random well-placed handhold such as a tree limb or exposed root can be grasped just in time to prevent the innevitible plunge into open air. But virtually nothing at all can be done when one encounters the sudden failing of hidden crevasses beneath one's feet. Such was the case in this instance.

Harbrad, who had been one of the two men who had forcibly restrained Vilthavia by the arm (the other man being a certain Brandon, also from Dale) suddenly cried out a dreadful shreek of terror as he felt the ground beneath his feet unexpectedly begin to disappear right beneath his feet! He had time enough only to glance down at his ragged boots for an instant ere he felt the horrible feeling in his gut. Fortunately, he had released his hold on Vilthavia some moments ago else he, too, would have joined Harbrad in the death plunge. Harbrad flailed his arms wildly in a vain attempt to grab hold of anything in order to prevent the unavoidable fall that awaited him, but to no avail.

Brandon and Vilthavia stood rooted in horror as they witness the snowy terrain between themselves and Urlavia quickly begin to disintergrate as the wailing Harbrad fell into the dark abyss below. Vilthavia gasped aloud. Brandon said nothing but looked around him wildly. In a state of sheer terror, Vilthavia gave in to the irresistable instinct to turn and flee back up the slope heedless of all else. He had been fortunate. Had he now been standing in the very spot that Brandon now owned he would have been the next to fall into shadow.

Coming to his senses by the shouts of his fellows around him, Brandon turned and made to follow the young Vilthavia back up the slope. Too late. As he labored in the heavy snow he suddenly felt that inexorable sense of uncontrolable free-fall. The snow behind him began to quickly crumble away with a deep rumble.

"No! No, no! For the sake of kindness! Help me!"

Brandon's pleas for help went unheeded by Vilthavia, who was the only one close enough to him that could possibly have rendered him any assistance even if he had had a mind to. But Vilthavia was overwhelmed by uncontrolable vertigo and therefore incapable of anything save flight at that moment. He had only just managed to gain surer ground as he waded bodily through the snow uphill - all the while praying that the ground beneath his feet would remain solid.

Brandon's final words ere his death were drowned out by the horrific cries of those around him, who could only watch in horror as they clutched ever more tightly to their ropes. The last they saw of that poor innocent young man, who had been well-liked by all for his propensity for laughter and the telling of tales, was the way he seemed to cease struggling at the last moment and give himself up to the hoplelessness of his present fate. Those that had refused to shut their eyes at this new dreadful woe later swore that they could see the doomed Brandon smiling with closed eyes before he fell into the cold shadows far below him and was gone.

It was all over as quickly as it had begun. Vilthavia had only just managed to gain his place on the rope again before he could force himself to reflect on his second close encounter with death in so short a time. He no longer felt the cold, nor the icy breeze upon his cheeks as he sat there panting for breath with trembling limbs. All else were safe for the moment. He turned and looked back at where he had been standing only a few moments ago. Where there had been deep snow before was now nothing but thin cold air. He could hardly believe his eyes. They had unwittingly traversed a hidden crevass! Then he thought of his unlovable uncle Urlavia. There he was! Again luck had been with him, for he had been on the opposite side of the invisible chasm and fell not to his death.

"Urlavia!" cried the others aloud to him. "Urlavia! Are you unhurt? Pray stand back from there or else you might fall as well! Urlavia! Can you hear us?"

Urlavia heard them but could not reply, for he was speechless with fear. Like his young nephew that he had wantonly chastised for timidity and weakness all too often, Urlavia again dropped to his knees next to the body of the deceased Cernan in wonder and amazement.

"Oh, my plaintive spirit! Rejoice!" he cried aloud, the echoes of which could be heard be all. Then he could not restrain his tears any longer and wept openly.
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CHAPTER SIX

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun Dec 05, 2010 2:36 pm

Vilthavia sat huddled against a cold wall of stone and contemplated the fragility of life and death. It seemed to him that every member of the race of the Edain in the world walked a slender cord of rope that spanned a vast gulf of death; lose your balance but for an instant and you perish. There are no second chances. It seemed a bitter fate, wrested upon Men out of jest by the lords of the west. It was surely otherwise with the Eldar. Vilthavia had never known anyone from that mysterious race before. He had met two or three once while trekking through the eaves of the forest of Mirkwood with some companions but he had not even spoken to them. How very fortunate they were! They were immortal and, if the old legends concerning them be true, they did indeed have a second chance at life after their demise. Not so for Men. In the event of their death all was over. Their ethereal souls then traveled to the Halls of Mandos to await there their judgment. He wondered how long such an inconceivable flight might take. Perhaps poor Harbrad and Brandon were there already. It was still hard to believe that they were gone. They were both such amicable young men. One moment they were part of the world and one moment later they were not. He himself had very nearly joined them in their doom. The thought that he might just have easily have perished as well had he been standing only a few paces further down the hillside filled Vilthavia with fear and consternation. Twice now he had flirted with death since he entered into the high passes of the Misty Mountains and had, so far, eluded its grasp. He dared not tempt fate a third time. He had no wish to die, for in truth he dearly loved life. He was still very young and had so many things to see and do before he took his leave of the world. Therefore Vilthavia decided then and there that from that time on he would take no chances in tempting fate and would live out his life in a sort of calm and tranquil peace somewhere in Eriador for a while and allow himself to mature for a while. If he could find no peace in Rhudaur without his father than he would travel to Arthedain, or perhaps Cardolan in the south. All he had to do was find a way out of these accursed mountains. If he could achieve this one difficult task he vowed silently to himself that he would never willingly travel here again, for he hated mountains. To be sure he would find a way back home again some day, yet he would venture southwards and go by way of the great gap of Calenardhon and not risk the perils of the mountains, even if that meant years of weary travel.

Vilthavia sighed heavily with his thoughts. The longing for sleep stirred within him as it did for his companions who also sat nearby in dejected misery. Yet somehow that alluring state of forgetfulness and relaxation would not come to him then despite his need for it. Perhaps he ought not to sleep. He was now very cold. He might not ever wake up again! He could not shake off the horrific sensation that he had very nearly been killed up on that mountainside only an hour or so ago. He supposed he ought to feel thankful for his preservation but he was not. They were all lost - lost and alone without any promise of aid of any kind as far as any of them knew it. They had very little food or dry clothing by now, most of these being lost in the chaos of the avalanche, nor did they have any way to make a fire for warmth. Water, too, was wanting, for though there was snow and ice aplenty they had no way to melt either one unless the necessary material to create a fire could be found. Merely cramming the cold white powder in one's mouth and holding it there until it melted offered little relief from thirst, for it froze the inner mouth and created a dead numbness. Their situation was quite hopeless; of this there could be little doubt.

The only positive aspect of their escape from the icy hillside just now was the discovery of the small cave entrance that Urlavia had descried from above. But even this was of little consolation for it was barely large enough inside to accommodate the remaining fourteen Rhovanions that yet lived from the original number of fifty-five. Judging by its smooth inner walls and lofty proximity (the mouth of the 'cave' stood over twenty feet above the floor of the little valley) it seemed easily apparent that this was no random natural cave entrance but one that had been fashioned by the hands of intelligent beings some time long ago. Whether it was constructed by men or dwarves could not be ascertained by any of the inexperienced Rhovanions that now sat huddled together inside the entrance trying to ward off the cold in the darkness. There was a set of haggard and uneven stairs that had been chiseled by ancient masons into the face of the rock that led up to the mouth but they had been largely worn away by wind and time. Yet they were at least stable enough to allow the group to climb them in order to gain access to the newly discovered cave and remove themselves from the night breezes.

There they sat and brooded together - inside the entrance way. They were largely silent as dusk receded outside and made way for a starry bitter night. By the white light of the moon Vidui and Ningavia, the two men who now jointly ruled the remnant of the lost Rhovanion mountaineers, had departed and went out to make a brief reconnaissance of the valley and search for signs of a road or, if luck favored them again, the main pass they had formerly lost. All else remained back inside the cave entrance and did whatever they could in order to prevent themselves from freezing to death. Sleep was discouraged, for if the sleeper's body heat decreased while asleep it would be unlikely they would ever see the dawn. If they had not been so stricken with sadness and melencholy they might have appreciated their situation a little more, for if it had at present been a time of winter, or even that of late autumn they would surely have all been long dead by now. Yet in the world outside the highlands of the Misty Mountains the calandar still showed that summer would not give way to autumn proper for another two weeks. Most knew this but were either too weary or witless to take it into consideration by now.

Vilthavia lifted his head from his bent knees and looked about him in the darkness. He had eyes now for only Elendis. Yet he could not locate her for some moments as he gazed wearily around the little cave entrance. Back and forth he looked until he began to grow alarmed and feared she might be absent. But no. There she was, laying prostrate on the floor of the back of the cave by herself with various articles of clothing piled on her body from to toe in order to warm her. These items were given her by some of the men in the group - for it was only right that, as the only woman in the party (and a young one at that) she ought to be the last one to freeze to death. She now also wore a makeshift sling around her neck and injured arm that was made out of a few scraps of miscellaneous pieces of fabric that had been fastened together. He could not see her there at first, it being dark and the shadowy forms of the men blocking his view. He slowly rose up and walked over to her. One of the men called out to him in a loud whisper and told him to let her rest, but Vilthavia ignored the man.

"Elendis," said Vilthavia softly, bending down next to her on his knees. He reached out one of his increasingly numb hands and touched her on her shoulder. She was lying with her face toward the stone wall so that none could see her face, needless as this was in the darkness of night.

"Elendis, I trust you have not fallen asleep! It is I - Vilthavia. I thought I might come and sit by you for a while. Elendis?'

At first she said nothing in reply and merely took a deep breath before exhaling. Vilthavia was not sure but he thought that she might be silently weeping to herself. Once more he said her name to alert her to his presence but one of the men again called out to him to let her be. Vilthavia turned and looked back at the speaker but could only see the man's dark sillouette.

"I am awake," replied Elendis at last to Vilthavia, who now went so far as to bend over her more closely to see the expression on her face.

"How could I sleep like this anyway?"

"May I come and sit beside you for a while, Elendis?' he asked her in a whisper.

"Will my presence lend you some comfort now, Vilthavia? If so then you may sit, yet pray do not take it amiss if I lay here as I am."

"I will not. Yet I think that you would benefit from some companionship for a while, for if your despair flows on unchecked you will fall into a darkness too deep."

"What of it? Darkness awaits us all ere long. We will not escape these mountains with our lives intact. I feel this is true in my heart and I grieve that I shall never again see my family or my home."

Vilthavia took his seat next to her against the wall so that her small lithe body now faced him at an angle. He tried to place her legs across his lap but she recoiled her knees and went on lying there in a fetal position. Vilthavia moved himself close to her again so that physical contact between them could no longer be avoided. He stared intently at her face now but could still see little in the darkness.

"You think that we will all die up here?" Vilthavia waited for her to reply but she merely shrugged her covered shoulders in silence - a gesture that remained unseen by Vilthavia.

"I admit that it is a possibilty that some here may perish ere we reach the safety of the lower foothills," said Vilthavia. "Perhaps I, too, may perish ere the end. But somehow I do not believe so. I am going to escape these accursed mountains one way or another; as will you, my dear Elendis. Us men will stop at nothing to see that, at the very least, you shall be preserved in the end."

Elendis turned her head slightly so that she might look at Vilthavia's shadowed face. He could not make out her facial expression very well in the darkness but he plainly heard her scoff softly at his hopeful predictions.

"Vilthavia, I think that you must walk through life in a sort of dreamlike trance," she said in a more solid tone. "To place trust in mere faith without credentiality is the stuff of children. Do not deceive yourself! Did you not see the vast expanse of white peeks stretched far out into the western horizon when we were back up on that mountainside? It is in that direction that we must go - or at least that is what poor Wildaria and your uncle have stated. Our bodies are mortaly weary with cold and fatigue already, for we have sufferd much. My arm is lame and well nigh useless with pain. Nor have we any food. There is nothing, barring some unforeseen or miraculous chance, that any of us can do now. I am trying to make peace with myself now and beg the Valar that await us to forgive me my transgressions and take us all in peaceful sleep."

"So you want to die in your sleep?" asked Vilthavia in a raised voice. "Is that right?"

One or more of their huddled companions overheard these last words from Vilthavia and one man offered his reply instead.

"Would you rather die in another avalanche, lad? Eh? Or perhaps you would rather fall from the height of a cliff?"

Another man grunted in agreement, saying, "Aye, death by snow-sleep is the way for us, alas, for die we must, seemingly."

"Curse you and your foul brooding!" snapped another man, who Vilthavia recognized by the voice as Vinya, a sturdy warrior type. "I, for one, shall not seek the ignoble death by exposure and snow-sleep! You cast a pall over us with your black thoughts. Shut up, you fools!"

No one offered Vinya any rebuke for his words, for no one had the strength to do so even if they had wanted to. But Vilthavia turned his attention back to Elendis, saying to her that he would not allow her to seek solace in a premature death.

"How will you stop me, Vilthavia?" she asked him almost in a sort of amused tone. "Will you set me in bonds or perhaps set a guard on me while you sleep? You must sleep eventually, you know. We all must, and without food or fire for warmth the snow-sleep awaits us all."

Vilthavia grew impatient with Elendis' determination to remain glib and he could not restrain himself from uttering a frustrated curse under his breath. He was tempted to rise up and walk away but he checked himself and instead, much to her surprise, forced his own weight between the wall that Elendis was facing and her own bulk so that they now lay facing one another on the floor of the cave. By accident Vilthavia bumped her wounded arm and she grimmaced with the pain of it. He immediately apologized for his clumsiness. To his surprise (and secret delight) Elendis did not shrug away from him but instead continued to lay there facing him, their noses only inches apart now.

"Lady Elendis," said Vilthavia seriously after they had lain there in silence for several minutes. "We have been through much together in so short a time, you and I."

"You and me along with everyone else, you mean." These words were spoken by her surely to keep a bit of distance between the two of them, but Vilthavia was not deterred and went on with his thoughts.

"Elendis, I wanted to offer you my sincere gratitude for coming to my aid back up on that mountainside when the avalanche fell upon us. It was a couragious and heartfelt act to perform in the midst of such a tempest - especially for a young woman. I might have followed the course of many of our doomed companions by taking flight to the trees if you had not come to me at that moment. I shall always be eternally grateful to you for it."

"You should not doubt the courage of women, young or old, Vilthavia."

"I do not."

"If deeds of heroism are more plentiful in men," continued Elendis, taking little notice of Vilthavia's reply, "it is only because men are wary of our inner strength, which they fear is superior to their own - therefore they have always felt the need to supress us in order to check this imbalance."

Vilthavia said nothing to this. He had no desire to enter into a debate with this headstrong young lady regarding the merits of the two sexes - especially when they were all teetering on the edge of life and death in the wilds of the Misty Mountains. He sighed loud enough so that she could hear his exhalation plainly. She seemed to take the hint well enough, for she softened her words now.

"Forgive me," she said to him at last. "I often have a tendency to become callous and defensive when I am given to grief or hardship. Yet I, too, must express my thanks to you for attempting to retrieve poor Cernan's amulet. Your act of goodwill almost became your undoing, though, my friend! Though I lament the deaths of Harbrad and Brandon I also thank the Valar for preserving your life. My grief would have been nearly overwhelming should you have fallen into darkness as well."

Despite the cold that clung to him Vilthavia felt a little wave of warmth rush through him at her kind and affectionate words then. He smiled at her and hoped that she could see his face in the darkness. He thought that he, in turn, saw a tiny smile emanate from her lips, though of course he could not be sure. He could think of nothing else to say to this except a brief, "You are more than welcome, my lady."

More silence ensued following this, the only sound they could hear was a few of the men up towards the front of the cave entrance murmuring softly together. Far off in the outer distance of their proximity the sound of a shrill wolf cry pierced the cold night of the mountains. Another howl from a neighboring wolf, or perhaps the same wolf howling twice, answered it. Elendis raised her head up slightly at this sound in uneasiness, but Vilthavia assured her that no wolves were nearby and that wherever they might be out there they were too far away to trouble them tonight. He had no way of knowing this for certain but he desired to put Elendis at ease nonetheless.

"Vilthavia?" said Elendis after another silent spell between them.

"Yes?"

What was it you said to me back up on that terrible mountain, just before we succumbed to the falling snow?"

The answer to this question was obvious by the tone in her voice, which was, oddly enough, spiked with a touch of suspicious humor. Vilthavia left the open air hanging quietly between them for a few passing seconds before venturing to reply.

"My lady?" he asked evasively.

"'My lady'?" she mimicked him. "Am I 'your lady'?" Another silent pause here. "Perhaps I ought to be. Would you like me to be 'your lady', Vilthavia?"

"Elendis, I think you are growing very weary," replied Vilthavia woodenly. "You speak in clouded riddles."

"Fye upon you, Vilthavia! My words and wits are perfectly clear, though perhaps my tongue grows ever more numb in this cold. Yet I asked you if you wanted me to become your 'lady' or not."

Vilthavia heard one or more of their companions shift their weight around as they sat huddled together at the words of Elendis. He felt sure that they overheard her last question to him and he could feel their eyes upon them now. He shifted his weight back up on his elbow so that he could catch a glimpse of them. It was difficult to make them out in such dark shadow but most of them had their backs to them now. Yet he was sure that they were trying to eavesdrop on them. The only pair of eyes he could honestly make out from his position towards the back of the cave were those of his Uncle Urlavia's. He was the closest to the outer edge of the cave mouth and could partially be seen in the white moonlight shining down from above. Urlavia was looking directly over at the two laying, prostrate sillouettes of Vilthavia and Elendis by now. When it became obvious to him that his young nephew was gazing at him he turned away again and stared out across the frozen white valley below.

"They are trying to listen to our speech," commented Vilthavia to Elendis in a whisper.

"I don't care," she replied. "I have nothing to hide from anyone anymore, for what difference does it make now?"

"If you are once again eluding to our inevitable demise I again insist to you that we shall escape these mountains one way or another."

"To perish here is the easiest way I fear," answered Elendis calmly. "Yet, all the same, I have no wish to die yet."

"We shall not," he replied more sternly now. "I swear to you!"

"Do you know, I am not supposed to fear death as keenly as I do, for I am Dunadan. Cernan always taught me and my sister not to fear death, for Eru looks more kindly upon us Edain than upon others. He proclaims that the ancient gift of Numenor was proof enough of this fact."

"Perhaps he was right," said Vilthavia meekly, not knowing what else to say.

"I do not believe it," she said firmly. "I believe all such affirmations of self righteousness dignity to be nonsense. Why do men say such things? I loved Cernan dearly but I often found that I disagreed with many of his opinions. I believe that we are all the same. I do not think that 'The One' looks any more kindly upon me than he does you, Dunedan though I may be."

Vilthavia thought fleetingly about revealing his own partial claim to Dunedain blood as well, but feared he might come off sounding too pleading and indignant. He remained silent instead.

"Was Cernan full Dunadan as well?" he asked her.

"I do not think so. Who nowadays can rightfully claim such a thing anyway? The bloodlines of the Edain are by now so entertwined with that of other men that such a distinction can rarely be proven, save, of course, by the royal lines in Arthedain where the bloodline of Isildur runs true. My homeland of Rhudaur turns ever more foul with the passing of the years. The true Dunedain, or at least those that are as of yet uncorrupt, continue to dwindle away."

She lapsed into silence here as she readjusted herself upon her makeshift blankets upon the stone floor.

"Elendis," said Vilthavia, "why are you here? What cause of yours possessed you to take up with us - vagabonds - to begin with? Whatever it was it must be important."

"Vilthavia, I think the cold is beginning to affect your mind as much as mine now," she replied. "The only way to get back home again to Rhudaur was to cross the mountains, naturally. There was only me and Cernan and two of his companions to start with. And also..." It seemed as if she were about to include another in her short list of companions but her words quickly trailed off.

"And someone else?" asked Vilthavia, hoping to pry the answer out of her. But she would not take the bait.

"...And no one. That's all. But we needed a company of mountaineers to join up with who knew something of the area, so fate led us to you and your companions."

"A lamentable fate for you, alas," interrupted Vilthavia. Elendis offered no comment to this remark and went on.

"Hold me closer to you, Vilthavia," requested Elendis as she shuffled her weight right up next to him so that their cheeks touched one another. Any bystander who might have looked on them in any other time and place would have taken them for young lovers. "That's right. Wrap your ankles around mine and share these garments here with me as a blanket. If I am your 'lass' then you must warm me with your body. I think I am beginning to go numb in the feet!"

Vilthavia offered to reverse his position so that he might rub her feet for warmth but she declined, fearing to remiove her footwear until a fire could be made, which seemed unlikely to happen by now. Instead she instructed Vilthavia to place his hand with the frozen fingertips between her thighs with the aim of preventing all out frostbite from setting in on them. He accepted her offer gladly.

"How is your arm feeling?" he asked her.

"It hurts. How the pain of it throbs so! I fear that it is broken, Vilthavia. How shall I escape these mountains with such an injury? I don't know if I can hold onto ropes and cords long enough to make it down from this place, for the pain is great whenever I raise it upwards. What if I stumble on the way down? I shall be forced to raise my arm to break my fall. I fear to imagine the intensity of the pain in such an instance. I am strong enough for a young maiden but I do not know if I could bear such agony. Then there is this incesant cold and snow to contend with as well. Perhaps this little cave shall be my tomb in the end."

"Dearest Elendis!" exclaimed Vilthavia softly. "Do not say such things, I beg you! I shall carry you down this mountain in my very arms if necessary! We all would. Pray, stop talking nonsense. Let us talk about something else in order to take our minds away from thoughts of gloom and cold."

Elendis stared blithely into his eyes but said nothing. Vilthavia felt her gaze in the cold shadows of the cave and returned it with a forced slender smile. He reached over to test the strength of the tied knot of her makeshift sling for her arm and decided that it needed to be tightened some more. He carefully sat up and made the necessary adjustments to it and laid down with her again.

"I will tell you the purpose of my errand for what it is worth now," said Elendis quitely and into his ear so that none of the men who might be eavesdropping on them might overhear. "It all began nearly three years ago. I did not desire to leave Rhudaur at all in the beginning. It was my elder sister who was intended for the journey. But she refused to go in the end so I volunteered to go in her stead. My father did not warm to the notion of me going at first, but my sister, in her obstinate way, flatly refused to leave. The two of them quarreled much over it, especially after my father discovered that it was because of a man that Calime had professed her love for and wished not to seperate from - a man not of our own bloodline! A plain-blooded northman, seemingly. If that were not enough my sister's lover was also employed at the court of king Denethil, whom my father loathes! But my father thought Rhudaur had become too dangerous for both of his children to dwell in any further, and seeing as he had sired no sons to preserve his name my sister and me were all that he has left to him. But if Calime would not cross over the mountains than at least his youngest daughter might be preserved. Therefore, and only after much inner debate with his conscience, he arranged to have me wed to one of the high chieftains of the Rhovanion northmen in the Anduin vales. Then, in time, after this task was accomplished, he would summon both myself and his new son-in-law back into Rhudaur when he deemed the time ripe."

"Then..." Vilthavia could not help but interrupt her speach, so shocked was he. "Then you are already wed to another man?"

Elendis replied nothing at first but at length replied in the affirmative.

"You are married? To whom? Who did you marry, Elendis?"

"Can you not guess by now, Vilthavia?" Vilthavia felt a new wave of dissappointment threatening to engulf him again as he pondered over this new revelation of hers. He lay there in silent wonderment until she supplied him the answer.

"Wildaria was my husband. We plighted our troth one year ago and were at last wed only four months back, in the noontime of the Wilderland spring. And now he is gone and shall never return. I am a widow at the tender age of ten and five years, alas."

Still Vilthavia offered her no words in consollation. It began to make more sense now. Why else would a young maiden undertake such a strenous journey with a pack of older men? To accompany her husband! Small wonder he had noticed Wildaria eyeing him queerly from a distance more than once after he and Elendis had become acquainted. It had to be admitted that both Wildaria and Elendis had pulled off quite an impressive display of estrangement from one another in front of the group. But Vilthavia was taken aback by the news. After a few moments he finally asked her why she had not revealed this to him before.

"I could not tell you or anyone else among the company, Vilthavia. It was supposed to be a well-guarded secret. Only Cernan knew of our wedlock. But what does it matter now, so close to the brink of death? Wildaria was a kind man and was very good to me. I shall miss him dearly, this I will not deny to you. Yet I will tell you...despite my affection for him I always felt that my heart was not given to him in full. I esteemed him highly but I did not love him rightly, if you understand me. I shall grieve for him and his fate, though. He did not deserve such an end."

"None of our friends deserved it, Elendis,' replied Vilthavia rather briskly. Despite Wildaria's death he still felt jealous of him.

"Indeed not! I lament the deaths of everyone among our company. I think you know that. But Wildaria's death will be grim tidings not only for his own kin back in Wilderland but also for my father, who had placed so much value and hope on my matrimony to one of the high chieftains of the Rhovanion northman. Yet I fear that he shall never learn the fate of either him or myself, for death knocks on the door of us all now."

Elendis trailed off in a somber tone but Vilthavia let it pass over without any words of reassurance on his part, so rattled by her words was he. He gazed at this sorowful fair-haired young woman who now lay so very close beside him upon the ground. Even in her miserable physical state, her arm badly injured, her clothes and hair torn, tattered and tangled, she still seemed to hold a heavy air of dignity about her, as many of the Dunadain were wont to do in such circumstances. She was the stock of a sturdy and enduring race indeed, even in their decline. He tried to make sense out of it all again as the silence grew between them. He thought Elendis had begun to cry again as she lingered on the death of her late husband but the darkness around them prevented him from being sure of it.

"Elendis," said Vilthavia to her in a barely audible whisper. They were still lying together upon the cave floor but Vilthavia had loosened their physical connection after her unexpected revelation to him.

"My tears will not come to me." she remarked wryly suddenly. "I am that numb! Hold me tighter, Vilthavia.'' He complied with the request but with less enthusiasm than before.

"What happened to your sister?" he asked her after another pause, desiring to change the direction of the intimate conversation between them. "Have you received no news from her or your father in all this time?"

"None at all," said Elendis, answering his second question. "I have received nothing from either one of them - neither message nor rumor. Though now that I have experienced the dangers that exist up here in these mountains my previous anger and mystification upon this very subject have both quite vanished. Perhaps they sent messengers over the passes in the pass and they met similar perils such as ourselves. Who can say? Yet it is perhaps a good thing that my sister did not undertake this errend, knowing of her innate fear of the mountains. She professed a strong aversion to high places - much like yourself, Vilthavia. that is why I started when you first revealed your old fear to me; it reminded me of my sister. But I believe the true reason for her refusal to leave was because she did not want to leave her man whom she loved.

"Will she wed with this man, think you?"

"Yes - or at least that is what Calime has told me in secret."

"'Calime'?" asked Vilthavia dumbly. His wits were going numb with the cold now.

"My sister, of course," Elendis quipped impatiently. She went on.

"She has sworn me to silence regarding her secret lover, of which I often repent. I believe this man is an ill omen; not just for Calime but for us as well. Indeed, I have often been tempted to take this man as a spy of the king's councilmen. My father was a reputable man in Cameth Brin before the ascendancy of Denethil and the beginning of his reign and often voiced his disapproval of him, though many bade him to put a check on his unguarded tongue. I think the king would like nothing better than to see my father disgraced before the court and evicted from the realm for good - or even worse!"

"So your sister resides still in Rhudaur?"

"Yes, as far as I know it. Her refusal to come with me into exile proved a strain on our relationship and I fear we quarreled the day before I was to set out. In my anger I even threatened to reveal her secret love for Bruffad, the name of her lover, to our parents if she would not follow me into exile. But three years of the sun has come and gone since I have last seen any of my family, nor have I received any tidings of them. I fear what might have happened since my departure."

Silence ensued after she had spoken. Vilthavia wondered thoughtfully to himself. Knowing of her flight into voluntary exile made him feel a sense of warm familiarity with Elendis, and he pitied her present plight as he also pitied himself. It almost seemed as if fate had deliberately thrown them together out of sympathy (or was it cruelty?). Each could offer the other genuine empathy in their predicaments and could speak words of hopeful encouragement in regards to their destinies.

"I hope I do not trouble you overmuch with my story," commented Elendis softly. "I find it somehow comforting to talk to you about this here in our frozen wilderness together."

"No indeed!" said Vilthavia. "In fact, I marvel at what you tell me, as my predicament is remarkably similar to yours, seemingly."

Then Vilthavia went on to tell Elendis in brief as to his own errand on so long a journey and his unwavering hope to locate his missing father in Rhudaur. When asked if she had ever heard the name of Hunthor Elendis shook her head.

"I no longer know many of the men at Cameth Brin. I suppose I never really knew any of them very well, me being much younger at the time. Yet many of the king's men do not go by their proper name but tend to use false ones instead. But hearing you speak, Vilthavia, I would urge you not to travel to Cameth Brin for any reason. The folk there are not to be trusted anymore. The king has many spies and agents who deal with hostile people from abroad. Before I departed it was well known that Denethil favored employing Dunlendings from the south as well as ordinary northmen of mixed blood from all corners of Eriador."

"I cannot turn back at this point, Elendis," replied Vilthavia sternly. "I tried to turn back when we were still in the eastern foothills but was refused an escort, if you recall. Yet now that I have no choice but to go forward I would that I may find my father - or at least receive tidings of him. How can I do otherwise?"

"It is folly."

"How can I do otherwise?"

"Then I fear for you already. Where will you go? Who will you stay with? You have already stated that you are a stranger in these lands."

"Perhaps I will seek lodgings with Vidui. He already has room and board arranged for him with the prince Ermegil, who in turn serves the king."

"Who?" asked Elendis in confusion.

"I think he said the name of the said prince is 'Ermegil'."

"I am not familiar with that name. Yet I hope that you will reconsider your decision, Vilthavia. If you do not wish to leave my company," she suggested coyly despite her phyiscal discomfort, "then you will take my advice."

"What then would you have me do, dear Elendis?"

She fell silent again for several moments at this. Vilthavia wondered if she was falling asleep when she did not respond to his suggestion of them both sitting upwards again. At length she sighed and spoke again in a resolute tone.

"Very well, Vilthavia. I think you ought to come with me - of we ever escape these dreadful mountains, which is yet doubtful."

"My lady?"

"You should come with me and prove your intentions towards me. You do want me for your own, do you not?"

Vilthavia hesitated. Not out of uncertainty, for he had already grown quite attatched as well as attracted to this bold and beautiful young lady in so short a time. The fact that he had been unaware of her previous wedlock to Wildaria had not changed that fact. Yet he felt reluctant to commit to anything outside of searching for his father whom he had come so very far to find again. How could he simply give up on his quest after all this time? To abandon his search and go traveling away with this young lovely maiden whom he had only known for a mere fortnight seemed untamed and unwise: wisdom giving way to feckless hedonism without forethought - an impulsive act of youth and contrary to his new determination to lead a safe and cautious life. But this delay of response to her question was taken amiss by Elendis and he felt her turn away from him to face the opposite direction. When he laid his hand upon her shoulder she recoiled slightly.

"Such a long pause before replying to this?" she said suddenly now aloof and distant. "Thank you for providing me with your warmth, Vilthavia. I shall be alright now."

"Elendis," he said, trying to reclaim that tender warm closeness they had been sharing.

"I would like to be alone for a while, I believe."

"Elendis! I fear you misunderstand me. My hesitation was not out of a refusal of your affections. I was merely lost in reflection..."

"You may go now, Vilthavia. Please let me be."

Feeling confused and a bit wounded to heart Vilthavia sat up again and sighed. He looked down at Elendis once more before slowly rising to his frozen feet. He staggered back to his former spot near the mouth of the cave entrance, shuffling around the bulk of the men who were still sitting in huddled mass together in order to keep warm. As the air of the mountain valley grew slowly colder with the ageing darkness even this was becoming more and more futile. Would they all freeze to death? Perhaps Elendis was right after all. Perhaps it would be less cruel for all of them to merely seek the fatal snow-sleep and save themselves what might likely be profitless toil and hardship as they desperately sought a way down into the foothills of the western Misty Mountains.

He sat down again and leaned back against the cave wall with closed eyes. His mind raced to and fro as he pondered on their fate and all that had befallen them all since the dreadful winter tempest had fell upon them. Yet he mostly dwelt on Elendis. Did he really love her? He had openly proclaimed as much with those very words just before the two of them had been buried beneath the falling mass of snow that made up the bulk of the avalanche. Yet did he utter these words out of a dread fear of death and the untimely end to his mortality on earth - or did he truly love this young woman from Rhudaur? He had never loved a girl before. Had the sudden mutual kiss between them at the time been an act of love or merely an invlountary response or reflex in a situation of imminent peril? Thinking about it now the latter seemed more likely. Yet he could not deny that it had given him pleasure and comfort at that very moment. Did he or did he not love Elendis?

When he opened eyes again he knew instinctively that he had fallen asleep. This alarmed him exceedingly, and he immediately sat up straight and looked about him. He could see that the men who had been huddling closely together were still there but most of them were laying down by now. Two men only had remained in a seated position through the night. Vilthavia looked at them and tried to speak but somehow could only manage a hoarse whisper. One of the men who had been sitting upright moved his head upwards slightly and gazed over at Vilthavia with a blank look upon his face. It was a look of hopelessness tinged with carelessness. The man, whom Vilthavia knew well enough by now but could not recall his name, said nothing to him but instead simply shook his head silently as if to say, 'all is lost, we are all doomed.'

Vilthavia looked across the entranceway and gazed blankly at his uncle, who seemed to have fallen asleep. Vilthavia thought briefly about rousing him awake but suddenly realized that the cave was no longer masked in utter darkness. Dawn was slowly approaching in the world away to the east and an unclouded sky hung over the silent and hidden valley below them like a frozen but invisible canopy. Vilthavia slowly and rather painfully rose to his feet and stepped over to the cave mouth and stood outside the entrance as he looked down and out over the long and frozen tree-studded valley. All was quiet. Only the sound of a distant woodpecker busily hammering away at some random evergreen pierced the air.

He was amazed to find himself alive. He had never meant to fall asleep as he did. Yet he had been so very weary. They were all well beyond ordinary weariness by now. They had well nigh completely exhausted themselves in both body and mind. Small wonder he had fallen asleep despite the cold. Yet he knew that in doing so he had already violated his new will and determination to live life as safely and cautiously as possible. For the third time in less than a week he had tempted fate and had risked death: by way of avalanche, hidden crevasse and now risking the snow-sleep.

Then he thought of Elendis. He abandoned his thoughts and turned to retrace his steps back into the cave to go and check on Elendis as quickly as possible. He stepped around the sleeping men on the floor of the cave (some of whom he feared might not ever wake up again) and came to Elendis, who was now sitting upright against the wall with closed eyes. She was not moving, and Vilthavia called out her name in a croaking, strained voice that was barely audible even to himself. It hurt to even speak by now. She did not move at this and he immediately feared that she had died in the night with no one to even hold her close to fend off the cold.

Vilthavia bent down upon his knees before her and called her name again, this time more loudly. Yet still there was no sign of life, and straightaway Vilthavia felt a stab of inner pain go into him and he felt the sobs of sorrow well up inside him. He slowly began to fear that she was gone now and had went to the appointed waiting place for all the Edain beyond the circles of the world. He felt tears swelling up in his eyes and begin to roll down his frozen cheeks. With the half-light of dawn now filtering its way into the cave he could see her more clearly now. Her blonde hair was ragged and unkempt as it hung limply down from her head and partially covered her lifeless face. Her cheeks were deathly white and her lips tinged with pale blue. He stared at her for a few passing moments. not wanting to believe that this lovely and brave young woman could truly be dead after coming so far. His vision became blurred by tears (which was in itself amazing considering the cold environment) and he cuffed them away. He sobbed again and reached out to cup her cheeks in his palms, uttering softly to himself and to her form, "Yes! Yes, I do love you, Elendis! I love you! Do not leave me!"

Then lo! Elendis slowly opened her eyes and looked palely into his own. Then Vilthavia breathed a sigh of relief and sought to stifle another sob that welled up in him. He felt a flood of new joy run through him at the knowledge that Elendis yet lived. She lived! They might still forge a future together in the end!

"Do you love me?" she asked him after a long pause. Vilthavia nodded with a painful smile. Yes, he told her now openly. He did indeed love her and would follow her wherever she desired to go after they escaped the mountains. To this Elendis did not smile, for she was too spent in body, but nodded her approval. But Vilthavia knew that their future together now depended entirely upon their leaving this little cave and finding a way down the mountainside at all costs. Another night up here and they would all surely perish. They must not tempt fate again. Vilthavia bent over her and gently kissed her on her frozen and chapped lips. She tried to respond to his kiss but was too weary and cold.

"The dawn is coming, dearest Elendis!" said Vilthavia in his hoarse voice. Speaking was now painfully difficult for him since waking up from his sleep. "Soon the sun will rise unshrouded and we shall benefit from its warmth. Yet we must move you over to the cave mouth."

His instructions to her was interrupted by a low and trailing moan from one of the men. Vilthavia turned to see one of the sitting men leaning over one of his companions, saying, "They are dead! Dead! They have fallen to the snow-sleep!"

Vilthavia rose to his feet and was about to go over to the man when he heard his name called out in a fierce whisper. It was the voice of his uncle Urlavia.

"They are coming," said his uncle woodenly.

"Who is coming?" asked Vilthavia with his strained voice. "Vidui? Ningavia? Is it them at last?"

Urlavia, who was now sitting upright and gazing down into the long length of the valley, shook his head in reply.

"Nay, it is not them. Your friends have abandoned us, seemingly. A fine pair of leaders they have made!"

"Who is coming?"

"Come and see for yourself, lad!"

Vilthavia strode quickly over to the cave mouth and looked out upon the outside world below - and there they were. Men. A score of men dressed in heavy winter-gear all armed with spears and helms. There looked to be at least two dozen of them, perhaps more. They were very far away but were all walking in an orderly fashion through the snow towards the direction of the cave. This fact, once heralded to the rest of the group, was received with cautious optimism. Yet no one desired to spend another night up in this frozen icebox and there seemed little choice but to take up the risk of alerting them to their presence and begging, on bent knees if necessary, for their much needed assistance.

"We are rescued!" cried one of the men, coming to look down at the advancing new-comers.

"Who shall go down to them?" asked another.

"I will go," replied Vilthavia, amazed to hear himself say such a thing. To volunteer such a thing was hardly in keeping with his new life plan of safety and caution first. Yet he desired to show his bravery to Elendis.

"No," said Urlavia, now rising to his feet. " I will go to them."

Yet when Vilthavia's uncle struggled to his feet he staggered as he did so and a dull and metallic object fell out of one of his torm pockets upon his ragged pantaloons. The little object struck the floor of the cave with a dull thud and lay at the feet of Urlavia. Vilthavia looked down at what had fallen from his uncle's pocket and lo! There was Cernan's amulet and gold chain! Vilthavia stared down at it for a brief second trying to comprehend what he had just witnessed before Urlavia quickly bent over and seized it in his hands before striding out of the cave and down the stone steps without a word.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SEVEN

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Dec 29, 2010 3:01 pm

Those of the lost and helpless Rhovanions that had the strength to stand and look out from the entranceway of the cave upon the newcomers down in the long valley below were overcome with joy at this new stroke of luck that presented itself. It seemed to them that they would all be saved; or at least rescued from their immediate plight and perhaps be given food and clothing to sustain them. The sudden appearance of a small column of men whose origins and intentions were unknown to them as of yet was not a welcome boon for all. Elendis especially disliked these new tidings of men coming up the valley when Vilthavia relayed the news to her. By now her sufferings in both mind and body had begun to take their toll on the young Dunadan maiden from Rhudaur. The expedition over the high passes had been a disaster almost from the start and by now Elendis had nearly lost all heart and hope of recovery. This new and blossoming acquaintance with Vilthavia had no doubt been a great comfort to her over the last few days - indeed, more so than she was willing to admit to herself - but he alone could not save her sinking spirits. She was still young even among her own high folk and perhaps had not seen much of the wide outside of Eriador but she was wiser than many men and, having lived the bulk of her young life in the Rhudaur country, had a solid knowledge of the folk in and around her homeland, few of which she loved or trusted.

Yet Vilthavia was by now well out of his element and so far away from his own homeland and the lands that he was familiar with that he could only find hope and encouragement at the sight of the approaching men. Besides, he thought to himself, what other choice did they all have? To keep hidden inside the cave and hope for the men to turn away or pass them by without notice would surely be a death sentence for them all. They could not hope to survive another night out here in the lost and frozen wilderness of the mountains - of this he was certain. They were all by now quite frail and helpless. Elendis' condition, he reckoned, was perilous above all, for her arm was lame through injury and he feared that if she did not receive some method of treatment soon her limb would deteriorate further still and, assuming she survived the mountains, might even need to be cut off to prevent the gangrene. He said nothing to her as of yet about the theft of Cernan's family amulet by Urlavia. That could wait, for knowledge of this would only antagonize Elendis and agrivate her frail condition. No, it would not do. Revealing themselves to these newcomers could not be avoided by now. Therefore, Vilthavia was in agreement with his surly uncle for once in choosing to greet these men and plead their case to them. Perhaps, he proclaimed to her timidly as he came to her in the back of the little cave, they might have even come across Vidui and Ningavia further down on the foothills and maybe even rendered them aid. They might have even been sent here by their two lost scouts. To this Elendis said nothing but only sighed and closed her eyes wearily and waited for the unfolding of the morning.

As soon as Urlavia had descried the strangers coming up the snowy valley off in the distance he had made up his mind: he would take it upon himself to go out to them and speak on behalf of his stricken companions and plead for aid. He wanted to do this himself despite the fatigue that afflicted him most heavily by now, for he desired for these men to hear own version of their story before they had spoken to his companions. By now Urlavia had little love for his fellow Rhovanion travelers back in the cave, they having already openly rejected his council and leadership (an act of mutiny in his own weary and cloudy mind), and he sought to endear himself to these men before others had a chance to do so.

So there he stood; Urlavia of Rhovanion alone among the scattered trees and snowfields of the mountain valley as he awaited the approach of the newcomers. The sun had not yet fully risen in the cold dawn, it still being quite early, but its penetrating glow had already begun to illuminate the world below it. The shadows in the valley were long and Urlavia was initially alarmed when he saw one of these long shadows before him among the evergreens a stone's throw away begin to move this way and that. His first thought was that there existed an unknown presence very close to him that he had been unaware of and that it seemed to be coming towards him hesitatingly. There was no sound around him and barely a breath of wind stirred this morning. Only the sound of his labored breath and the cold steam that spilled out from his open lips with each breath penetrated the silence around him. But the strange shadow continued to grow nearer, it moving sometimes quicker sometimes slowly as if lost in confusion. Then he saw another neighboring shadow close to the first move in similar ways and fear crept over him again. His mind turned to flight as he quickly forgot about the approaching footmen and Urlavia began to back away. Yet had he not been robbed of much of his wit and better judgment by way of days of pain and torment the ill-tempered trader and hunter might have realized that the menacing shadows in the woods before him were those of mere deer who were most likely fleeing from the approaching men. Urlavia then turned his back on the hidden threat and began to run back towards the cave. Yet he got only a few strides before inadvertently stumbling in a small hole in the ground and fell headling into the snow. He felt a stabbing pain in his ankle but ignored it for the moment and instead turned around in the snow to cast a quick glance back at the shadows that he guessed were stalking him. Then he saw the two deer, who in turn beheld him as they hesitated with indecision. They were quickly joined by two others who saw the hulking figure of Urlavia in the snow and immediately changed direction and sped off to his right and vanished behind a cluster of trees. Still two more came into view and they hastily followed their brethren into the safety of the shadows.

Despite the new pain in his foot Urlavia felt a fool. He had mistaken the long and advancing shadows in the snow as intruders and he had fled from them. If he had been in his right mind at the time and, as he reassured himself, more sound in body he would have immediately drew his bow and arrow and launched a quick volley of feathered shafts at such a prize. But then he realized that he had neither bow nor quiver at hand. Indeed, he had not even thought about them since his narrow escape from death back up on the mountain slope, and it was then that he realized that they were gone - probably lost back up the slope or in the avalanche three days ago. He felt for his dagger blade upon his belt but it too was not with him. In his state of weariness and eagerness to escape his ill plight he had come down to meet these men unarmed. He had not even remembered to put on his tattered wool coat What a fool he had just been! And now he had a turned ankle to compound his woes.

With clenched teeth, he stood up again and brushed the snow away from himself as he awaited the approach of the men. They disappeared briefly behind a series of trees and a dip in the terrain but presently came into view again. By now they were perhaps within a couple hundred yards and had surely sighted him by now. Urlavia could now make out many of their features. There was, as he counted to himself, no less than two dozen of these unknown strangers - all of which looked to be armed primarily with long spears, though a few possessed bows and arrows and a few blades slung at their waists. Their clothing was mostly the same all round: heavy winter fur wrappings with knee-high boots, leather gloves with the fingers cut out for mobility and thick furry hats that hung down on the sides to cover their ears. Yet the most striking feature that Urlavia immediately noticed about them was their hair. Most of these stout folk had very long locks that hung well out from underneath their caps and were carefully braided with various little gold and silver spools that not only served as decorations but also kept each braided coil of hair confined in its proper groom. They were mostly fair-haired, though a select few bore dark locks with beards to match. Their leader, or he whom Urlavia took to be their leader (for surely all wandering groups of armed travelers must necessarily possess a man who leads the others), certainly stood out from his peers if for no other reason than his frontal position among the marching order. Yet there was far more in him than merely that, as Urlavia guessed. The closer they came to his current location among the scattered trees the more sure Urlavia was of their race.

Though he had only once before been in the Rhudaur lands the more sure he was that these burly men before him were those that most men of Eriador blandly refer to as Hillmen. In other areas of the world such a plain title could belong to any stock race of men that made their dwellings in hilly terrain, but not so in eastern Eriador. The term 'Hillmen' belonged exclusively to a separate breed of the Edain that might have originally been a mix of northmen and Dunlendings, though by now, over so many thousands of years, they no longer claimed any kinship with the latter race - indeed, they now widely reckoned the Dunlendings as their foes and raids and bloody skirmishes were waged between the two fairly often, especially farther to the south in the lands nigh Dunland. Yet over the centuries most of their Dunnish blood had been bred out of them with the result being that the Hillmen of Eriador bore a bloodline almost exclusively their own. They were not tall men by nature but they were stout and strong and possessed a short temper when roused to anger. They kept company mainly with themselves, though they were known to be fond of dwarves and even traded with them occasionally. They called few men outside their own race 'friends' and they possess an undying hostility towards the Dunedain in particular, for the High Men had over the ages held them in scorn and had gradually pushed the Hillmen off of their ancient hunting grounds in the lands of old Arnor, and when Elendil's old kingdom split asunder into three separate realms that are now called Arthedain and Rhudaur they had, by way of overwhelming force by order of their kings, herded the Hillmen eastwards into the foothills of the Misty Mountains. Whenever the Hillmen had dared to push back the Dunedain fell upon them by blade and by arrow until the Hillmen were cowed and agreed to pull back closer and closer to the mountains where the lands were more harsh and infertile. Few of the wandering tribes of Hillmen had forgotten this unrighteous act and ever since they have called the Dunedain their enemies. These feelings of hostility had carried over until the present day.

Several minutes passed as Urlavia waited for them to draw near. The pain in his ankle was acute enough to cause him to grimace as he nursed his new injury. He also began to notice that his feet were becoming ever more numb with cold, so much so that he had to resist the temptation to sit down and remove his wet boots from his feet to massage his toes. He cursed his present plight bitterly as he watched the grim Hillmen come up to him. They were all staring intently at him by now as they exchanged words with each other. The intense scrutiny by which he was being discerned by them put Urlavia off exceedingly, and instead of calling out to them he stood rooted in place, breathing heavily and causing the steam to course out through his nose and mouth, which hung agape.

Three men stepped forward out of the gathering throng and marched through knee-deep snow until they were within thirty feet of the haggard Rhovanion. There they halted and one among them called out to him in a tongue unknown to Urlavia. The man made no gesticulations with his hands as he spoke which might have assisted in imparting the meaning of his unintelligible words to the stranger, so Urlavia simply shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. The gruff-looking Hillman squinted hard at Urlavia for a few passing seconds as the sun's first morning rays suddenly shone down into the upper arms of the valley, bathing the distant snow-patched rock and trees with a rich yellow and orange glow. Urlavia blinked repeatedly at this sight, taking it for a hopeful sign of his preservation.

The dark-haired Hillman broke the momentary silence by speaking once again in a different tongue - a tongue Urlavia thought he recognized somewhat, though it was not one he himself spoke. Again he made another gesture that he did not understand the man's words.

"Who are you?" asked the Hillman at last in the Common tongue of the west. The question was laced with suspicion and displeasure. Urlavia paused before replying.

"I am a Rhovanion - from the far eastern lands I have come - "

"You must divulge your name to me immediately! I did not ask you of your origins yet."

None of these Hillmen looked anything remotely like friends or folk to tangle with, that much was certain. The long-haired man who had posed the question and who stood only a dozen paces away now held his spear confidently yet relaxed with its pointed blade upwards and the weapon's butt planted in the snow. He was confident and obviously unafraid of Urlavia, who felt a bundle of nerves by now.

"I was...er, that is to say, I am called Urlavia. I am quite lost and need assistance most desperately - as you can no doubt see for yourself."

"A blind cave bat could sense as much - Urlavia of Rhovanion. Indeed, you will doubtless soon perish out here from want of food and exposure to the elements. Yes, you are in need of rescuing. But I do not think that I am obligated to provide you of a rescue just yet - not until my questions are answered and my curiosity slaked. Whether you willed it or not you have stumbled into the lands of Broggha the High Chieftain of the north and for this you must give proofs of yourself."

The words of the Hillman were severe and unfriendly to be sure, but of this Urlavia had expected beforehand. This leader who spoke seemed entirely fluent in the common tongue, though his accent was thick as his consonants seemed to stick in the back of his throat.

"We were assailed by a sudden tempest back up the mountain..."

"'We'?"

"My companions and I."

"Where are they now? Are they dead?"

"Some are. There are few of us left. Two more died during the night. They are still back up in that cave over yonder," replied Urlavia, gesturing behind him with a nod of his head.

"How many yet live?"

"Perhaps seven or eight. I did not count heads before I came down here."

The leader of the band of Hillmen turned and called back to one of his subordinates, who in turn came forward. This man said nothing in reply but merely stood alongside his leader in silence as he scrutinized Urlavia without the trace of emotion. The leader spoke again.

"You will tell us of your adventure and of your mishaps thus far, and be quick about it."

Urlavia hastily retold their gloomy tale of misadventure since they climbed the high passes of the mountains, leaving nothing out but adding extra emphasis and embellishment concerning his leadership and bravery in the face of danger. The leader of the Hillmen must have sensed his stretching of the truth for he checked Urlavia and ordered him to be silent when told about his castigation and unfair treatment by his companions.

"What of your errand, 'hunter of Rhovanion'?"

Urlavia hesitated as he wiped his nose on his torn sleeve. He and his most of his fellow Rhovanions had been on a mission to visit Rhudaur and the Dunedan king, but somehow he judged that this answer would not suffice at present, knowing full well of the animosity born by the tribes of the Hillmen towards the Dunedain in general. Yet he also knew that whoever this man before him was he seemed quick-witted and able to detect an outright lie easily. Therefore he said only that they had been hired by three men from Rhudaur to escort a certain young lady from the afore mentioned realm over the mountain passes to her home in Rhudaur."

"Who is this young lady you speak of? Does she possess the blood of the high men of Arnor?"

"Aye, she does," answered Urlavia slowly.

"Tell me her name and that of her father."

Urlavia could see that the Hillman leader was staring at him most keenly now as if trying to sift through his words in order to read his mind. Urlavia quickly regretted alerting these men to the presence of one of the Dunedain among his group, for not only did he bear no grudge against Elendis in particular but he also knew that, assuming he could somehow extricate himself from this sour encounter and eventually arrive in Rhudaur, he had probably just forfeited any chance of profiting from the girl's safe deliverance by her kinfolk after he made it know to them that he had taken extra care in her preservation after the death of Cernan, the girl's protector. But his courage was not as stout as his words now and he feared to anger these well-armed men. Besides, he knew that Vilthavia had grown very fond of her by now and would almost certainly confront him about his obvious theft of the deceased Cernan's amulet, which Vilthavia had seen fall out of Urlavia's torn pocket before he left the cave. Even if these Hillmen were to let them all depart freely - an increasingly unlikely prospect now - his pest-of-a-nephew would proclaim him a thief before the rest of their companions and he himself might very well be abandoned alone in the wild as a punishment. Then what chance would he have of survival? None whatsoever. Might as well give the girl up, he thought bleakly to himself.

"The girl's name is Elendis," said Urlavia. "She had three other men of similar race with her when she set out but they are all dead now. She alone remains of them. Yet I know nothing of her father or even his name."

"Where is her home?"

"I am not sure, lord," replied Urlavia reverently, throwing in the high title at the end in order to ingratiate himself to this gruff man. "In upper Rhudaur perhaps, somewhere nigh Cameth Brin."

"Is that where you were going, Urlavia of Rhovanion?"

Again Urlavia paused before replying. He was beginning to regret volunteering to come down and confront these newcommers by now. He was loath to admit any connections he had to Camth Brin and the court of Denethil, though that was indeed his original destination. His mind and judgement was fogging over, for not only was he weary beyond words but his twisted ankle throbbed and at last he gave into the temptation to sit down in the snow and nurse it with his hands. At last he ventured to reply to the man's previous question, saying that he had only purposed to deliver the girl safely to her home before setting off for the port city of Tharbad to the south. But the leader of the Hillman, who had yet to disclose his name, had already turned away and spoke quietly to his companion next to him. His companion then produced a tattered and rolled up piece of yellow parchment and handed it to his leader, who in turn strode forward ten paces in the deep snow until he was standing tall above the slouched Urlavia. He glared down at Urlavia contemptuously before squatting down to eye level with the way-worn Rhovanion.

"Perhaps you might explain this letter of summons to me, 'Urlavia, hunter of Rhovanion'?"

Urlavia turned his red-shot eyes away from the brute before him and looked at the parchment. He recognized it as that which had belonged to Vidui, whom had openly boasted of his royal summons by a certain Dunedan prince by the name of Ermegil, son of the king of Rhudaur - the very name that was signed at the bottom of the summons. Ermegil had been the author of the letter and Vidui the intended recipient. Urlavia barely glanced at the coded words that were written there (for he could not have deciphered them even if he had tried) but realized then and there that the mystery of the missing Vidui and Ningavia from last night was now solved. They had probably been apprehended by these very Hillmen and either now dwelt somewhere as their prisoners or else were dead.

"You perhaps are familiar," asked the Hillman chieftain accusingly, "with the said 'Vidui' that is mentioned here in this letter?"

"I am," admitted Urlavia, for there was no use in denying this now.

"We came across him and his companion yesterday afternoon further down in the valley. We captured them and escorted them both down to to our village in order to interrogate them. They were quite forthcoming with their answers - some of which do not correspond to some of those which you have just given me. That means one or both of you are liars."

Urlavia sat upwards again and began to protest.

"Nay, lord," he quailed and began to attempt to explain the discrepancy between his answers and those that Vidui and Ningavia might have provided him with, but the chieftain, silenced him by suddenly seizing Urlavia's unkempt hair and thrashing it back and forth in a furious manner so that Urlavia's head was jerked to and fro.

"You dare attempt to deceive Broggha, Lord of Men?" screamed the chieftain wrathfully. His identity now disclosed, Broggha released his hold of Urlavia's long hair and shoved the Rhovanion backwards by the face with such force that Urlavia fell backward into the snow with bloody nose. He let a single moan of pain escape from his lips before turning over upon his stomach, where the blood trickled onto the white snow staining it red. He made to raise up on all fours and once more try and assuage this raging man's anger but instead felt Broggha's heavy boot upon the back of his neck. Urlavia fell forward again face first into the cold snow.

"You are a miserable little maggot, Urlavia of Rhovanion! Broggha has no love for spies in the service of Denethil, King of the Worm-folk."

"I am no spy, my lord! I swear it to you!" quailed Urlavia, his voice muffled by the snow in his mouth.

"Silence! Do not speak to me!"

"But my lord!"

Urlavia felt Broggha's boot dig in deeper into the nape of his neck from behind.

"Utter one more word to me and I will kill you! I swear I will! I shall spear you like the deer that you fled from a few moments ago!"

Broggha called back to his men behind him, the latter of whom came up on both sides of Urlavia and raised him up bodily by both feet so that the Rhovanion was upside down. In agony, Urlavia cried out in pain as his injured ankle throbbed in the grasp of one of the Hillmen warriors. He listened to the Hillmen speak to one another in their own tongue. A few of them could be heard laughing. Then he felt himself being dragged away by his feet face downwards by two men with arms the size of tree trunks. One of them spoke with a heavy accent to Urlavia as he insulted him.

"You are now to be informed that you are a prisoner of Broggha, Lord of Men," said the bodyguard.

"I advise you to tell all that you know truthfully to Broggha or you shall suffer as your two companions did last night."

The last thing Urlavia remembered before losing his wits in a painful blackness was the sound of harsh Hillmen voices and the feeling of being fastened by ropes to a wooden ice-sledge before having his eyes veiled with a blindfold. Most of the remaining Hillmen began to retrace their steps back the way they had just come with three of them pulling the sledge that bore Urlavia through the snow and back down the descending valley. Ten others were ordered to follow Broggha further up the snowy slope where they purposed to come to the little cave up on the hillside where ten suffering Rhovanions and one Dunadan maiden languished in frozen agony as they awaited the return of Urlavia and the badly needed aid he must surely be bring with him. Broggha gave the strictest orders to his warriors that the girl was not to be harmed in any way regardless of what happened next. If possible the men folk should be taken as prisoners - or be slain. He did not really care which.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER EIGHT

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:40 pm

Vilthavia looked on his uncle Urlavia with a most unkind eye at the unexpected discovery of the late Cernan's missing amulet. He watched it fall from his uncle's pocket and fall with a thud to the rocky floor in near disbelief. He always knew that his mother's brother was prone to acts of selfishness and unkindness but it seems he was also a common thief at heart. His uncle had quite obviously lifted the golden piece of family jewelry off of the body of the deceased Rhudauran when he had come across Cernan's frozen corpse laying submerged in the deep snow back on the slope of the mountain. Elendis had called down to Urlavia from above upon hearing of the discovery of her old friend's body and had asked Urlavia to recover Cernan's amulet off of his neck and kindly bring it back to her so that she might one day return it to the old man's family. But Urlavia had claimed that he could find no such amulet.

"So," thought Vilthavia in silence as he watched the receding figure of his uncle make his way down the rock stairs nigh the entrance way and wade through the snowdrifts down in the valley, "not only are you selfish and greedy but a bear-faced liar as well! Well may you rue the day you stole that amulet, Urlavia, brother of Yavinia! Yet I foretell that you have only begun to harbor malice in your black heart."

Vilthavia could not decide whether or not he should disclose the theft of the necklace to Elendis for fear of further darkening her already tender spirits all the more. If she slipped farther down into the well of her despair she might give up on life altogether and ready herself for a needless and premature death. He had heard legends before that the Eldar were susceptible to such untimely fates. It was said that in times of extreme grief or hardship that the elves were capable of willingly laying down their life and succumbing to death even though they suffered no material bodily injuries. They might give up their lives to excessive grief and simply die. How could such a thing be possible, though? Could the race of Men do such a thing? Perhaps the high Dunedain could do so? Vilthavia did not know the answer. Even still, Elendis could inwardly decide without revealing her mind to any that there was no longer any hope of survival up in these cursed snowy mountains and, instead of slowly freezing or starving, death would come faster by simply taking the deer's leap over the edge of some random cliff face. It would be virtually painless and quick in the end.

Vilthavia shook his head in absolute refusal of such a dreadful ending to so lovely a girl as 'his Elendis', as he already lay claim to her. He watched his miserable uncle walk out of view far down in the valley beneath the shadows of tall evergreens before making to turn away and return to the side of Elendis where she sat back at the rear end of the cave. But was checked in his stride by a sudden ray of yellow and orange sunlight that filtered through a wisp of patchy cloud above the distant mountain tops in the east. The light shone lazily into the mouth of the frozen cave entrance where the survivors of the mountaineering party languished in misery as each of them fought with their inner fears and gloomy spirits in silence. But many of them blinked repeatedly at this sudden dispersal of new morning light.

"The dawn has arrived at last," uttered Vilthavia as he stopped and looked out onto a brighter landscape. "We have made it through another night! How I welcome it so!"

"May it give you at least a little joy, master Vilthavia!" spoke a voice further back in the shadows of the cave. The tone of the speaker was laced with mockery and Vilthavia looked round and saw that it was the voice of Ulric, the man whom had plucked Vilthavia out of the deep snow following the effects of the avalanche and had given him the drought from the medicinal opiate mixture. He had been the assistant of the company's primary healer before the latter was killed in the avalanche. He went on again in a gloomy demeanor.

"But to me it means nothing more than an errant shaft of sunlight has mistakenly cast its beams our way for no good purpose. It shall not warm us back into health, alas. Yet perhaps it presents itself to us this morning in order to mock our plight."

"Nay, Ulric!" replied Vilthavia, coming closer to him. "Say not so, I beg you. You must try and turn away from such black thoughts now, for not only will the sun grace us with her presence this day but her beams shall diminish the effects of the snow the further down we go."

"You are just a boy - and a naive one at that. Think you that any of us are in condition to climb down this mountain, Vilthavia?" asked Ulric sharply, his voice rising now. "Even the mere attempt of such a thing would finish us."

"Silence your tongue, Ulric!" interrupted one of the other Rhovanion suffers in the cave. Urlic ignored him.

"Here is another thing, my fellows," he went on more animatedly, "a band of wandering mountain-men from foreign parts at last grace us with their presence here in the very hour of our need! Yet what sort of folk are they? Shall they prove to be virtuous or shall they prove villainous? I do not trust strangers in this part of the world, I tell you. Perhaps they shall come among us and set us in bonds? Or maybe they will be more merciful and slay us all before looting our dead bodies before they leave us all to rot!"

"It will not be so, Ulric," assured Vilthavia in a more calming tone. "for are we not strangers here as well? At least I think not that we shall be slain now - not after all we have gone through. A foresight has come upon me this morning. We shall live through this day and the one after that as well. We shall all come into Eriador in tact - at least those of us who do not despair shall."

"Don't be a fool, boy!" exclaimed Ulric laughing bitterly as he coughed. "One man's foresight may be another man's fantasy. You sound more and more like that idiot uncle of yours every day. I, for one, welcomed his decision to go down and confront this new menace that had come upon us. Let a fool be true to his nature and get himself killed in the process! It shall be one less fool in the world to bear!"

"I told you to shut up your mouth, Ulric!" cried out one of the men, a certain Rangar who had come all the way from the eastern territories of Rhovanion where the mountains that encompass the inland sea of Rhun can be descried. "If you say anymore I shall silence you myself!"

Ulric scoffed openly at Rangar's bravado and even went so far to spit at the man's feet in anger. The demeanor of Ulric had changed noticably in the last three days since his miraculous survival (as he reckoned it to himself) from the avalanche. In the early stages of the mountainous expedition he had been a beacon of hope among the company. Now all hope and good will had quite departed from him and was instead replaced by a sort of venomous gloom and fatefulness which he now openly voiced among the few survivors that were left.

"High words from the mouth of such a scrawny tanner from the Eastlands," retorted Ulric to his challenger, for Rangar had never been a man of bulk even in the bloom of health, and by now was nearly as thin as a withered branch. "Your head is too much soaked up in the urine of your leather skins. I do not fear you any more than I might a toothless wolf that is more bark than bite. But your empty threats to me might very well purchase you a hefty box on the ear that you won't soon forget!"

Vilthavia sighed at the hostile exchange between the two witless men. He wanted nothing to do with this dispute. He was cold, hungry and weary like his companions but seemed to be one of the few left among them that still retained a relative grip on his senses. He begged the two men to drop their grievances and refrain from further insults 'for the common good and perseverance of the group'. To this Ulric reluctantly agreed but Ragnar would reply nothing then and instead turned his attention to the lifeless bodies of the two men that had died in their sleep overnight. He began to strip them of what little items of worth they had left to them by then, which amounted to little more than a small leather purse of eastern coinage, a silver bracelet, a leather belt with a small buckle of gold and a few incidental rings which were mostly plain bands of gold or silver, though one did in fact contain two parallel lines of tiny inlaid white gems of unknown make. Rangar laid claim to this one straight away but was again contested by Ulric and and Barden, the latter of whom had nearly fallen to his death up on the former slope and had for long refused to proceed. Thus another quarrel was born and the three Rhovanions set to hurling insults and accusations at one another.

"You are all a sorry lot of blaggards, you are!" cried Elendis suddenly at the men and their foul curses at one another. She had begun to come to life again. "Stop it, I say! What a display you men put on! How dare you put on such brutish behavior before a young woman, regardless of her lineage! Had I any inkling that this company possessed thieves and villainous recreants among its number I should never have agreed to leave the Anduin vales with you!"

She had remained relatively quiet since awakening with the first light of the dawn, for her injured arm throbbed dully without cessation and pain of it was becomming a slow torment for her. Yet her anger and hopeless frustration at their woeful predicament coupled with the callousness displayed by her companions at the sudden death of two more among their group had frayed her nerves. Now they were quarreling over who should lay claim to the possessions of the deceased and seemed to care nothing for the dead men's honor in death. It was more than she could bear and she sought to upbraid the three of them for their behavior.

"Lo! Behold, for the Dunedan maiden speaketh!" this was cried out by Rangar the Tanner, who, like Ulric, bore no great love for the race of the Dunedain folk. "Your tongue-lashing would have more effect if you were backed up by your dead man-friends, dame! You have lain under the blanket of our protection for many days now and you still live! We could have left you behind up in the passes as cumbersome baggage but we did not. So I would silence that noble tongue of yours! Be thankful that you have us 'blaggards' to pluck you out of an untimely doom!"

"Aye!" agreed another man who sat thus far idly by. It was the voice of Vinya who was, as his wont, a man of few words. He had gradually become a sort of ally with Urlavia, Vilthavia's uncle, and had come to think of Vilthavia as an ungrateful brat towards his uncle. Of Elendis he bore no specific grudge but saw no reason why she should garner any preferential treatment merely for being a young girl who had joined their party of her own freewill.

"Young woman," he continued, though in a more dignified tone, "you have no right to refer to any of us here as villains or recreants! Is that how the father's of the Dunedain instruct their children to speak to their elders? Yet but for us 'blaggards' you'd be dead and buried beneath a wave of snow and ice alongside that old Dunedan fellow of yours you came with. What else do you want from us? Is it not enough that you have already been given all of the warmest and driest clothing that remains to us? We are all numb with cold here. You had better choose your words more carefully from here on out else you shall find yourself cast alone and adrift in the frozen wild."

"Not alone!" retorted Vilthavia suddenly and with great vehemence. "I stand with her regardless of the peril!"

This reply turned a few heads and even caused Vinya, who was by now the eldest among the survivors, to emit a quick exhalation of laughter, despite his chapped and frozen lips.

"Then may the pair of you find solace in each other's company alone out there!" he replied to Vilthavia, gesturing with a nod of his head towards the wild outside. "No one here will stop you leaving, I think, boy. You will get no more help from us! The time for deeds of virtue has nearly passed by now. You look to your own life and we shall each look to our own. It is the only way of it out here!"

Both Rangar and Barden murmurred their approval at the last words of Vinya, adding that apparently Vidui and Ningavia had already done the same and were most likely half way down the western foothills of the mountains by now and would soon be up to their knees in grassy meadows and wildflowers.

"In all likelihood," argued Rangar, "they met up with this lot of spear-wielding strangers headed our way now further down the mountain and ransomed all of us for their own skins."

Both Vilthavia and Elendis, who was already seen by the rest as a pair of would-be young lovers, called the two men misguided fools if they truly believed that Vidui and Ningavia had betrayed them all to whomever these men turned out to be.

"If these men prove to be a band of Hillmen, which they probably are," Vinya chimed in, "then Rangar's theory might very well be true enough, for I have heard many grim tales of that people. They are said to be a ferocious and treacherous lot."

"Vidui would never betray us!" snarled Vilthavia in defense of his absent friend. "He would gladly die before he would commit such a immoral crime!"

"Tis easy to proclaim such a thing before it happens thus," replied Rangar. "Yet one may do otherwise perforce when one's body is put to the agony of torture!"

"You do not know Vidui as I do!" cried Vilthavia again, finding new life in defense of Vidui. "I take offense at the slander of his character during his absense!"

"Dam n your Vidui, boy! And curse you and your little woman here to boot!"

Vilthavia stood and stared at Rangar in a new-found fury as he trembled with anger at the man's words. He saw little use in prolonging the quarrel any longer and opted to say nothing at first. He felt a surge of animosity well up inside himself towards these men whom he had once called his reliable companions. For Rangar he felt a special loathing and contempt. He had a momentary vision of strangling the wretch with his bare hands. As the morning light of the cold dawn gradually filtered into the recesses of the little cave entrance Vilthavia could see the eyes of Rangar gleam with a queer sparkle in them - like a cat's eyes might look just before it pounces upon its unsuspecting prey in the dark. He knew Rangar was several years older than himself and probably had been in a brawl or two in his day. But he could also see that Rangar had suffered most cruelly from the effects of winter exposure, for his lips and earlobes were turning a pale shade of blue while his bodily weight had dropped at least a good four stone since the day of the avalanche. Knowing that Rangar had suffered more than himself thus far Vilthavia wondered if he might be able to hold his own if the two of them were to become embroiled in a sudden wrathful melee.

One look over at Elendis quenched this idea almost at once. Elendis, who had by now sat up upon her knees in her corner as she wrapped her blankets tightly around herself, gazed fixedly into the eyes of Vilthavia, as if she were silently imploring him not to risk his life in a meaningless brawl. Vilthavia took her meaning to heart and sighed.

"This man is not worth it, Vilthavia," said Elendis in a compassionate tone.

Vilthavia nodded after a brief pause for thought and made to step away from Rangar, who was by now a mere five feet away from him. But a sudden impulse to release his buried wrathful tension overcame him then, and he made the grievous error of turning his back on the skinny tanner from the eastlands while quietly calling him a "fool-of-a-leather making whelp." This insult was spoken mainly to himself as he turned away, but not softly enough, alas. Without warning, Rangar unhitched his leather belt and seized both ends of it in either hand as he sprang at the unsuspecting Vilthavia. Before the young Vilthavia was aware of it he quickly found himself shoved up against the cold stone surface of one of the cave walls with his nose bent sideways upon it, so intense was the pressure he felt from behind him. The leather belt of Rangar clenched tightly around his throat and was clasped from behind in his assailant's fists. Rangar cursed Vilthavia loudly into the boy's ear as he tightened the belt around his neck so that Vilthavia was choking for breath.

"What have you to say to me now, you insolent boy? You dare call me a 'whelp'?" cried Rangar scornfully. "You see, I still have some strnegth in me yet! I'll tan your arse with this leather of mine!"

Rangar, though weakened considerably in body and limb over the last seven days, still possessed a remarkable hidden strength inside him as many laborers who have toiled their whole lives with their hands often do. Vilthavia knew instinctively that he had erred in underestimating this lithe tanner from the countryside and most likely would have suffered severely had he directly challenged Rangar in a confrontation. A brief flash of himself being forcibly evicted from the cave and down into the valley below at the hands of Rangar and the others entered his mind and a sudden panic seized him. He sought to get a hand free from his pinioned position against the wall so he might reach down below and behind himself in order to grab hold of Rangar's groin where he was presently vulnerable. But Rangar must have guessed at Vilthavia's intent and instead forced the boy down to his knees while still against the wall. A scream from Elendis echoed in the chamber as she then begged Rangar to release Vilthavia. When her plea failed to move Rangar she immediately pleaded with the others to intervene without success.

"He will come to no great harm, girl!" exclaimed Vinya, rising to his feet. "He will not be slain, I assure you. But he must suffer a reprimand for his slight of character to Rangar. Tis only fair, lady!"

Vilthavia was quite helpless beneath the weight of Rangar who was on his knees looking directly down upon Vilthavia's back beneath him. He tightened his grip on both ends of the belt around Vilthavia's neck a little more, all the while demanding an apology from the son of Hunthor for slandering his character or else suffer the painful strokes of his belt to his buttocks. Vilthavia turned his head this way and that in a vain attempt to alleviate some of the pressure around his throat but quickly gave that up. He was quite willing to apologize for his insult to Rangar but could not speak. When Elendis cried out that this was the reason Vilthavia was silent Rangar spat out to her that she had better silence herself or she would be next in line for his 'medicine'.

With this Elendis rose and strode passed the men and stood outside the cave entrance and screamed down into the valley for help. She needn't have screamed at all, however, for even before the echoes of her cry had had time to permeate the silence of the snowy valley she beheld a troupe of burly, long-haired, spear-wielding invaders hastening their way up the rocky steps of hillside towards the mouth of the cave where she stood rooted in a sort of wondrous terror as she stared at them transfixed.

The Hillmen of Broggha were coming for them at last.
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North

 
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CHAPTER NINE

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:02 pm

Vilthavia awoke from a dreamless stupor only to discover that the present state of reality offered little to uncloud his troubled mind. He knew he must have been asleep but had no clear notion as to the duration of his slumber. A few hours, perhaps. Maybe less. Opening his heavy eyelids to observe his surroundings revealed almost nothing. All around him was dark and dim. Only a thin column of light veiled by a hanging motionless mist emanated from some unknown stone orifice high above him. The only factual certainty he could cling to at the moment was that he must be laying upon a hard floor of cold stone in some unidentifiable chamber. All was silent around him and it was this very silence that oppressed our young Rhovanion traveler so much now that he was slowing awakening from his lethargy. Even his own breathing seemed to echo in his ears. Where in Middle-earth was he now? Why was he all alone? Where was Elendis, his faithful new young love? He wished she would suddenly reveal herself to him now, as if she had been nearby all along. Vilthavia called out her name in a pitiful trembling tone wishing to break the eerie silence around him.

There was no reply at all. Solitude, it seemed, was what he languished in at present. Vilthavia at last managed to slowly raise himself up and sat against a wall of stone as he gathered his wits. He went to rub his eyes with his hands and noticed that his left hand was bandaged tightly and carefully, especially around the three middle fingers. He wondered much at this as he squinted at them in the gloom. There was no blood stains to be seen and he felt that he could gently move them to and fro, but only with a dull pain. Then he remembered that these were the very fingers that had suffered cruelly from over exposure in the frosty-cold mountain air over the last several days. He thought he might even loose those fingers to the frostbite, but it was not so seemingly.

Like a flash of lightning it all suddenly came back to him. Yes! All of the events of the last two days (as he estimated the lapse in time to be) began to unfold in his mind as he blinked his eyes at the memories. Vilthavia quickly recalled being attacked from behind by that villainous Rangar back in the sanctuary cave they had found in the snowy valley. The treacherous brute had drown him down and tried to choke him to death with his leather belt! Then he heard the helpless cries of Elendis as the tanner from the eastlands tightened the coil around his throat. The pain of the altercation was very great, for he had never had so much of the wind inside of him strangled out of him before.

Then he heard strange voices rush in through the entrance of the cave as all of the pressure upon his torso and throat was suddenly released. Wild mountain men with unkempt braided locks and bearded faces quickly seized them all at spear point before shouting at them and ushering them out of the cave and down into the snowy valley below. He recalled immediately looking urgently about him for Elendis as he was hoisted bodily upwards by one of the strangers. He thought he caught a brief glimpse of her being confronted by a particularly large and authoritative wild man towards the rear of cave just before he was forced outside and down the steps of the hill. He tried to call out her name but found he had little voice to shout thus after having nearly been strangled.

Thus they were all herded together and made to sit on their knees with bowed heads amid the wooded evergreens as their hands were bound together behind their backs and hoods thrown over their heads. It was a most dreadful moment in passing recollection for Vilthavia then as he sat their in the snow and morning air that chilled them all to the bone. Losing his sensation of sight and unable to see what might be transpiring around him Vilthavia thought they must all be quickly slain out there in the middle of the valley. This fear seemed realized when he heard one of his companions (he knew not who it was, though he could not stifle the hope that the victim might be Rangar) suddenly cry out in pain. Surely the victim had received a spear thrust in the back, he thought to himself at the time. Then the dreadful moan trailed away into nothingness. Vilthavia thought he would soon suffer the same fate, and a sense of light-headedness overwhelmed him at that moment. Had he escaped the fury of a winter tempest, an avalanche and hidden crevasses along the way only to die at the point of a wild man's spear in the end?

Yet it was not so, of course. He remembered hearing the spearmen conversing together for what seemed a very long time behind them. After a long while of waiting on bent knees in the snow it seemed that these men might have other plans for them after all. One of his hooded companions tried to speak with the spearmen at one point in order to plead his own case. The voice sounded like it might be that of Rangar's but it was difficult to be sure of in such a circumstance. It was at this time that one of the wild men replied in the common tongue of the west, but his words were cold and mocking.

"Quiet, wet-pants!" the man had said to him. "Look, lads! He has wet himself with fear! Are all Rhovanions such cowards as you?"

The men had laughed at this and would say nothing more to their prisoners then. The next thing Vilthavia knew he was being manhandled once again and forced to lay down on some sort of wooden platform underneath him. Others were forced to do the same as leather straps were fastened around their feet and hands. Then the sensation of movement was felt. It seemed that these spearmen had been waiting for more sledges to arrive in order to transport their prisoners to their destination. There could be no way of ascertaining the direction of their flight, yet it was plain that they were going mostly downhill.

He recalled little at all of the trasport upon the sledge, save that it was very cold despite the morning rays of sunshine. The trip seemed an eternity. By then Vilthavia was overcome with exhaustion and he relented to the desire for sleep, though in truth he had probably become intoxicated with his own breath beneath the stifling confinement of his hood. He feared he might even suffocate if he drifted off to sleep along the way.

He had awaken with a stiff kick to his side. When Vilthavia looked up from the ground he could see a long-haired spearman frowning at him from above. His hood had been removed and he was allowed unobstructed sight from then on. He and his companions, unfortunately including Rangar, he remembered thinking to himself, were now inside some kind of underground room that was lit with a few torches upon the walls. It smelled of must and was dank. At the far end of the room there was an exit way that led into a long and straight hallway that stretched on into darkness. From this point onwards the memory of Vilthavia was unclouded, for he found the tunnel strangely fascinating for some unknown reason. On and on it went. Sometimes straight as an arrow while other times it bent sharply this way or that. It seemed to be mostly on a level course, though at times Vilthavia thought it descended downwards for a short while. By then he had of course lost all sense of direction and could not even begin to ascertain the direction they might be headed in.

Other adjoining corridors gradually began to show themselves on either side of the hallway, though whatever might lay down those directions could hardly even be guessed at, for their guards always maintained their route along the main length. Eventually one or two of the burly guards gradually softened in their stern demeanor and were even forthcoming when asked a brief question by on of the Rhovanion prisoners, though their answers revealed little to ease all of their minds. "What sort of tunnels are these?" "Dwarf tunnels," one guard would answer. "Are there dwarves here?" "Not anymore," he replied. "What happened to them?" "They abandoned them long ago during their wars with the orcs." "Where are you taking us?" "You are now to reside in the custody of Broggha the Hill-lord." "How long shall we be detained?" "Until it pleases Broggha to release you! No more questions!" The only question Vilthavia saw fit to pose to the guards was the one that burned most fiercely in his worried mind: "What has happened to the girl that was with us? She was sorely hurt and needed attention. Why has she not come?" "Silence!" cried the leader of the guard harshly. "She is no longer of any concern to you!"

And thus it went. But Vilthavia found it hard going the further on they were forced to march. They had all been given water and a bit of tough bread which was reinforced with some sort of ground roots not at all unpleasant tasting, but little else. The Rhovanions had traveled far and suffered a great deal since their departure from the Anduin valley over two weeks previous and had seen many, if not most of their companions perish along the way. They had become cold beyond imagination, suffered from fatigue, mal-nourishment and thirst and, perhaps worst of all, exposure to the harsh mountain elements. Several of the men suffered from frostbite and would loose fingers and toes as a result. Vilthavia had feared the loss of two fingers upon the left hand at first but just when he and his companions assured their captors that they could not continue any further upon such a dark and dank route (they had been two and a half days in the tunnels before reaching their destination) The spear men at last led them all into a wide hall which joined many others like it before it became obvious that they were now in the lower levels of some kind of tower. There the companions were separated and not allowed to speak as they were handed over to a fresh set of armed guards who greeted their new prisoners with hoods for their heads and eyes and bonds for their hands. This was taken ill by the Rhovanions and more than one of them complained openly of the injustice they were being led to. This accomplished nothing, however, and as a reward for their words they each received the butt of a spear in their gullet.

And that was where his memory became cloudy. After that Vilthavia was led down two flights of stone stairs by at least two guards before being led down yet another hallway. The sound of a door creaking on its hinges was audible as it was opened. Vilthavia was briskly ushered beyond the doorway where his hood was removed and his hands unbound. He was then obliquely handed a tin bowl of cold soup (consisting of nothing more than a few pieces of hard potatoes and roots in a thin gruel) and a cup of stale water - cold, tasteless and depressing. But Vilthavia ate all of it nonetheless.

The guards, who were themselves less stout and strong than those that had escorted them all down that never-ending passageway, were entirely mute when they led him to his cell. Vilthavia had ventured to ask them where they were taking him but he received no reply. They neither smiled nor frowned at him after his hood was removed at last. They looked at him stone-faced for a moment or two then closed the stone door shut behind them, sealing off all light from the corridor. There he was left in utter darkness. That very moment, when he heard the heavy door creak closed as it shut behind him, was one of his most unintelligible as he could think of nothing to do once he was plunged in oppressive darkness. He had not even been given enough time to glace around him inside the stone chamber that was now his prison. He knew nothing of its dimensions or if he might be alone in here or even if other prisoners were kept here as well. He assumed he was alone, for after several minutes of motionless silence he heard nothing whatsoever. Utter darkness, total silence. The sensation of it all was overwhelming for him and he could think of nothing to do save feel his way back to the door and sit down against it in misery. By doing this he would be sure not to miss any visitor that might venture inside. What abominable cruelty! For what justifiable reason had he been placed in such a dungeon? He was only a simple country lad of three and ten years who knew next to nothing of the goings-on in unfamiliar Eriador. How could he, of all people, be suspected of spying? And for whom? For what purpose? It was all so absurd.

The more Vilthavia pondered on it the more his thoughts turned to Elendis. He felt a great emptiness inside himself since they had been parted by force two days ago. He missed her greatly. This rather surprised him now, for, after all, they had only been acqainted for less than a month. Was this the first genuine stirrings of true love in his heart? He had never in his brief life entertained any thoughts of love for any young woman. For sure he had felt his heart had skipped a beat or two in the past whenever he might behold one of the fairer sex who might be endowed with the betterment of fresh and natural physical beauty. In this aspect he was far from abnormal. But he had always forgotten them after they had left his presence. Yet now he had met and befriended a young lass whom he had become quite attached to by now. They had endured many grievous hardships since their mutual paths had brought them together and had both survived them relatively in tact. They had supported and comforted one another often, and this more than any other reason had endeared them both to each other. Vilthavia felt sure that he loved Elendis by now. But he was less sure of her feelings towards himself. She was, without doubt, of a high and noble bloodline: one of the full-blooded Dunedain of Eriador, no less. But as for himself, he was a country-boy from the far away lands of Rhovanion. True enough, he was the son of a man who possessed no less than one-half the blood of the Dunedain - which, in turn, would make Vilthavia one-quarter of that high race of men - but what of it? Such a proclamation would not hold much water with the father of Elendis, who no doubt would desire a more suitable man for his daughter. Greatly comforted would Vilthavia have been right now as he lay in his dark dungeon to know that, not only did the fair Elendis love Vilthavia in return, but that she dwelt in a chamber two floors above his very head and lay upon a feather-down bed as she received a healer's treatment for her broken wing, courtesy of, as it was proclaimed to her by her attendants, Broggha, Lord of the Ettenmoors!

Vilthavia felt tears begin to well up in the lids of his eyes as he thought of the pain of Elendis and all that she had suffered since attaching herself to his fellow Rhovanions. Better to have never met her, he thought sorrowfully to himself. At least she would be running free and happy somewhere else by now. It might have been better for himself as well. His heart would be the emptier and duller for it but also would it have not have ever known the grief of losing love as well. Then again, as it had oft before now and would again in times to come, Vilthavia cursed himself for ever entertaining the notion of leaving his dear mother and his homeland on such a futile and hopeless quest as the one he was stuck in at present. For the first time he even began to harbor wrathful thoughts deep in the dark corners of his mind of his absent father and his neglect of his only son.

* * *

Vilthavia estimated that three more days had come and gone since the beginning of his incarceration. There was, of course, no possible way of knowing with any degree of certainty but the guards had come and gone six different times since then as they delivered his cold and bland food and Vilthavia guessed from this (assuming that he was provided with two meals a day, as most prisoners were given back home) that no less than three days had elapsed since then. All the time he was holed up in darkness, he was given no more than a few spare moments of torchlight while he ate, which he deliberately did as slowly as possible. After his pitiful meal was finished the torch was taken away and once again the darkness was his sole companion. He did little save sleep and think in all this time. By now oppressive melancholia pervaded his soul and threatened to devour him slowly from within. The chamber was almost always dark (save the invisible orifice somewhere high above that would filter in the slightest bit of natural light on occasion) chilled and silent. The only time he had heard anything at all was on, as he reckoned it, the second day of his imprisonment. He had been on the edge of sleep when the sound of a rat, or more than one, could suddenly be heard off in a remote dark corner somewhere. All desire of sleep quickly left him then, as he feared to be gnawed on by the filthy creatures in his stupor.

Once again Vilthavia had been nearly asleep as a pleasant dream began to unfold in his weary mind in which he and Elendis were locked in a happy, iron-clad embrace as they lay upon some kind of steel sled as it sped down a snowy hilltop towards an icy pond at the foot of the hill. He felt that danger loomed before them both if they did not roll themselves off of the sled at once before plunging into the icy water but Elendis seemed not to care, so intense was the joy she felt from his embrace. But the vision dissipated in his mind like a foggy cloud that is pierced by the rays of a morning sun when a flood of orange and yellowish flickering light through the doorway of his cell suddenly brought Vilthavia back to reality. He instinctively recoiled from the light as he lay a few feet inside the chamber upon the floor. He shielded his eyes with his hands and awaited the entry of the guards, who must assuredly be there to deliver his next puny little meal. But when he heard no footsteps enter therein he sat up and squinted as he looked at his uninvited guests. The two guards were there as usual, but another man was present as well. All three stood ominously silent as they looked down upon him outside the opened door. The two spearmen uttered something unintelligible to the third man, who in turn nodded his agreement. He was handed one of the flaming torches before stepping inside the chamber. It was Urlavia, his uncle.

"You have one hour only," stated one of the guards to Urlavia before handing the Rhovanion two tin trays of food - food that looked much more like something far more edible and palitable than Vilthavia had been given thus far. Then the two guards closed the heavy door behind them and left.

Then nephew and uncle were left in silence as both gazed into the other's eyes with very mixed feelings. Urlavia attempted to look on his ill-favored nephew with as much kindness and empathy as he could muster in such a situation, for he knew that the boy had suffered much. But Vilthavia was shocked at the condition of his uncle, though appalled would be a more appropriate description, for lo! Gone was his uncle's former ragged and tattered garments and shoddy footwear. He now stood as neat and uniform as one who might have just come from the summer market on a mercantile errand. He wore a pair of grey baggy pantaloons that were close fitted at the waist. Upon his feet were ankle-high boots of black leather that looked rather like an item of luxury when compared to the torn footwear that Vilthavia currently wore. He bore a thick woollen tunic over his torso, a pair of fur-lined gloves on both his hands and had his face and hair groomed. The only visible sign of bodily abuse that could be easily seen was an ugly bruise on the side of his nose.

Vilthavia stared unabashedly at his uncle's attire. He felt the need to say something harsh to the man before him but could think of nothing that would not come out all a muddle, so confused in mind was he then. He raised his unsteady gaze up to his uncle's face as he ran both his hands over his forehead and through his long and dark locks, which were by now in a state of disrepute. He licked his lips and waited for Urlavia to be the one to break the silence.

"Your tongue is checked by the confusion in your eyes, my boy," said the uncle to the nephew in a harsh and brittle voice. "Can you not find your tongue after so long a pause? Your uncle has brought you food that your stomach may find more agreeable than the rubbish that you have been fed thus far. Here it is," he said with a gesture of his head towards the small plate of food in his hands. "I bid you receive it and consume every last morsel of it, for you shall need all your strength in the days ahead of you."

Vilthavia eyed the food suspiciously in silence but made no move to receive it.

"Go on, Vilthavia!" urged his uncle more loudly. "Take this food and consume it! Aye, you may have mine as well, if you like."

"Yes," answered the weary nephew plainly as they stood there in the flickering glow of the torch upon the wall. "I will eat yours as well, but bid you to taste a little of both plates before I do so."

"Ha! You think I serve you poison? My sister's only son! You think very ill of me if you suspect such a vile deed from me, nephew."

"Tis true. I do indeed think ill of you at times, as you know well enough by now. Why would I not? Should a nephew deign to refer to such an uncle as beloved?"

"You should very well love me, boy!"

"Well, I do not!" interrupted Vilthavia quickly so that his uncle would not ramble on. "Love comes upon the alter of fools for those that throw away all discretion when it comes down to it. Too often, uncle, have you thrown my heart by the wayside to gratify your own gains, which are wont to be selfish. You might have saved your sister's only child all of this misery long ago when you refused to escort me back down the mountains to the Anduin vales. But you did not!"

"You made a commitment! You swore your allegiance to Wildaria and to every member of our company in sound mind and body - against my council and better judgement, I may add. You must learn to honor such vows! When will you learn to behave like a man worthy of the son of Hunthor of Eriador?"

"You dare invoke my father's name into this? For you to do so does but confirm to me that you are false. I know too well your true feelings towards my father. You never thought it prudent to conceal your mind of him in the presence of my mother."

"I bear him no grudge or dishonor," countered Urlavia. "The man is worthy enough in his own way, though he has ever been wont to cast a veil over his heart. Despite his falts at least he does not betray his word to others. Nor does his mind wander this way and that in the face of uncertainty."

"I will not engage you in regards to my father, uncle! Why are you here and where are the others? And where is Elendis? Have they taken her?"

"She is here, somewhere in the castle, though I know not where. The others are here as well. If you will refrain from assaulting me with words I will tell you something of what has happened since our departure from the cave. That is why I have come to you - that and to inquire as to your condition."

"My 'condition'?" asked Vilthavia wryly. "I am weak, weary and cold. Always the same. Weary am I, also, of the dark. Why have they incarcerated me here in such a hard place? I am not even of full manhood yet! Of what threat am I to these men? How long have I been in here and when shall I be permitted to leave?"

"If my estimation does not err, we have all been here for six days. You shall not remain in here much longer, of that I am reasonably certain."

"What is this place?"

"If you will let me speak I will tell you all I know!" snapped Urlavia impatiently. He began to slowly pace around the dark chamber that was the jail of his nephew as he spoke, reverting to their own native tongue so that the guards outside the doorway could not hope to decipher what was spoken between the two of them. Vilthavia stood and observed him. It seemed that his uncle was looking to discover some secret hideaway or hidden recess in the walls of the chamber, though for what reason he did not say. At least Vilthavia was able to see with his own eyes for once the unseen corners of his spacious cell, which had before had unnerved him to a small degree. The two of them seemed to be quite alone. There was several small piles of rocks and rubbish here and there but nothing else. When Vilthavia inquired what his uncle might be looking for the latter again urged his nephew to silence.

"Do not interrupt my thoughts, boy! And I told you to use our own tongue, did I not?" This last because Vilthavia again spoke in the common tongue of the west. At last he beckoned Vilthavia over to the far wall.

"Bring those trays of food with you as well. I want to see you eat all of it, mind you."

Vilthavia shot his uncle a queer look which the latter could not see in the gloom before complying with the order. The two of them took their seats upon the hard floor as Vilthavia slowly began to nibble at the food. He was hungry indeed, but the revelations his uncle seemed privy to regarding their current predicament was more pressing.

"Did your father ever speak to you of the land from which he had come?" asked Urlavia softly. Vilthavia paused in reflection.

"Rarely. I know that he was born in Rhudaur, in a village two day's ride from Cameth Brin. I forget the name of it now. He seemed to hold most of Rhudaur in low regard, save for perhaps the southern areas, though for what reason I know not."

"That area is called En Egladil, or the Angle of you prefer. Folk are different there from those up north. What else do you know?" asked the uncle. Vilthavia shrugged his shoulders as he began to eat a little more hardier, seeing as it was a high improvement over what he had endured over the last several days.

"He told me some of the lay of the land of its hunting grounds in comparison to those of Rhovanion."

"What about his own people? The Dunedain? What did he tell you of them?"

"Little. I hope to learn more of them sometime - if I ever succeed in coming into Rhudaur. I know that they are now few in number. Why do you ask me these things?"

Urlavia ignored the question as he began to unfold his mind to Vilthavia.

"You wish to know where we are now. Well, I shall tell you. Again, if I am not mistaken, we now sit in one of the dungeons of an old tower that once bore the western name of Tol Palanmar, the Distant Tower. It was built by the masons of Elendil long ago, before the sundering of Arnor. Later, when the old realm had divided itself into three kingdoms the lords of Rhudaur named it Tol Awarth, the Forsaken Tower, for the Dunedain of Rhudaur were too few to man its ramparts. After a while, seeing that there was small need to guard the northern regions of Rhudaur, the kings of that realm abandoned the old tower and realigned its soldiery along the borders of Arthedain and Cardolan where need of men was pressing. I suspect this is the very tower, for after I had made my peace with Broggha the day after our capture, he relented to some of my questions and confessed that this old keep once belonged to the Dunedain of Arnor but was later neglected entirely by them. Broggha now proclaims it as his own, though as to what name he now calls it he would not say."

"What does this have to do with my father?" asked Vilthavia between bites. Urlavia leaned his weight back against the stone wall before replying.

"I believe your father has passed through here before, lad. Aye, and not long since."

Vilthavia ceased his chewing and craned his neck over at his uncle at his words. The man's bearded face looked queer with its shadows accentuated by the glow of his torch, which he had set upon the floor.

"My father? Hunthor? How know you this?"

"Because one of his former acquaintances has currently settled himself here in this castle while he conducts his business with Broggha."

"And who is this 'Broggha' whom all seem to hold in awe and fear? Does my father know him?"

"He knows 'of' him, certainly - I have little doubt. I know not whether your father has intimate connections with the man. Let us hope not. Yet Broggha does indeed hold many of the hearts of his people in thrall. He is of the race of Hillmen. They are a very old race of men and have dwelt in these northern regions for many an age. Arnor they once called home until the rising power of the Dunedain gradually swept them away and herded them together mostly in the upper regions of Rhudaur and the Ettenmoors. Even the Misty Mountains are home to them nowadays. Yet enough of that. Suffice it to know that Broggha is a cruel man. He feigns to deal justly with those who seek peace with him and his folk in the beginning but rarely proves his word as true in the end. He is strong and mighty, no doubt, but he is truly but an instrument of the black hand of another power - a power far more terrible than one may imagine. You have heard the name of Angmar before, I trust?"

"I have heard of it," replied Vilthavia rather blankly. "But I know nothing about it, save that it lies somewhere to the north."

"I am not surprised that you do not. Few save the wise know anything great concerning it. Yet Angmar is the home of a growing evil. A hidden menace dwells there that bears an unspeakable hatred for the Dunedain of Eriador. Rumors have reached the ears of men that the evil nemesis in the north is seeking alliances with strange men from the east."

"From the east?" asked Vilthavia with raised brow. "From Rhovanion even?"

"I know not," said his uncle. "But men in large numbers are known to have crossed the mountains in various places along the high passes - especially to the north. Many of them pass through this very castle on their way to their destinations in the west. Your father, I deem, has done so as well."

"How have you come by all of this information, uncle?"

Urlavia looked away from his nephew and gazed back across the room to the small windo hole in the closed door. The eyes of one of the guards were now peering back at them between the narrow iron bars. To give himself an indiscreet countenance, Urlavia stood up and dusted off the seat of his pants and began to take a sip from one of the two tin mugs of water that had been provided for them. Then he went on again.

"You must force yourself to trust me now, Vilthavia," he replied gravely without looking directly at his nephew. "You and I have had our differences in the past, as we both know well enough - and we have quarreled. Yet you must now do as I tell you from here until..."

Urlavia left the sentence hang in the air for a moment as he stumbled on his choice of words.

"Until when?" asked Vilthavia. His uncle now looked directly at him.

"Until your departure from this place, which is likely to be soon."

"Nay, uncle," interrupted the nephew with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I want some more answers from you. Furthermore, I shall go nowhere without Elendis. I will not abandon her now."

"Silence that tongue, boy! If you do not heed my council here you might very well perish! Never again will you see the girl if you throw my advice away."

"What know you of my father, uncle?" demanded Vilthavia more harshly as he too rose to his feet. "What is going on? Have you joined in an alliance with this Broggha? For if not, how is it that you come to me now dressed nearly as fine as one who has come into an inheritance?"

"I cannot tell you all now, nephew! Our time is short and our circumstances more grave than you realize. I have done what I must in order to preserve not only myself but you and our companions as well."

"You mean to say that you have saved your own skin and fortitude, I daresay. My father was right about you long ago. Urlavia looks after Urlavia well enough!"

"Ha! A boy may accept the words of his father as being beyond question," quipped Urlavia testily, "but what the boy does not know may come to hurt him indeed! For there is much concerning Hunthor, your father, that you know not. But I will tell you now that he was not reared in the land of Rhudaur, as he has always maintained, but rather in the north in the regions about Angmar."

"My father? Hunthor, son of Harthor, is full-blooded Dunedain, uncle!"

"I doubt it not and have never claimed otherwise! That is why he is valued highly by the enemy, I fear. He is an agent of Angmar and has been for a long while, alas."

"You lie."

"I wish it were not so, Vilthavia, but it is true all the same. As I just mentioned, one of his former companions among the slavers is present here at Broggha's castle. I saw him not long ago. He is here to collect more forced laborers that he shall trade with others along the eastern foothills of the mountains. Horuth is his name, or rather the one that he goes by."

"I will not believe any of this, uncle," stated Vilthavia flatly as he turned away from his uncle and stared into the dark corners of his jail. "Not unless you tell me how you came by these falsehoods."

"I speak truly. I have no reason to lie to you now! The fact of things at present is that your father is alive and well, you may rest assured, but working secretly for Angmar, though in what manner I have yet to ascertain. But I fear he deals in the subtleties of espionage. Angmar seeks the destruction of the three sister kingdoms and will eventually wage wars upon each of them in turn. Rhudaur will feel the brunt of Angmar's wrath first, no doubt. Denethil, the Dunedan king of Rhudaur will be hard pressed to stave off the might of the north unless some sort of alliance with the other two realms is reached soon. The years ahead shall turn blacker with every passing winter."

The guards were either growing impatient or else began to suspect some sort of secret collaboration brewing between uncle and nephew, for they now called into them both through the barred window to hold their converse closer to the door and to speak using nothing but the common tongue so that their words could be overheard and censored by them. Urlavia glanced over at them and nodded in compliance but Vilthavia stood at stared up at his uncle. What sort of man was his sister's older brother anyway? What hidden knowledge did he possess inside his thick head? Vilthavia, as well as Vidui and some others among their group, had taken him as a stubborn, unwillful fool. He spoke now with that air of unabashed certainty that those who eagerly wish to impart a dear truth often hold. Yet the information that this uncle imparted upon him now seemed too incredible to believe. Had his very own father deceived him all these years? Could this account for his long unexplained absence all this time? How much of this did his own dear mother know? Vilthavia ignored the demands of the guards and asked his uncle this very question.

"Your mother did not know as much as I have told you thus far," answered Urlavia. "But she knew that your father possessed secrets that he wished not to reveal to her. She knows that he was born in a land north of Rhudaur that men call Angmar, but I doubt she ever realized the significance of the name. Hunthor's mysterious elusiveness was, I think, the chief reason that your mother always refused his hand in marriage."

"Come hither!" cried one of the guards through the little window again. "You must obey at once! Both of you! Cease your secret talk!"

"Listen to me, Vilthavia!" Urlavia again spoke to his nephew urgently in their own native tongue, risking the growing anger of the guards. "I cannot explain it all to you now. I have one last piece of ill tidings for you."

Vilthavia's already pale face went whiter still as he awaited some other grim news from his mysterious uncle.

"Tomorrow on the morn you shall, as I think it, be brought before Broggha himself in order for him to announce your fate."

"Curse the man's ugly arse!" exclaimed Vilthavia impudently. "I should just as well spit in his face than speak with him!'

"If you are such a fool as that you shall die at once! As will Elendis! Now silence!"

The guards had had enough now. They muttered some unintelligible curses as they began to unlock the door.

"Aye, we are coming forth!" assured Urlavia to them. But he then went on in their own tongue one last time.

"Vilthavia, tomorrow you will be sold to the man I named as Horuth."

"Sold? I shall become a thrall?" cried Vilthavia in dismay.

"It is the only way, my boy! Alas! You cannot remain here under the scrutiny of Broggha and his minions. It would be the end of you! You shall go with this Horuth and he shall take you and several others with him back across the passes of the mountains where you shall serve him in the upper regions of the Anduin valley. In time, for I know where he dwells, I will cross back over and come to his abode and buy you out of your bondage. Do you understand, Vilthavia? I will come and purchase your freedom back. Then you shall go home and return to your mother at last, where you belong. Endure this last unfortunate trial and you will not ever have to worry about entangling yourself in all of the brooding evil I have forecast for you should you proceed into Eriador."

"What? Alas!"

The guards were now opening the door and hanging their torches upon the wall sconces for more light.

"Trust my judgement, boy!" replied his uncle hastily. "I never wished for you to come on this errand to begin with, and for good reason! You are now in all of this too deep! Yet now that you are here you must accept this heavy fate - for a little while at least."

"How long? May that Elendis should go with me?"

Here Urlavia reverted back into the common speach, for the guards strode over to them both with clubs in hand.

"Right. I have instructed the boy as to how follow the proper procedure tomorrow once he is brought before Broggha the Great. The lad will comply you may rest assured."

The two guards were not so easily deceived, however.

"I do not give a jot about any of that," answered the taller of the two guards. "The boy may live or he may die. He is as irrelevant as the next thrall. Yet surely you do not expect me to believe that in all your hurried speech you have merely been teaching the boy how to smile and kiss lord Broggha's dirty feet!"

"I have also informed him that any attempt to escape from this keep will accomplish nothing save his imminent death. I have put the fear of vertigo into his head. So - there it is."

"That was ill done, stranger," replied the other guard. "You have spoiled what might have been a worthwhile hunt, for Rhuggha loves fugitives!"

"'Rhugga'?"

"Broggha's son," explained the thuggish one. "What Rhugga lacks in demeanor and wit he makes up for in ferocity and strength! Few can boast his equal in the hunt. But forget about that. I waste time and words with you. You are free to go about now but never forget that the eyes of the Lonely Tower never sleep! Your movements are being watched until Broggha sends you on his errand. Now take your leave and come no more to this cell."

With that Urlavia nodded silently in acquiesence to their demands and made to exit the dark chamber. But before he did so he paused and looked back at his desolute nephew, who now sat upon his knees in the gloomy darkness of his cell and contemplated life as a thrall. It was not until the door closed fast and hard behind his uncle and the two guards that Vilthavia at last unloosed his tears and wept softly to himself. The glow of their torches faded away again and once more Vilthavia endured the harshness of bitter darkness and dreams of some unknown evil to come.
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North

 
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CHAPTER TEN

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:01 pm

The immense relief that Vilthavia felt at his long-awaited release from his dark prison-chamber was, alas, short lived. He had not slept at all since the departure of his uncle after the latter had paid him such a mysterious and unexpected visit the day before. Or at least it seemed like a day ago, for who can count the passing of minutes and hours accurately when immersed in unending darkness? But Vilthavia could not possibly hope to sleep after the tidings he had received from him regarding, not only his own inexorable fate but, more significantly, the news he had been told about his father. Hunthor? His own father an agent in secret league with Angmar? Actively working for the enemy against his own people, the Dunedain? It seemed too impossible to fathom. His uncle must either be mistaken or else desirous of fabricating lies about his father. Was not Urlavia regarded as a fool among his own folk? A greedy covetous man, yes, but still a fool? He, himself, had always thought him to be. Even from an early age Vilthavia had vivid memories of his father calling Urlavia a 'fool-of-a-trader' - an 'idiot without conscience'. Such black labels had directly led to quarrels between his parents when he was very young. Yet this last untimely meeting with his uncle gave him the impression that there was more to Urlavia than meets the eye! He tried to deny it to himself but he could not. Could it be that his uncle was more clever than them all by having deceived everyone for so many years? How had this implacable, self-willed man come by so much covert information? Vilthavia knew that his uncle had made at least two journeys across these mountains in the past on 'business of trade', though, as Urlavia had stated, many years had passed since his last excursion. Was it conceivably possible that his uncle was also some sort of spy working for Rhudaur in counterance to his father?

Vilthavia had sat in his pitch darkness for many hours reflecting on this unraveling mystery he himself had been thrust into. When he could come up with no plausible explanations for it he found that his thoughts again wandered off to his own unenviable plight. Assuming that his uncle had spoken the truth, tomorrow he would become the property of another man: a veritable thrall of a stranger who called himself Horuth. He had no idea what sort of hardship his indentured servitude might require of him. Certainly nothing that any might find desirable. Was there no possible means of avoiding such a fate? Surely there must be, but who could say what it might be? If the report turned out to be accurate then that would mean there might be many long weeks of slow travel as they recrossed the mountains to the east before turning northwards towards the upper Anduin valleys. Sure enough many opportunities of escape would present themselves along the way. He would resign himself to obey his new master for as long as it took to reach the eastern foothills of the mountains again before making the attempt at it. At least he would be back in the lands where more of his kin resided in Wilderland. If he could just make it that far; if he could stay alive until the distant Anduin valleys could be descried then he would live. He would have one more chance at rectifying the colossal mistakes he had made since he left his mother's house in eastern Rhovanion - young fool that he was.

Elendis! The name hit Vilthavia square in the face like a slap of ice water. What would he do about this lovely young maiden whom he had become so attached to over the last few weeks? To simply abandon her to her present state without even bothering to contemplate on some kind of rescue attempt was nothing short of callous neglect. He rebuked himself cruelly for even considering his future without taking thought for her. She was here, he knew she must be. Somewhere in this remote mountain castle Elendis was just as much a prisoner as he was. Yet she was far more valuable to the enemy (as he already referred to Broggha) than he was. Her kinship with the Dunedain had surely been discovered by now. What would the Hillmen do with her once they had discovered that fact? Would they simply kill her? Treat her cruelly in torture? Somehow he doubted it. Elendis may be of the race of the Dunedain but she was, after all, a woman - and a young one at that. She could not pose any threat to Broggha merely for being a young maiden who also happened to be a Dunadan. But she would be considered valuable. They might hold her prisoner for a long while and use her for barter or blackmail. She would become a hostage and held at ransom until one among her kin, if they might be discovered, could collect the requisite amount of payment to secure her release. Yes, this seemed more likely a prospect, thought Vilthavia as he walked under a double guard escort down various long corridors and stairwells of Broggha's stronghold. "I will not abandon her," thought Vilthavia. "She will not end here in so dark a jail all alone."

A commotion sounded up ahead. Vilthavia could hear voices - many voices. It was the sound of discourse among many men. The guards that led the way ushered Vilthavia through a high archway that led out onto a courtyard where at least a dozen men were assembled together standing around what looked to be an old poplar tree that grew alone in a sectioned off quarter of the courtyard. For the first time in many days - or was it weeks? he had quite lost count by now - Vilthavia suddenly found himself out of doors and standing beneath the open sky. The cool autumn air of the upper foothills of the Misties was immediately refreshing to him. He breathed in deep the reviving airy scent of far-off pine and rain that probably wafted in from somewhere in the north, where even a quick glance to that direction revealed tall and distant hillsides of green forests flecked here and there with early traces of whiteness: evidence that winter was drawing nearer.

The gathering of men was populated by mainly rough-looking Hillmen (or at least Vilthavia assumed they must be Hillmen, for most possessed that familiar long-locked, rough-seeming exterior that gave all of them, in his own opinion, an exceedingly dull and insipid appearance), most of whom were conversing with one another in their own foreign tongue. Others were mute in their mannerisms as they listened to an invisible speaker who could not be seen from Vilthavia's vantage point due to the onlookers who obscured his view. The remaining few, no more than than three or four, were obviously not akin to the rugged Hillmen, for these few were somewhat taller and less broad. Their clothing differed from their hosts as well, in so much as they were garbed in long-legged trousers (most Hillmen went bare-legged, preferring longish thick-wooled loincloths that almost reached down to their knee-high boots) and long wool coats, not to mention their darker hair that was kept far shorter than that of the Hillmen. One of these latter men happened to catch sight of Vilthavia being led out onto the courtyard. He paused in his speech with his neighbor to cast the young Rhovanion a curious gaze. He was a tall man - probably the tallest man present - and easily the most fair of face. A more experienced eye might have deduced that he came from a stock of higher men than that of those he presently surrounded himself with. His neighbor barely so much as noticed the presence of an insignificant young lad being led away by two guards and appealed to his tall companion to resume his discourse, but the former ignored him as he stared at Vilthavia with a curious eye - an eye that, as the sharp-witted Vilthavia quickly reckoned, contained a mischievous nature hidden behind it. His guess would prove all too accurate, as he would later see.

"Is that the Rhovanion boy you have there?" asked the afore-mentioned man in a loud voice suddenly. Seeing that the two guards had not understood him he repeated his question, again in the common tongue, but this time with an artificially exaggerated Hillman accent that he deliberately laced with mockery. The two guards shot him a challenging look of irritation before one of them replied in the affirmative.

"So that is Horuth's newest 'man', eh? Ha! He shall be glad to make his acquaintance! Perhaps you should bring him over here so that he may watch the proceeding 'lessons'. They are about to commence."

The guards replied that they had orders to fetch the said prisoner and send him on his way to the gathering halls, but the tall stranger pressed his case and would not brook their denial.

"He shall be forgiven any tardiness on my account, I assure you. Nor shall you receive any reprimand for it. You may tell Horuth that his faithful servant, Ermegil has delayed you thus."

The guards reluctantly acquiesced to the man's request and urged Vilthavia to make his way over to the small throng of onlookers about the old tree. The poplar itself was exceedingly stout in its girth and sported various out-stretched limbs that bore what was left of its brown leafy foliage, half of which lay here and there scattered on the ground below as many trees are wont to do in autumn. One of its lower hanging branches hung close enough to the ground that a tall man might reach up and touch it with a vertical jump. A long rope tied up with the hangman's noose at its ending length was draped over the extended branch and hung downwards within reach of the men below. As Vilthavia was directed between the onlookers towards the front he eventually saw for whom the empty noose waited.

"No," he muttered inwardly to himself. "It cannot be! Vidui! Vidui, my friend!"

No one heard his words. Many of the men hardly took any notice of him at present, so eager and curious were they for the entertainment to begin. Their chatter began to die down as one of the ring leaders of the proceedings stood upon an old wooden chair beneath the tree branch so that he might reach up and guide the coil of rope into the appropriate grooves that had been cut into the bark so as to prevent the rope from slipping off the branch whenever the victim might attempt to relieve the tension on the deadly rope around their neck by swinging their legs in desperation. After a moment or two of scrutinizing the ropes fit into the grooves the man showed his satisfaction by looking down at the gathered crowd with a nod and a wink, saying simply, "All is ready!"

Now Vilthavia could see plainly for whom the noose waited. Seated upon the ground with hands bound behind their backs was Vidui, and three other men among his former companions out of Wilderland: Ningavia, Rangar and the older Vinya. The latter two had shown Vilthavia varrying degrees of unkindness and even hostility since the early days of their expedition through the mountains. Indeed, it was none other than Rangar who had bodily accosted Vilthavia back in the shelter cave by throwing him painfully to the floor from behind. In many cases a man who found himself now in Vilthavia's position might look upon these two men's execution with an eye of indifference if not outright satisfaction. But it was not so for the young Vilthavia now. He did not desire their deaths. He looked upon the unfolding scene with a sort of mute apprehension and dread.

Yet it was for his dear friend Vidui that his heart cried out for now. He could hardly believe what he saw as he looked upon his old companion sitting there before the little crowd looking most wretched and sickly. The last Vilthavia or any among his company had heard from Vidui was when he and Ningavia had volunteered to act as scouts and go out into the valley nigh the cave entrance to conduct a reconnaissance and had never reappeared. By the look of him he had obviously been treated badly since his capture. His face contained ugly bruises and scrapes here and there and he had obviously lost a good deal of weight. His complexion was pale and the whites of his eyes streaked with bloodshot red as one who might have been deprived of all sleep for many days. He did not notice Vilthavia standing a few paces away even though he appeared to glance in his direction. Instead he sat beside the tattered Rangar and Vinya before the taunting Hillmen, some of whom openly gloated over their inexorable demise.

"Vidui!" cried Vilthavia with a new-found voice. "Vidui! What has happened to you?"

He darted forth from the grasp of his guards and ran out to his friend and fell to his knees before him upon the ground, crying out his name again. At last Vidui looked up at Vilthavia who was now at eye level with him. There was obvious recognition in his eyes now but little emotion in them - only a dejected look of misery and utter exhaustion. He shook his head at Vilthavia and seemed about to speak but was interrupted by the shouts of the onlooking men, objecting at this new delay in the executions.

"Get back here, you pubescent brat!" snarled one of his guards, who immediately strode out to lay hands on Vilthavia and bring him back.

"You must find a way of escape, Vilthavia!" said Vidui to his young friend in their own Rhovanion tongue. "Escape or perish!"

Vidui looked even more wretched up close. His nose had obviously been broken through torture and a large gash was streaked across his forehead.

"Vidui, why is this happening to us? What have we done to deserve this?"

Vidui was not given any time to offer him an explanation, however, for both of Vilthavia's guards had seized him under his arms and dragged him back to the edge of the crowd before the tree. Some of the men hurled epithets at Vilthavia as they shot him angry retorts, some of them suggesting that he share in his older companion's fate. But the two guards insisted that the boy was already spoken for.

"Aye, they speak truly, gentlemen!" added the taller man who referred to himself by the name of Ermegil. He spoke in the common tongue due to his lack of proficiency in the language of the Hillmen. "His services are anticipated by Horuth, who is a man well-known to be ill-disposed to being cheated his promised laborers! The boy has already been sold off, you see! Yet I will have him observe what punishments are doled out upon those who try to commit murder upon men under the protection of Lord Broggha."

The guards now clung most cruelly onto Vilthavia's bound arms and shoulders to prevent him from getting loose again as the executions began to commence. The other three prisoners were stunned to see Vilthavia alive and well after so long a seperation and they called out to him in their desperation for aid. Vilthavia found no words to say to them in such an untimely circumstance, for his mind was by now turned quite upside down in a sort of dream-like stupor. But Rangar mistook the boy's silence for callous apathy and he openly cursed Vilthavia, blaming him and his uncle for all of their woes.

"Is this is your doing, you villainous dog?!" he shouted at him wrathfully, then spat. "You are the cause of our deaths, curse you! You traitorous little rogue! You shall be a curse to all those that go about with you! Eh? What are you doing, you there?" This last question to one of the hangmen who had decided that the neck of Rangar should be the first to test the strength of the old poplar tree. The man and one of his companions hoisted Rangar up by the shoulders as a third man restrained the young tanner's flailing arms and legs. He did not go willing up to the roped noose, which still hung limp as it swayed gently in the autumn breeze of the upper foothills. The hot-headed Rhovanion cursed and spat at his executioners as he twisted vainly from side to side to release himself from their sinewy hands.

Another moment passed before they succeeded in placing their victim directly beneath the yawning rope above. Rangar was not about to surrender his life without a last desperate struggle to gain his freedom, and at length he did manage to swing his elbow upwards in a violent motion where it connected fiercely with the chin of one of the guards. The latter let out an audible grunt and momentarily released his handhold upon Rangar's arm, who immediately made to dart away. Yet he was quickly seized by his ankle and tripped up as he fell again to the ground. Thereafter a fourth Hillman stepped into the ring and rendered his three companions the requisite help they required to subdue Rangar, whose rage began to change into despair. He then began to weep, which ammused some of the onlookers while causing others to shake their heads in either disgust or, perhaps, sympathy even. Vilthavia saw three men from the gathered crowd turn their heads and walk away from the spectacle, either due to boredom or some other reason.

The old chair was kicked aside by one of the guards, who decided it best to lower the noose to ground level where it could be easily tied around the victim's neck. This was accomplished at last and immediately two of the guards seized the longer ends of the rope that had been lying idle off to the side and began to pull on it until it went taught with the victim's weight. Vilthavia saw Rangar gasp aloud and attempt to regain his footing as the rope began to retract back and upwards with terrible force. But he was given no time to do so, for by now no less than three Hillmen were pulling on the length of rope from behind the lofty branch, and as a result Rangar soon found himself dangling in mid air by his neck.

"Watch him dance, gentlemen! See how he changes color as he performs the dance of the gallows! Ha! His pants are turning a wet yellow!" cried one of the hangmen with a laugh.

Vilthavia looked on in horror. He had never before seen the body of a man being so easily manipulated in so vile a manner. It disgusted him. It was then that Vilthavia suddenly remembered that it was none other than a certain man by the name of 'Prince Ermegil' who had sent written word to Vidui that prosperity of employment awaited him in Rhudaur under the protection of - 'Ermegil', his new benefactor. And now here was the man before him! Vilthavia turned his head and looked up at the man who still stood by him with a look of stern solemnity on his face. An odd sensation of raw hatred began to well up in Vilthavia's heart as he tried to bore holes into the profile of Ermegil with his penetrating stare. Whatever flaws or weaknesses he had etched into his character from birth Vilthavia did possess remarkable abilities of instant recollection. Since his early days he showed a superior aptitude for the memorization of puzzling complexities, numbers, strategies and the decoding of runic symbols, to name but a few. Further still, he never forgot a face once he had etched it into his memory. This is precisely what he did now as he stared up at Ermegil, who seemed to have temporarily forgotten Vilthavia for the moment as he watched the execution of Rangar reach its conclusion.

"Turn away, Vilthavia," cried Vidui suddenly in the Rhovanion tongue. "Turn your head and cast your eyes downwards!"

"Vidui!" exclaimed Vilthavia likewise, who seemed to come back to life with the voice of his friend. "Vidui, he is here! The prince that lured you here so falsely! He stands before us! You must appeal to him at once!"

"I have done so before now, Vilthavia, but to no avail."

"I will do so as well!"

"It will not avail us," replied Vidui. "He has agreed to our deaths already."

"But Vidui! He must release you!"

"Turn away, young friend! You need not witness such spectacles!"

"What should I do, Vidui? How may I render you aid?"

"Nay, you cannot help us now." Vidui paused and looked up at the crowd nigh him. One of the men near him turned his attention away from the entertainment to observe Vidui as he spoke to Vilthavia from some ten paces distance. He did not speak but seemed to be calmly attempting to decipher the meaning of the unfamiliar language between the two. Vidui had to raise up his voice to contend with the noise of the crowd.

"Vilthavia, you must get away from this castle in whatever manner you can contrive!"

"I am to enter into thralldom!" bemoaned Vilthavia.

"Wait until they take you away from this place. They will try to take you to one of their northern abodes in the mountains where foul men and beasts dwell, or worse still - to Angmar itself! You must not allow that to happen, Vilthavia! I fear for you greatly should such a thing come about!"

"My uncle assured me that I shall be taken back into the east again."

"No! Your uncle is a deceitful liar! Do not believe what he says! He has joined himself to Broggha's service and cares only for his own skin. You must listen to me and promise me that you shall attempt an escape after you are led away from here!"

"I am not bold enough for such a daring feat, Vidui!"

"You must attempt it!" exclaimed Vidui with a new show of conviction that surprised Vilthavia so much that he flinched at his friend's reaction. "Life in Angmar would be worse than death for you! Swear to me that you will heed my final council to you, Vilthavia!"

The young son of Hunthor and Yavinia stood rooted in place as he gazed in helpless confusion and indecision at his doomed friend, who sat upon his bloody knees next to Vinya, who in turn sat shaking his head in great sorrow as he observed Rangar's last desperate struggles against the rope and the noose that was draining the last dregs of life from it's victim. Vilthavia could not even begin to contemplate how such a weak and helpless boy such as himself might manage to escape from his new overlords and flee with his life intact down into the wild all alone. What hope would there be for him in the unfamiliar wilds of Rhudaur without anyone else to guide him? And what about his uncle Urlavia? He had already come to him and advised him to endure his future servitude to his new masters for a while in upper Wilderland until he would come to his rescue by purchasing Vilthavia's freedom. But could his council be trusted? Perhaps he really was in the service of the enemy? Was he truly a liar to the very end? Yet if so, why bother to come to him in his dark cell with hopeful council at all? What was the point of such an errand?

"I see what this strawhead is trying to do!" said one of the onlookers suddenly. He was the same man who had been listening to the foreign speech between Vidui and Vilthavia. "See here! He is volunteering his own neck to go next! Let him up, fellows! He is eager to join the dance of death! Ha!"

By now Rangar had quite ceased in his struggles against the clutches of the hanging noose. Vilthavia could see that his body was by now quite limp and devoid of life. Rangar's face was frighteningly swollen and discolored in death. The noose around his neck still held him firmly high above the ground below. The three Hillmen who had been tugging on the opposite length of the rope in order to hoist Rangar up by the neck gave the rope three more violent tugs to make sure their victim would not elude death. When a slight cracking sound could be heard from the victim's spine he was at last lowered to the ground where he crumpled in a heap. Rangar was dead.

"Now that is true Hillman justice!" retorted one of the executioners with satisfaction. "Very well! Bring the tall strawhead forward! Let us hope that he shall put up a longer struggle against the death tree than did his feeble companion here! Someone remove this bag of bones out of our way!"

Two more men stepped forward and removed the noose away from the deceased Rangar before dragging him away by the feet.

"Vilthavia!" cried Vidui once more as two men began to stride over to him past Vinya, who was now silent and eerily contemplative as he stared at the ground. "Vilthavia, swear to me that you will try to save yourself after you leave this cursed place!"

Vilthavia again felt the tears swelling up in the corners of his eyes again as he watched Vidui being dragged to his feet. A tear upon each cheek quickly slid down to the corners of his dry lips. At last he nodded his consent to Vidui's last request of him, saying simply, "Aye. Aye, I swear to you that I shall try. Vidui, my friend!"

"Farewell, sweet Vilthavia! Yet this is not the end of all hope! Darkness shall not govern those with hope still yet in their hearts!"

Vidui's speech was checked with a slap across the face from one of the guards.

"Silence, dog!" he spat. "The hanging noose shall provide a remedy for that wagging tongue of yours!"

"Vidui!" cried Vilthavia, repeating the name of his doomed friend several times. He now wept openly.

"Very well, boy," said Ermegil suddenly to him as he turned and looked down on him. "Perhaps you have seen enough for one day? Your friend is surely a worthy man in his own right, but he must now pay the ultimate price for his insurrection against Broggha. Yet it is good that you weep for him now. Does not Nessa herself provide us all with tears in order to wash away the grief from our hearts? Grief is a lamentable thing, no doubt. If we permit it, grief will slowly eat away at us from within and cast us into the utter darkness where there is little hope of return in this life. Therefore, weep, child! Weep and let your tears remove the stains that grief leaves behind."

Vilthavia again directed his blurry eyes up at the man beside him. His words were soft and almost reassuring but upon his face was a countenance of indifferance at best. Even a trace of mockery in his tone was evident. Vilthavia instinctively knew he hated the man. Vidui's death would lay directly upon the doorstep of this villainous man before him and Vilthavia would not forget it.

"You betrayed him!" croaked Vilthavia scornfully between sobs. "You sent an righteous and honorable man a deceitful parchment of lies and falsehoods for nothing! You are the man responsible for his imminent death! Ermegil! Deceiver! Let that name forever be entwined with dishonor and evil! You are a villainous miscreant! Never shall I forget your face, Ermegil - Prince of Villainy! Your image is branded upon my memory forever!"

A cloud seemed to pass over Ermegil's countenance as he listened to Vilthavia spit out his venemous accusations at him. He seemed unsure of what to make out of the boy's sudden furious transformation of mood. The boy's insolence angered him, certainly, but what was the cause of it, he wondered? He cocked a lone eyebrow at Vilthavia in silence as he considered the nature of the young lad's fury.

"Your friend here attempted to commit murder upon the guards," he explained in a cold and flat expression. "So did his three companions. Such a foolish show of empty bravery! What did they hope to accomplish by such a crime, I ask you? Now they must suffer the consequences. What else would you expect? It is plain enough justice!"

"But you are the root of his suffering in the end," retorted Vilthavia, momentarily stifling his sorrow. "You lured the honorable Vidui here under a false guise of employment as a farrier and tamer of wild mares! And now he shall be slain because of it!"

"I know of no such message or summons that was sent by me to any man by the name of 'Vidui'," snapped Ermegil testily, "though tis true that I sent such proffered contracts by word of mouth to other men in Wilderland by way of messengers. Yet not by the written word, I assure you. It is not my way."

"Liar!" cried Vilthavia in a great wrath. He was instantly rewarded with a sharp slap across the face with Ermegil's open palm. The blow was a hefty one that knocked Vilthavia off balance and he tripped on a loose stone in the ground and fell to his knees.

"If ever you dare say that to me again, boy, I shall have your tongue cut out of your mouth! Do you hear?"

Seeing that he had successfully intimidated Vilthavia into submission of his will he at last ushered his young prisoner away from the old poplar tree and into the cluthces of the guards once again. Vilthavia's last sight of his friend was that of Vidui being directed beneath the tree where the noose was lowered downwards from the overhanging tree branch as before where it was placed around his neck. Vidui was facing him now and looking directly at him. Unlike Rangar he did not struggle or resist his fate, but accepted it in mute silence. Vilthavia wiped away the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand at the last minute only to see that Vidui also had tears streaming down his cheek.

"We must leave at once!" ordered one of Vilthavia's former guards as they sought to lead Vilthavia away once more. "We shall be late in our delivery of the boy because of this."

"Horuth shall forgive you," reasoned Ermegil to the nervous man. "There now, boy!" he again spoke to Vilthavia, who was still weeping from the ordeal. "Conduct yourself well. If you behave I shall make sure that Horuth gives you a seat with a view upon the labor wagons! The view of the mountains shall be splendid!"

Vilthavia angrily shrugged away the man's hand as he placed it on Vilthavia's shoulder in reassurance. Seeing that Vilthavia had no intention of receiving his gaiety with anything other than a seething resentment and refusal Ermegil quite unexpectedly became wrathful with Vilthavia and spun him around by the shoulder with great force.

"You shall repect me!" snarled Ermegil as he came down to Vilthavia's level. "I am Ermegil, son of Denethil, king of Rhudaur, and you will respect and obey my word like the miserable peasant-thing that you are else I shall make sure that a cloud of misfortune will follow you like an evil shadow. Do you understand me?"

Seeing that Vilthavia was too stricken with a sort of horrific wonder to reply Ermegil seized Vilthavia's long dark hair and shook it back and forth so that Vilthavia was forced to nod in mock acquiescence.

"Yes, lord Ermegil," mocked Ermegil in a false child-like falsetto, as if he were mimicking Vilthavia's obedient reply. "I shall do as you command me, my lord!"

He let go of Vilthavia and turned his back on him as he led the way forward across the open courtyard. But before he had taken more than a few paces he checked himself and turned on the boy again, saying harshly, "And wipe away those childish tears! You weep more than a newly made widow, you do. You must grow up quickly if you wish to survive up here, boy!"

With those words the turncoat Dunadan shifted on his heel again and went back to rejoin the crowd of onlookers around the old poplar tree, where another prisoner had just fallen victim to the noose.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun Mar 20, 2011 12:13 pm

Vidui survived the hangman's noose. Such a thing had never before been seen or heard of in all the days and years since the coming of Broggha's usurpation of the castle Dol Agwarth. Many an enemy had perished at the end of many ropes under the lordship of the mighty Broggha since he was singularly plucked out of obscurity by an evil fate in the first decade of the fourteenth century. But none thus far had defeated the old poplar tree in the lower courtyard - until now.

Doubtless Vidui was a young man of hearty soul and constitution, but so was old Vinya, his companion who was forced to sit by in bondage and watch his friends be hanged to death in turn. The wily Rangar of eastern Rhovanion put up a fierce struggle for several minutes as he dangled in mid air but soon succumbed and died from a broken neck. Ningavia, the husky horseman known among the company for his ability to hit a moving target with a bow and arrow while on horseback had lasted barely a minute. He went bravely to his untimely end though, refraining from curses or tears as the callous onlookers placed wagers amongst themselves as to which victim would hold out the longest before they expired.

Vidui had drawn the third straw in the evil lottery, and when his turn came to face the noose, just after he had watched his young friend Vilthavia being led away from the crowd as a captive by the guards of Ermegil, he closed his eyes and could no longer restrain his tears as the guards assisted him up upon the wooden stool before placing his neck inside the noose. Many of the onlookers loudly derided him for his weeping, and they feared then that they had chosen unwisely with their wagers on him. But just as he felt the first horrible tugs on the far end of the rope that would soon sap the life from him he let out a loud cry towards the graying sky above him in a strange tongue that few men among the crowd could understand.

"Nin Adar Faracil alas! Dihena min Odhil! i Dunedain garo dannen! Adleg ha Rhudaur!"

The cry rang out from his throat with a despondant fury. All present could hardly fail to hear the victim's last words, though few among them could decipher them. Nor did they care, so taken up were they with the prospect of their wagers. But the victim's final words were not lost on Ermegil,
illegitimate son of king Denethil of Rhudaur. He had returned to the deadly gathering after escorting the young Rhovanion boy away so that he could watch the last victim dance helplessly at the end of the rope. But Vidui's final words could not have better suited his case then, though he could not have known it.

Ermegil's eyes widened with wonder. But it was not merely the sudden revelation that this particular victim was fluent in the Elven tongue that had so taken him aback, but rather the meaning of the words: "Alas, O Faracil my father! Forgive your Odhil! The Dunedain have failed! Rhudaur is lost!" As Ermegil watched the deadly rope go taught with the tension enforced upon it and Vidui's feet begin to dangle so painfully in mid-air, the thought struck him that perhaps this worthless Rhovanion traveler possessed some value.

Here the reader's attention must be diverted momentarily in order to understand fully the consequence of such a possibility. Faracil was the second son of king Boradil of Rhudaur, who died in the year 1306 of our present age. By right of birth and Dunedain custom the kingship ought to have fallen to Celedil, eldest son of Boradil following his father's passing. But Denethil, the youngest of the three brothers, was a cunning young man and used his mischievous wit to turn his two older siblings against one another with murderous results. Lies and deceitful propagations were skillfully spread throughout the realm that both Celedil and Faracil were raising small mercenary armies from abroad in order to assassinate the other and therefore remove any future threat of usurpation. Little truth was there in any of this, but Celedil the elder received these falsehoods as truth and quickly set about to quench the threat by aligning himself with the younger Denethil in a mutual contract to drive Faracil out of Rhudaur. In return for his aid Celedil was prepared to offer his youngest brother mighty fiefdoms in lower Rhudaur and the Angle after he had received his coronation as king of Rhudaur. In this Denethil readily agreed and their united armies fell down on Faracil and drove him far away southwards, deep into the Angle. But unknown to Celedil, his youngest brother had already forged a secret alliance with the barbarous Hillmen of the mountains. No sooner had their victory been achieved before Denethil turned on his brother by unleashing the armies of the Hillmen upon the remaining Dunedain and their allied forces. The late Boradil's heir-apparent was taken completely at unawares and found himself driven with heavy losses northwards into the region of the Ettenmoores, where he and what followers he had left went into hiding, nursing their wounds and biding their time. But Denethil had already many spies in his service and ere long they tracked Celedil's wherabouts and slew him and all his loyal companions down to a man.

Ere long rumor of Celedil's death and the treachery of Denethil reached the ears of Faracil, who had taken sanctuary in Cardolan under the protection of king Tarandil. Filled with a furious appetite for revenge, Faracil appealed to Tarandil to render him the necessary aid in order to overthrow Denethil and reclaim the crown of Rhudaur for himself, now that the ancient right of succession fell to him with the death of his older brother. But Tarandil could not then spare such a great number of men, nor was he convinced that the time was ripe for Faracil's vengeance to reclaim his kingdom. Yet to assuage Faracil's bitterness Tarandil agreed to allow his eldest son, Vorondil (still a very young man then), to lead a single contingent of fighting men from his own house alongside the banner of Faracil. For three weeks they marched openly as one emboldened army northwards through the Angle, past the great East-West road and into upper Rhudaur until they stood beneath the shadows of the great Naked hill, where stood the ancient tower of Cameth Brin, the royal seat of Rhudaur. But Denethil was aware of them and immediately a great battle ensued in the valley below the lofty hill between the two armies. In this battle fell many of Rhudaur's finest and bravest warriors under the lordship of Faracil and Prince Vorondil of Cardolan and the newly crowned Denethil alike. But in the end Denethil had the victory. Faracil was slain in combat upon the very hillside of the mighty tower by Halffa, lord of the united Hillmen, who was also the father of Broggha, who indeed was present that day, for it was none other than Broggha that slew Meldacil, youngest son of Faracil.

Yet some of the survivors of the newly partnered army out of Cardolan did not perish that day, though they were few in number. Vorondil did indeed survive, though he suffered many wounds and would bare the scars from that battle until the end of his days. A freshly kindled hatred of Rhudaur and whomever associated with them would plague him forever in the future, and he never ceased dreaming of the day when he would one day become king of Cardolan and would lead a new crusade of united warriors into Rhudaur and make an end to the traitorous Denethil and his realm once and for all.

But one other person of note managed to survive the bloody turmoil of battle that summer afternoon, and it is he that concerns our story at present. His name was Odhil, eldest son of Faracil. He did not march in the vanguard of the battle like his father and younger brother, but was commanded to lead an assault alongside Vorondil into the well-garrisoned village of Tanoth Brin which lay directly under the shadow of the hill above. He, too, was only recently come into manhood at the time, and the responsibility he bore on his shoulders was said to be very great. But Odhil was not the aggressive tiger in battle like his younger brother had been. It was rumored that Vorondil's confidence in the young man had been very low, and as a result he refused to allow Odhil to lead the assault upon the walls of Tanoth Brin, and instead be content with joining the rear ranks of archers that were wont to hold back after their initial volleys had been launched. Such a personal slight was taken ill by the son of Faracil, and it was said that the two men quarreled before the very gates of the village. Of what happened next little is known, save the outcome of the battle. The garrison of Tanoth Brin repulsed the attack of their foes with much success and Vorondil and his men were forced to flee with their lives. Most were pursued westwards to the very brink of the river Hoarwell, where they were either slain by blade, or by arrow or else drowned in the river. But not so for Odhil. He did not perish. But his fate must be revealed later, in its proper place in our tale.

Ermegil stood uneasily beyond the circle of jeering onlookers as he watched the tension in the hangman's noose go taught as the hangmen pulled heavily on the opposite end of the rope. Vidui was suddenly raised upwards by the neck and began to thrash his feet to and fro while in mid-air. His bruised face slowly went pale as the breath was choked out of him. His eyes, which had been fastly shut as the noose was tied around his throat, suddenly opened in a convulsed terror at the deadly force of the rope. His hands that were bound with cords behind his back longed to break loose from their constrainment in order to seize hold of the noose and ease the tension upon his neck, but in vain. The bonds were too strong.

Time seemed to stand still in his mind now, like a ship lost in a wilderness of fog upon an unbroken sea. Vidui tried again to call out in his desperation for mercy but words were no longer possible. His last utterance in this life was now behind him. In a few moments all would be over and his sufferings at an end. But what a terrible end it was! The shooting pain in his throat was beyond all description. This pain was slowly replaced by a new one now - in his spine. It was being stretched most cruelly.

Pain and more pain. It would not cease! Flailing his legs about in a panic did nothing to alleviate the deadly pull upon his neck, though he found it impossible to control them by now. They still thrashed about wildly as if they were clinging to hope that they might somehow find solid ground beneath them. But they never did. It only made the pain worse. And on and on it went. The nightmare of strangulation.

Vidui began to fade away. He could still hear the shouts and jeers of the cruel men below him. The world seemed to be spinning out of control. He had closed his eyes by way of involuntary reflex but he opened them once more as he looked above him. The sky was still grey but was spinning around and around. The clouds swirled like a spinning top as the very air about him seemed to vanish in an invisible vacuum. Though he did not know it his face by now had taken on a bluish hue and his tongue had swelled. He knew he was about to die. Perhaps he was dead already. His feet no longer kicked the empty air but hung lifelessly beneath him like a wet blanket. All feeling left him as he closed his eyes for the last time.

"Give way! Give way, I tell you!" exclaimed the voice of Ermegil as he bullied his way through the crowd of spectators towards the hanging figure of Vidui. "Let him down! You hangmen there, let him down at once! Be quick about it, else he will die!"

The three Hillmen at the other end of the rope looked first at each other in disbelief, than again at Ermegil in mild amusement.

"Let him down, say you?" one man asked with wonder. "But he is not dead yet!"

"It is not his time yet!" rebuked Ermegil hotly. "There has been a mistake! The victim must be lowered down at once!"

"Not yet!" this time from the former man's companion. "There are many wagers at stake with him. If we let him down before his time is up you shall skew the outcome of the men's wagers, which of course must remain at the mercy of randomness."

"Curse you, you fool!" snarled Ermegil, his wrath growing. "I command you to halt this execution at once or else you shall follow in the victim's place at the end of the same rope!"

This threat by Ermegil was not taken lightly by the bickering hangman, for he knew the Dunadan to be in favor with the lord Broggha. Yet he also felt the pressure of the crowd around him not to give in to the demand of such a man as Ermegil, for he was of a race that found little love or favor with the Hillmen. Furthermore, their potential for monetary profit would be compromised if Vidui were allowed to live, and many in the crowd reminded the three hangmen of this as they listened to the growing quarrel.

"Nay," the man replied as he looked upon the angry mob encircling them. "That I shall not do. It is a thing unheard of."

"And who art thou to issue such a threat to us, you wretched Dunadan!" cried the third and largest hangman. "You cannot bear to see your lowly race being slowly pushed aside once and for all, I dare say! Let the victim hang as he was meant to! You men shall not be cheated of your winnings by a mere 'Shadowhead' if I have anything to say about it!"

The term 'Shadowhead', or variably 'Shadowface', was a derogatory slur used by much of the mountain-folk to refer to the Dunedain of Rhudaur, who were wont to sport hooded cloaks that cast their faces in shadow to accommodate the need for secrecy. The jeering men about the scene echoed the hangman's decision, crying aloud, "Yea! Let the victim complete his hanging! Miserable interfering lout, go away! Leave us be to our entertainment!" One voice among the crowd cried, "Death to all 'Shadowheads'!" Then another called out, "Be off, else you shall be the next to do the gallows's dance!"

Seeing that time was perilously short, Ermegil strode over beneath the old poplar tree where Vidui still hung limply from the deadly noose above and drew forth his sword in order to cut away the length of the rope just above the knot. No sooner had he placed the wooden stool beneath the victim's feet then he heard the footsteps of the largest of the hangmen quickly approach him from behind in order to lay hands upon him. But Ermegil had anticipated this. With his sword already drawn he quickly turned it upon the aggressive hangman and stabbed the point of it outwards so that the point of the blade stood only inches away from his throat. At this the man at once halted and stared first at the point of the weapon that loomed deadly before him and then up into the grey eyes of the blade's master.

"This man who hangs here is no friend of mine, I assure you," hissed Ermegil at the angry little mob that gathered closer to him, "and it would suit me well enough to let him hang here until the crows feast away at his dead flesh. He means nothing to me, but it may very well be otherwise with Broggha! Though none of you here may understand the diminishing tongue of the Edain of old, know it well that I do! His last words have brought into question a strange twist of fate that many of the learned men in Rhudaur have wondered at for many years. This man must live on for now so as to be brought before the inquisitors of Broggha!"

Without another word Ermegil swung his sword round past the hangman's neck in an arc and up into the air where the blade quickly severed the hanging rope just above Vidui's head. The hanging figure of Vidui fell to the ground in a heap where he lay well nigh motionless, save for his legs which slowly attempted to curl upwards into his waist. Ermegil saw the victim fall to the ground and then flashed his eyes back at the Hillman, whom he suspected might try to conduct a new assault on him from behind. But it was not so, for the big man merely stood rooted in his place and frowned over at the Dunadan in dissaproval.

"Do what you think you must, Dunadan," said the man curtly, not wishing to tempt his luck against Ermegil. "Yet not for long will you enjoy the sanctuary afforded you by Broggha, for even he shall tire of all you 'Shadowheads' in this court, regardless of your fealty sworn to him in oath. And when that time comes I and others like me shall rejoice in your eviction!"

Many of the men in the surrounding crowd echoed these words with enthusiasm, for to them, who were in status mere laity, it was a thing not to be borne that any of the Dunedain be permitted to serve in the court of the Hillmen, for they had for long been ancient enemies. Such alliances were wholly strange and unfamiliar to them.

Ermegil turned away from the grumbling crowd of spectators and set about to cut away the noose that still clung as tightly around the neck of Vidui as he lay upon the ground. This now accomplished, Ermegil ordered that two of the hangmen who stood by and watched him without action should assist him in carrying the incompacitated victim back to the jails where he would receive the necessary treatment for his wounds. Both men at first refused to assist him but were gradually persuaded otherwise when Ermegil assured them that Broggha would look favorably upon those who had taken part in the rescue and revival of the one man who might very well prove to be the heir of Faracil, King Denethil's dead brother - a potentially valuable weapon to wield against the latter's unrighteous rule in Rhudaur.
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North

 
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CHAPTER TWELVE

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun May 01, 2011 1:41 pm

The lord Ermegil, young bostard prince of Rhudaur, stood high upon the ramparts of Dol Agwarth and stared bleakly out across the open and rocky landscape far below him to the west. His heart was troubled and he had scarcely slept at all the night before. The morning rays of sunlight that now unfolded upon the horizon had alluded to, if not a warm day ahead, at least a brighter one. The hour after the dawn had already revealed the world, as it was in the Misty Mountains, to contain an aura of hidden menace that belied its relatively benign countenance. It was still the season of high Autumn but already the threat of a severe winter-to-come could be felt in the air. Far below him Ermegil could see a contingent of well-armed spearmen dressed in their winter gear marching down the main road that led away from the castle to the north. They were warriors of Broggha, Chieftain of the 'Reunited Clansmen', as he himself called them, who were marching off to do battle with one of the few remaining clans of Hillmen that had dared to refused Broggha's generous offer of tribal unification. Now they would clash in full-armed resistance. As he stood thus Ermegil tried to conduct a swift head count but lost track at around five-hundred. Doubtless there were more. Much of the might of Dol Agwarth made up those ranks of men - many of which would never return.

The prince looked upon those men with a feeling of opaque apathy. He had thrown his lot in with their new chieftain, truly enough, but that did not mean he must love him or his folk. He grew up learning to hate the Hillmen and their rogue-like allies, the Dunlendings. Indeed, the Dunlendings themselves had been wont to dislike the Hillmen as well but were apparently wise enough to realize the growing power of the upstart Broggha and his increasing influence upon the populace of eastern Rhudaur. More significantly, Broggha had the backing of Angmar and that realm's mysterious overlord, he whom folk call the Witch-king. Just who this 'Witch-king' really was and where he had come from no one knew for sure. Few doubted the man's genuine power or strength. Many rumors boldly said that he was a true sorcerer with great power and that he hated the Dunedain and sought to bring about their ruin.

"Why even bother?" Ermegil asked himself. "Why not wait a while longer and watch the three kingdoms waste themselves in civil war? Already the air of Arnor is charged with enough tension to ignite an explosion great enough to crumble the foundations of their shaky alliances."

But he knew that Angmar, and especially Broggha - who was ever eager to increase the heat upon the bubbling cauldron of mutual hostility to win reknown, would not wait for such a fate. The Chieftain of the Hillmen wanted war and he would get it. He wanted nothing less than the complete overthrow of Denethil, king of Rhudaur. Then he would set himself in Denethil's place as Rhudaur's first Hillman king and return that realm back to the folk who had always borne the rightful claim to it - long before the coming of the unlawful Dunedain.

"And what of the Dunedain?" thought Ermegil as he stood still as stone upon the upper ramparts. "Though I, too, am Dunedain by blood and royalty, I have ever looked askance at my own people, as they ever have at me. I feel little pride at staking my claim to my ancient lineage - a lineage tainted with ill-luck and black wisdom. My own father is further proof of these menacing qualities. Why does he reject the embassies of Angmar and the strategic alliance that they offer him? Miserable old fool. It is the only way of it now. Such a fate cannot be forestalled for long. And shall I feel regret for the demise of Denethil, my father? Will I feel any remorse at his defeat and subsequent execution? Shall I weep when his head is borne by Broggha upon a stake as a victory banner to taunt Arthedain and Cardolan? Shall I wail in regret at the fall of his petty court and kingdom? Hmph! No indeed. Not a jot. Because you ever rejected me, my father. You deserve no less than death for your crimes - both magisterial and filial. You spurned me from the moment you learned of my existence. And where is my mother now? Surely not within the bounds of the Rhudaur that she longs for! In exile she dwells, though I know not where. Banished from your kingdom on bogus charges of sedition! O unrighteous doom! Unjust and unfair have all your ways been, my father. I might have saved you from the brunt of all that awaits you. Few men possess as many secret contacts within your enemy's domain as do I. I might have been your devoted spy who staved off the black doom that awaits you and your crown. Instead I shall act as the instrument of your downfall. Only then will I be content and hold myself and my missing mother avenged.

"And that is where I enter in. I stand now at a most unique junction in the many roads of Rhudaur's destiny. Upon the one road lies the surety of safety in numbers - that is in the company of the brutish Broggha and his mercenary allies. Great trust does he store in me and my abilities, and I may rise high in his service after he overthrows my father and his courtly rabble at Cameth Brin. Yet upon such a road I cannot hope to come into the kingship myself. Long may I live in this choice, but to what renown and prosperity? The rewards of it are but a trifle.

"Or - shall I betray Broggha by offering my knowledge and services to Arthedain? I stand to profit much down this road, for am I not already deep in his privy council and trust? King Malvegil might offer me the stewardship of Cameth Brin in the event of an all-out invasion of Rhudaur. Once they realize the imminent danger that awaits the Dunedain in the alliances of Broggha and Angmar they will thank me. Yet no assurances may I be given by Malvegil of such a war ever taking place. Arthedain trusts too much in the impregnability of Fornost Erain and their history of crushing any threat from the Hillmen of the east. Furthermore, they are wont to be complacent. They bide their time in futility and idleness, hoping for a change in the tide of their destiny. I risk much upon this road.

"Cardolan then. Perhaps? King Tarandil is old and weary now, but not so his elder son, Vorondil. He is brash and hot of head. His hatred for Rhudaur burns fierce. I might easily stoke the prince's eagerness into an invasion of his own into Rhudaur, where he has fought before. Already he holds sway many of the hearts of the most powerful lords of that realm. They might in turn persuade Tarandil to turn a blind eye to such a militaristic venture. Yet still - Cardolan has grown weak and the Dunedain hence ever fewer now. They dwindle in their own twilight. I risk everything in the event of a defeat while in Vorondil's service. More still, assuming the rumors I hear be not untrue, that kingdom stands upon the brink of mayhem and collapse because of divided politics among the populace. The southward road makes me uneasy. There stand I in much peril.

"Then what is to be done? What about this character we have in our charge at present? Aye, what about him? A wandering Rhovanion indeed! He is nothing of the sort, I'll warrant. But could it be true? Might this wayworn stranger truly be the lost Odhil, son of the late king Boradil of Rhudaur, brother to Denethil, my father? And what of his rambling words upon the gallows? He spoke with the elven tongue! Made mention, he did, of old Boradil, my uncle and his 'father'. For what purpose might he utter such a thing if it be not true? Men find their voice anew in the face of death, and words that were chained in restraint break their bonds and reveal themselves. If indeed it be true than this man must needs be my cousin by blood. He might be worthy enough to aid me for a time, if he is the true Odhil, for our objectives would coincide in harmony, which is - the downfall of Denethil. Yet that would also cast him in the role of my rival for the throne of Rhudaur. Shall I deal with such a dilemma at a later time? Certainly I must if I wish one day to rule. The crown of Rhudaur was not crafted so to be worn by two heads. Only one shall fit at a time.

"Then also there is the maiden - the lady Elendis. She is the wild card in the deck of my future, no doubt. Aye, she is young but not so much so that her womb may not bear fruit. In her veins runs the blood of Rhudauran nobility. Bound together in matrimony her and I may yet win the heart of Malvegil in Arthedain and so by win his heart in my cause. My father's kingship is not well-loved there among those that dwell in Fornost. Yet a union between this lady and myself may be seen there as a boon to an acceptable alternative to the ruthless lordship of Denethil. Elendis is noble as am I. She shall bear me a son as well and thus shall I begin a new line. The union between us must be made to come about. Even were I to remain in Broggha's service such a marriage would please him if for no other reason than to keep me satisfied while I am in his employ here at this miserable forgotten castle. It is a weighty choice that which is before me now, this - bewitching junction of many roads. Which shall I tread?"

Ermegil's stream of unconscious megalomania rambled on for some time as he stood and watched the last of Broggha's spearmen fade away down in the valleys of the lower mountains, marching off to battle. As he stood there on high his thoughts were disrupted by the noisome call of a turkey vulture that soared high in the sky as it circled the whereabouts of the marching Hillmen. Doubtless he and many other carrion birds would be well fed this morning. He watched it hover with outstretched wings as two others soon joined him in his circular aerial pattern. Ermegil unfolded his arms and drummed his fingers softly upon his lips as if in deep thought.

"My choice shall depend on the man I extricated from death. Let us see what this wanderer from abroad may reveal to us first. If he be in truth, as I assumed him to be, the legitimate heir to Boradil who is now dead than more may I profit from him than with the lady. If he proves false in the end he will be discarded and thence the fog that clouds over my road be blown away and my path be made clear before me."

His meandering process of thought at last concluded, Ermegil let out a sigh and was suddenly aware of a silent presence behind him. Without turning round to ascertain the person's identity Ermegil spoke as his eyes wandered skyward.

"The foulness of the odor that clings to you, sir," said Ermegil snidely, "belies that you must either be young Uric, my personal page lately come from cleaning out the droppings from my mare's stall, or - it is none other than Urlavia the Rhovanion horse trader come to beg for a servant's wages again."

"If I reek," replied Urlavia, "it is the scent of Hillman hospitality and not that of me, lord."

"I wish for no company when I come up to the ramparts, Urlavia. You know this already."

"I have come on urgent business," replied Urlavia in a tone of derisiveness. "Or at least it is urgent to me."

"I have provided you with much already since your untimely arrival, though one may well argue that you scarcely earned it. Do not ask more of me."

"I do not come here to beg a wage from you - nor of gifts. But I confess my head is full of wonder to find you here in this forgotten old keep in the mountains. I had thought to find you far to the south in the Angle and not so far north within close proximity to the folk of your father. But to discover you here intermingling with ordinary Hillmen - as an honored guest to boot! I am as much bewildered as I am relieved."

"As you are always wont to be," retorted Ermegil wryly. "It takes but little to cast you into cloud. But my reasons for my presence here are my own alone. Do not ask me of it."

"As you wish it. Yet I think I can read your mind enough to appease my wonder."

At last Ermegil turned round to face the shaggy trader from abroad who stood arrayed now in fine clothing of wool, fine linen and footwear lined with black fur. He was no longer the weary and way worn mountain traveler plagued with cold and hunger that he had been after his initial capture in the wilds of the mountains by the spearmen of Broggha. Considering his larger frame and a beard that by now was several inches long he might indeed have been taken for one of the Hillmen. Only his lighter skin and fair hair betrayed this to be false.

"Do not flatter yourself to possess the skill to read my thoughts, Urlavia. I am beyond you in all measure. My mind is unreadable to you. I have saved you once before from death - or at least from a prolonged imprisonment - by telling Broggha of our past association together. By my good charity alone do you now walk the halls and chambers of this ancient keep unfettered by chains or impediments while also clothed in a most suitable habit. You failed in your task at any rate, for where now are my new mares? Where are my fleet-footed stallions? Lost forever to the elements and my hopes cheated. Three only did your companions preserve, and of these two were claimed by Broggha. I say to you now that our business together is at an end. Yet by coming up here now you save me the weary task of sending for you at a later time in order to dismiss you. Go your own way now and whither you would, for I care not. Yet should we ever meet again do not fail to recall that Ermegil saved you from an inevitable death once. Therefore, it is you and not me that is now beholden."

Urlavia's countenance suddenly darkened. He had not expected this. He knew that Ermegil's displeasure at being robbed the opportunity of acquiring so many fine Wilderland horses in their prime would again resurface and be made known to himself. Yet he did not expect that the final termination of their former lucrative partneship would come so soon. The pair had business dealings that stretched back nearly ten years, in the days of Urlavia's first excursions into Rhudaur - when his nephew Vilthavia was but hardly out of his crib and scarcely weaned from his mother. In those days the hardy Rhovanion had procured secretive contracts from other traders in his homeland to breed and train healthy mounts, both mares and stallions, before leading them over the mountains and into Rhudaur where they were sold, at first to other buyers that then littered the countryside, but later exclusively to prince Ermegil. But as the years passed the passes of the Misties had become more dangerous to tread. Foul men of ill repute were wont to waylay unsuspecting travelers in ambush. Dwarves became more hostile and turned travelers away in large numbers. The weather became ever more fierce and unrelenting. But it was especially the ever violent clashes between the various clans of the Hillmen that eventually became the greatest obstacle to travelers seeking passage over the mountains. Clashes of arms became small-scale battles, which soon inflated into full-scale wars. Urlavia knew all of these dangers before embarking on this latest excursion with his nephew and the men of the late Wildaria but said little of them to any, so eager was he to deliver up his prize to Ermegil and claim his fee. Caution was thrown to the wind. The two men had scarcely been in contact for over two years now, and Urlavia was not a little surprised and distressed to find the prince had become far more grave and morose since their last meeting. Being now in a state of virtual penury, save for the small pittance lately given him by Ermegil, Urlavia sought to cling to one last hope of further employment with him, for he knew well that the temporary hospitality that Broggha had bestowed upon him would soon expire and as a result he must needs become a wandering vagabond again - a vagabond in the midst of a war zone.

"I do not dispute that, lord," replied Urlavia. "And for your generosity I most humbly thank you. Tis true, I am indeed in your debt. Yet I had not looked for a permanent dissolution to our acquaintance."

"It does not matter. It is enough that I looked to it."

"Yet our business need not be concluded as such, lord."

"What 'buisiness'? You have no 'business', Urlavia. Indeed, pray tell me what is there that even distinguishes you from your jailed companions now? I see no distinction."

"Indeed there is," said Urlavia hastily. "Those men are destitute in their incarceration. They have nothing while I still retain one last item of worth to me and would offer it up to you gladly, lord, as a memorandum to our past ventures of mutual profit."

Ermegil had begun to slowly withdraw again after his last words to Urlavia but paused in his step with a look of scornful doubt upon his face. The Rhovanion stared back at him in expectant silence as he let his last words hang in mid air.

"Are you presenting me with a gift then?" asked the prince.

"Aye, In a sense, though I would seek only a small favor in return for it."

"Then it is nothing of the kind. You seek rather to barter with me."

"Nay, lord. Or rather - In point of fact I do suppose it may be termed as 'barter', but the favor I ask - the smallest of requests - hardly classifies as a proper barter, for you shall profit by it far more than me."

"Oi! Enough of this," quipped Ermegil testily. "I somehow feel inclined to reject your request out of hand, for my mind misgives me and I have other matters far more pressing to attend to these days then to stand and listen to your begging - I call it what it truly is. Yet you are right by saying that I shall profit from it the more, for it is I that retains the upper hand. But enough of that. I suppose you have earned another moment of my time, though as ever you underestimate its value. Very well, state your mind and be quick about it. But I promise you nothing."

"I know it well by now. Yet I would not have lord Ermegil's time be wasted as such. Therefore I already have the object of my barter hither."

Then Urlavia produced from an inner breast pocket of his sleeved vest a gold medallion fastened upon a golden chain. The medallion was shaped in the resemblance of a single multi-pointed star that contained the raised image of a galloping horse with a flowing mane upon it. Encompassing the beast was an engraved inscription that read clockwise around the perimeter of the medalion. Ermegil examined both sides of the amulet and then scrutinized the chain. Both amulet and chain were genuine gold. It was not a large necklace in all but still worth more than most of Broggha's elite bodyguard would earn in several months. The words inscribed upon the item were in the Rhovanion tongue and thus unintelligible to Ermegil.

"You always were a profligate man, Urlavia," said Ermegil, "for to give this thing to me for - as you termed it, 'the smallest of requests', reveals a wasteful spirit. You might just as easily buy your way out of this place rather than haggle with me. It also lays bare your desperation and unmasks your weakness."

"I might readily have done so, lord, were I in a more hospitable environment. But folk here are rarely well-disposed to kindness to men from the east like myself and shun entering into converse with me. What is more, they are often rough in their manners and are prone to thievery - as you no doubt know already."

"I do."

"I cannot trust them to recognize that which is taken as a given to more worthy men such as you and I; namely the custom of fair barter and trade. Hillmen can be a lecherous lot. I should never expect them to honor their word if I were to attempt a bribe."

Ermegil then raised up the amulet by its chain in front of his eyes and watched it as it gently swing back and forth in the air. It was a fair trinket, no doubt. He also sensed that there was more to it than at first appeared - perhaps a hidden or unknown value to it. No doubt Urlavia filched it off some unlucky sod somewhere along his many travels. He grew curious about its origin and asked Urlavia in regard to it.

"I know not who crafted it nor whence for sure, lord," replied Urlavia with an expression of growing relief on his face, for he could see that it held Ermegil's interest. "But I tell you truthfully that the owner of it is now quite dead."

"Did you kill him?" asked the prince still gazing at the necklace.

"Absolutely not! In all my eight and thirty years I have yet to raise my sword against a man in willful aggression. Nay, nor did I thieve it, for I doubt not that is your next question to me. I took it off the neck of one of the deceased among our scattered company. I am guessing that it is some sort of family heirloom or such. Better to take it rather than let it lay buried in the deep snows of the Misties."

"You would rob your own dead mother in her grave ere you passed up an opportunity to obtain a profit, Urlavia," said the prince with a frown. "There is such a thing as 'honoring the dead'. You might have let it lay and went about your business. Your actions smack of lowly burglary. How you would thrive so in Tharbad!"

Urlavia's thin smile that had begun to blossom as he saw the potential of a profit quickly vanished with this rebuke. He felt the urge to snatch the necklace out of the prince's hand and seek out another potential customer for it but knew he must resist it. He needed this prince's aid badly if he wished to depart Dol Agwarth in safety.

"Lord," said Urlavia with a deep breath, "you may speak truly in your judgment, but becoming a lost and wayward wanderer amid the wild perils of the Misties oft brings forth the blackness in a man's character. I am not a man of courtesy. Some say I am even vulgar. I know this well. But I do know how to survive in dire need and turn a profit when given the chance. I look out for myself but commit no harm to others when I do so. Another man might have stolen the necklace from its owner ere he died, yet I did not. What use has he of it now? I am asking you most humbly to receive this token in recompense for the horses that you lost in our deal. It is a thing of worth, tis plain. All that I ask is that you take me with you when you depart this castle for Rhudaur next week. Greatly would I desire to come with you to the Angle. Yet if you desire not my company for so long a duration then you may cast me adrift upon the great western road and go where you will. It is all that I ask of you, lord."

The prince ran his free hand backwards through his dark and oiled hair as he turned his gaze away from the shiny necklace and back to Urlavia. He had never really liked the man before and had always thought him little more than stumbling blockhead - albeit a blockhead who knew how to make money and get himself taken care of. They had traveled together before, both alone and in the company of others, and Urlavia had never shown himself to be amiacable. Apart from his homeland and eastern Rhudaur he knew nothing about the outside world and cared nothing for it. All forms of courtly intrigue and political endeavors meant nothing to him. He was a poor marksman with a bow and a lousy hunter - an activity he showed small interest in (quite contrary to the prince, who adored the hunt). He had little aptitude for grasping the fundamental skills of skinning, gutting and cleaning wild game, mentioning nothing of his inabilty to start and nourish a campfire even in the laziest of weather conditions. He was impatient by nature, prone to complaining and was always the one man of their traveling party who snored incessantly like a snout-nosed boar. Yet despite these drawbacks Urlavia was a fine horseman, keen of sight and possessed remarkable tracking abilities. Indeed, Ermegil hardly bettered the burly Rhovanion in this skill. Further still, Urlavia knew how to bargain and sweet-talk his way through the most difficult of monetary transactions with the saviest of merchantmen. In short, Ermegil reckoned Urlavia was born to be a Tharbadian, and it came to no surprise that he had often questioned Ermegil about the city. Urlavia could at least be counted on to look after his company's team of horses along the way, for the Rhovanion possessed some skill as a farrier. His mind made up, he quickly shoved the bulk of the golden necklace and amulet into a hidden pocket inside his vest.

"Aye, very well, Urlavia," said the prince at last. "It seems we are fated to be companions once more. In exchange for this 'trinket' here I give you permission to join my ranks when we depart. Yet you shall have obligations to fulfill while you last with us - I say this because I am yet in doubt as to your abilities and especially your motives! Nay, nay," Ermegil held up his hand to stem off Urlavia's objections to this, "pray, do not interrupt me! Do as you will and why at your own pleasure, so long as you remain loyal. But I still crave something from you in return."

"What more can I give you, lord? You know well my present plight."

"I want more information from you regarding the members of your former company. What else can you tell me about the man who claims the name of Vidui?"

Urlavia stared for a brief moment before directing his sight to the floor of the rampart as if in thought. In truth he knew little about Vidui. He knew that he had become fast and close friends with his nephew Vilthavia during their long travels and also that the man seemed to have acquaintances in or around the river villages along the eastern side of the river Anduin. He seemed to recall Vidui saying that he had family further eastwards, closer to the vast forest of Mirkwood. Urlavia had never saw fit to doubt the man before on this, nor would he have even cared, for he had no interest in things that did not immediately concern himself. He remembered that Vidui was a fine horseman and possessed a lovely black mare with him that was lost in the avalanche. He exhibited an unwavering bravery in many of the dire situations the company fell into while traversing the high passes and seemed to hold the respect of many among the company - even Wildaria their leader. He had quarreled with Vidui more than once along the way and because of this (and also because of a growing jealousy he had for him) Urlavia was inclined to dislike the young hero-to-be. He revealed most of this information to Ermegil now, though he sought to make small light of Vidui's bravery, exchanging the latter's bravado while scaling down the sheer mountain face and placing himself in Vidui's role. The prince listened to him quiety and lowered his brow at the end.

"Mark you, Urlavia, that I am not untrained at sifting through words of counterfeit. They tell me that you soiled your britches at the prospect of being taken prisoner by Broggha and his men out in the wild last week. How odd it is that a man who can lead a ragged company of hikers down a snow-ridden precipice would actually lose control over his bodily functions at the prospect of bondage!"

"A pack of deceitful liars are they!" snarled Urlavia in return. "I did no such thing! May the fires of Hell consume them all, these damnable Hillmen!"

"Tell me about the girl," replied Ermegil hastily, not wishing to hear more of Urlavia's empty expletives regarding the Hillmen. "I know she is of the Dunedain, but I know not who her father is. Where does she hail from and why did she accompany your expedition?"

After a deep breath and exhalation to calm his anger, Urlavia lowered his tone before replying.

"Her name is Elendis. I know little about her. She is young and strong, seemingly, though too bold in her manners and speech. She was at odds with more than one among our company."

"Did she not have allies among your group?"

"Aye. Two men that were her elders and protectors traveled with her. Wildaria the chieftain also spoke kindly to her much."

"Was there anyone else?"

Here Urlavia fell silent in reflection. He knew very well of the budding romance that had begun to blossom between Elendis and his nephew but had been reluctant to mention Vilthavia by name. Yet the more he weighed it up in his mind the more he thought he may gain by the familial acquaintance.

"My nephew fancied her. Indeed, he still does, for he pleaded for more information about her when I paid him a visit in his cell three days hence."

"Your nephew, say you?" asked Ermegil in surprise. "Who is your nephew?"

"The only boy among our company. You must have noticed him; a youth of three and ten of ordinary height: dark locks and grey eyes."

"Does he go by the name of - 'Vilthavia'?"

"The very one, lord."

"I knew not that he had any family ties to you. The resemblance between you and he are slim."

"His father is of the Dunedain."

"What is his name? Where does he dwell?" inquired the prince, becoming more interested.

"His father goes by the name of Hunthor. He has no permanent dwelling as far as I know, as he wanders here and there at will. Yet I believe..."

Urlavia suddenly checked his tongue in mid sentence. He had been about to tell the prince that his nephew's father was from Angmar, as far as he knew, but thought better of revealing too much.

"Yes? What do you believe?" inferred Ermegil impatiently. "You were saying?"

"I...believe he likes to call Rhovanion his residence of choice."

Ermegil cast a queer gleam at Urlavia with this but let it pass unchallenged.

"Your nephew is a fool and a brat," said Ermegil.

"I know it well enough, lord."

"I had words with him only yesterday. He dared to rebuke me in anger so I slapped him in his face. You are aware that I sent him to Horuth the labor-warden, are you not?"

Urlavia nodded but said nothing. The prince scanned the Rhovanion's face in earnest to see what true feeling lay beneath his stoic countenance. He wanted to know how Urlavia would take this information, but the latter revealed nothing of his feelings.

"In three day's time he will join the other thralls - I call him for he truly is now - and begin the arduous trek to the north. He shall have to endure many trials along the way for the going can be horrific for those unaccustomed to such hardships. If he is weak or slows Horuth down in his progress he might be slain - or left to die in the frozen wild. How does this make you feel?"

Urlavia stared into the prince's grey eyes in mute silence for a few seconds ere turning his head slightly to watch the graceful glide of a turkey vulture out across the mountain slope beyond. He was not sure how to reply. Should he object in a stern manner to such a sentence in order to demonstrate that he was not a man of callous nature that harbored some degree of humanity within him? Or ought he to play the stern disciplinarian and show that above all things duty and rule of law must be respected. After all, had not Ermegil already stated the importance of loyalty? In truth Urlavia had no wish to see Vilthavia endure such a trial of strength. In his mind he felt that he truly would find his nephew again in some northern village along the various river banks nigh the eastern Misty Mountains. By coming to this absurd conclusion he merely reaffirmed Ermegil's opinion of him as an ignorant lout who knew nothing of the world about him. At last he offered up the briefest of replies.

"I am aware of such things. Alas, I had no wish for him to ever accompany us on the journey from the beginning. I sought to dissuade him. Yet he knew welll enough of the potential for danger on the road. He insisted on going along on his fool's errand to somehow find his father again."

Ermegil recoiled from the answer and screwed up his eyes.

"Are you truly a man? Or are you an orc?"

"My lord?" snapped Urlavia testily, thoroughly offended.

"Never mind it. You are what you are. A man cannot deny his nature. Just now you mentioned that Elendis was at odds with many of the men in your group. Why was that so? Did the brutes among your party attempt to accost her?"

"No indeed! Though I doubt not that more than one of them desired an audience with her. Yet only her rebuffs would she offer them. She was protected and watched closely."

"By whom? By you? Did you want her too?"

"My lord," replied Urlavia disapprovingly, "I would think you desire to provoke me, though you may find it more difficult than you think it. Nay, it was not I. But she had two older men that guarded her well."

"Who were they?"

"I do not recall their names. Suffice it that they are dead now. They perished in the avalanche."

"How is it that you survived such a calamity and many others more stout-hearted did not?" Ermegil did indeed seek to test Urlavia's wrath with this line of questioning. As expected Urlavia shuffled his feet with mounting anger and was about to reply again but the prince headed him off, saying quickly, "Nay, do not tell me the story again. I have heard some of it before now. I doubt not that your deeply embedded bravery won the day for you again. But you have not told me who her father is?"

"Lord, I have not! Nor do I know it, for I care not! Therefore I did not inquire. What more would you know of me ere I take my leave?"

Ermegil paused as he once again took his place along the stone railing of the rampart, away from Urlavia. He looked out far to the west again as the dawning sunlight now began to beam its way in two places through the grey thick clouds that marched slowly overhead. Without turning to face the irksome Rhovanion he began to speak in a more serious demeanor.

"How do you decipher the inscription upon the amulet? It is written in your own tongue, is it not?"

"Aye, but in a strange and old dialect that is unknown to me."

Ermegil could not help but smile as he softly scoffed at Urlavia's ignorance.

"Aye, aye. Of course not. It was an act of simple optimism to propose the question to you in the first place. Yet one last thing ere you leave me. I desire for you to speak with Elendis on my behalf. You will extend my sincere greetings to her and inform her that I wish to call on her this very night in her chamber. When you do this you will also tell her that I am unhappy in my own state of widowhood and desire greatly to take a wife again soon. I have much to offer a woman such as her."

"Are you in jest with me, lord?" asked Urlavia taken aback.

"I would never waste my time jesting with you! Yet it is not so far-fetched. The lady Elendis and I have met twice before now, albeit only in brief. Yet, though she is yet quite young in years, her persuasion suits me greatly and it will be your task to help convince her of the worth of such a union between herself and I. Yet this also - let it be known to her in a gently an non-discreet manner that I have much influence in the court of Broggha. I may control the fate of many of the prisoners that traveled together with you and her. It may sweeten the bargain for her. Let it be done!"

Urlavia rubbed his chin in shock and confusion for a brief moment before offering the prince a short bow before turning away. But as he left the high ramparts by way of the stairwell it suddenly occured to him that the prince would take mercy on Viltahvia and perhaps even release him from custody if Elendis might pligh her troth with Ermegil. Her acceptance of this matrimony would control the fate of his unlucky nephew and ultimately preserve his life.
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu May 26, 2011 1:31 pm

The small tin saucer of steaming tea that had been placed by a maid-servant upon the little table nigh the bed of down had already begun to grow cold as its fair-haired owner stared bleakly out of the one and only windowed aperture in her newly acquired bedroom chamber. The dim glow of morning sunshine could at last be seen extending its reach over the inhospitable world of the Misty Mountains beyond the castle of Dol Agwarth. Elendis, young daughter of the Dunedain, felt confined and short of breath in her new quarters and had thought to open the small glass pane so as to let in the mountain air to ease her anxiety and calm her nerves. But the glass was fastened shut and would not yield when she applied pressure to it. The fact that she even had a window to look through at all showed that she had somehow managed to attain the favor of her captors, though she knew not why. What had she done to deserve it? She had certainly not done anything to merit her sudden upgrade from the lonely dimly lit prison room she had dwelt in for the last week to this new more spacious and airy bedchamber farther up in the castle; nor did she know why she had been given such warm and comfortable garments, that were far from unlady-like, in exchange for her former more plain habit that they had dressed her in last week. Unlike her previous quarters, which contained little else save a rustic mattress upon the floor, a blanket of faded wool that was hopelessly littered with horsehair about it, a chair and round end table which she often used to lay her head and folded arms upon for sleeping instead of the dirty mattress, and a sconce upon the wall that housed a single little flambeau that flickered tamely at all times. Her course seemed to look much brighter now. She had been brought here the day before by one of the guards and the two serving-women that had been assigned to wait on her by their lords. When Elendis had asked them why she had been transferred from a dirty and drafty cell to this new and more kindly venue without a word of explanation one of the two women, the older of the pair, cast a dark eye on her and merely shrugged. But the younger girl, who could speak more of the common tongue of Eriador than her older companion, said simply, "It is the wish of the Dunadan prince, lady, that you receive this privilege. Ask no more of us now." And Elendis complied without further word.

She did not have to wait long, however, to discover the answer. Immediately following her bleak and cold breakfast of dry biscuit, two strips of salted beef (of what four-legged beast it had been procured of she did not know), a thin porridge and a mildly scented green tea, a harsh knock upon her wooden door made her start with alarm. She was both relieved and altogether suspicious to discover that it was the gruff uncle of Vilthavia come to deliver her the greetings and salutations of the prince Ermegil. He had been charged by the latter to visit the young maiden in her new quarters in order to prep her for the prince's announced visit the very same evening. Urlavia had been supposed to merely build up the prince's fine character and good will towards her and her fellow Rhovanion prisoners, and to reassure her that no harm would ever come to her while prince Ermegil was in residence at Dol Agwarth where he would take it unto himself to act as her loyal protector. But Urlavia had no heart for the deed and proved to be a poor and unenthusiastic herald.

"The prince wants to wed you, girl," informed Urlavia bluntly nearly as soon as he was invited inside her room. He had not even bothered to sit down before he blurted this out to her. "He has no stomach at all for his current state - that of a widower. He is a rather restless man. But he wishes you to be his wife soon. I would advise you to accept him willingly for your own good. He will call on you this very evening for this purpose. How it stinks in here!"

Elendis felt her jaw gape open at this sudden barrage of unexpected news by this man whom she had not even seen since her initial capture well over a week ago. Her destiny seemed to be sweeping her forward at such a pace that it nearly made her swoon with confusion. She had so many questions that had run through her head over the last several days. She had often rehearsed them to herself in the event that she would be given the chance to meet with whomever was responsible for her incarceration. She especially desired to hear tidings of Vilthavia and Vidui. Not once had she given thought to the tall lanky figure of a man that now stood before her with a bored and weary expression upon his face. Indeed, as the ill-fated mountain expedition drew on and she became better acquainted with Vilthavia, she came to bear a hearty dislike of Urlavia and his self-serving demeanor. She distrusted him and his motives for setting out upon the journey in the first place and remembered with bitter scrutiny the uncle's noisome reprimand of the nephew before the face of their fellow companions on the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains. It even seemed that he wished to humiliate his nephew with a deliberate purpose in mind. In short, Elendis blamed Urlavia for Vilthavia's misfortunes. If it were not for Urlavia and his stubborn refusal, she reasoned, Vilthavia would now have been tucked away somewhere safely back in some household of his kin in the Anduin vales and been spared the miseries that had befallen them all while traversing the high passes. It was this very thought that occurred to her now and she immediately raised the subject of Vilthavia and his ill-treatment of him and passed absently over the prince Ermegil and his absurd notions of wedlock.

"Calm yourself, lass!" retorted Urlavia as he began to pace over to the window. "My nephew is alive and well! I have already paid him a visit, not even two days hence."

"Where is he?" she demanded to know at once.

"In private keeping, seemingly."

"Where are they keeping Vilthavia and why? He is only a boy to them! And, by and by, who are you to come here now seemingly at your free leisure? I demand to know why you have been set free, as an uncaged bird, and not anyone else among our company! Just who are you really, Urlavia of Rhovanion? Why do you prance around thus unfettered like some mischievous turncoat?"

"Which question shall I answer first?" quizzed Urlavia, suddenly turning round to face her. He too had thought to open the glass pane in the square aperture but stopped short upon noticing that it was shut and locked. Though her words stirred up the ashes of his anger inside him, for he desired to answer her in full so as to counter her accusations, he thought better of it. He decided to avoid any references to himself for now. "As I said, Vilthavia is well enough for the present. But his present state may be altered if you do not acquiesce to the prince's desire for mutual wedlock. Do you hear me, Elendis? The prince has influence here at this keep. He keeps close council with Broggha and may even bend him to his own will in matters of lesser account such as this. I am Vilthavia's uncle and wish for him only what is good, Elendis. He is my sister's son, for mercy's sake!"

This answer was far from satisfying to Elendis and she paused briefly before coming closer to him and demanding to know who he really was and why he had made allies with folk who had treated them all most cruelly.

"They treat all strangers who venture through their land in like manner. Hillmen guard their territory jealously and do not suffer any to pass through without their leave."

"Did you know this ere we ventured forth?"

"Of course I did, girl!" retorted Urlavia testily. "It is in their nature. Yet I was not aware that they now claimed and held so vast a territory as they seemingly do. In the past the strength and clever ways of subterfuge of the elves have always staved off barbaric infiltrations of the western highlands. But it is not the case these dark days, and at this I wonder much. Broggha is now a great lord among many of the Hillmen tribes and he has consolidated his strength by uniting many of them under his banner. Those that have not accepted his overlordship now brace themselves for open war with him. That, little lady, is why we have been apprehended by them. By traversing the passes we stumbled into a bloody battle-zone between rival barbarians. They suspect us as spies."

"Seeing as how you have acclimated yourself so warmly with them all," remarked Elendis with suspicious eyes, "I too would cast you into that role most assuredly."

"I am not an ally of the Hillmen!" rebuffed Urlavia in a scoffing manner. "Yet I have known prince Ermegil for some time now, as we are partners in trade. It is he who has obtained my clemency and may also for you and my nephew. Yet this, I am sure, he will only do if you agree to become his betrothed. What say you now? As his wife the prince will bear you swiftly away from this lonely place of woe back to your homeland. All in all he is a fine man, though somewhat grim at times. But that is not unaccustomed with you Dunedain folk, as I know well enough. He is the son of the king of Rhudaur no less! Denethil is his father! I doubt not that this may surprise you, lady. Indeed, how could you have known ere now? I do not think he would have thought ill of me for revealing this to you in seeking to win his case. There now! I see the look in your eye! I knew this last would delight you! So what say you, girl? Will you be espoused to him? You would prove yourself a foolish wench to decline him now."

It was not delight that filled the eyes of Elendis at the revelation of Ermegil's lineage but rather that of utmost shock and displeasure. Nothing Urlavia could have said then could have served his purpose any worse or dashed the prince's ambitions of wedlock with Elendis any faster than this declaration of Ermegil's kinship with king Denethil. Elendis was the daughter of Mardon of Dorbridge - a rural community that was known for its well-crafted and ancient bridge that spanned an aquatic tributary of the Metheithel, which lay half a day's ride to the south of Cameth Brin. He in turn was the political adversary of Denethil while he resided at the king's court at the Naked Hill, when Elendis and her sister Calime were still young saplings of their late mother. Mardon and many of his colleagues, who shared mutual antagonistic leanings in regard to the king and his isolationist policies and aggressive subjugation of the people, gradually fell out of favor at the Rhudauran court and were later threatened with their lives should they continue in their public outcries against the king. Not long thereafter Mardon and his supporters were charged with sedition and many of them were apprehended and either cast hopelessly into the dungeons beneath Cameth Brin where they languished indefinitely, or else sent quietly to the scaffold and beheaded - Denethil's official punishment for treason. But Mardon fled the royal court for the countryside with his family where Neissa, his wife, still maintained ties with her kin. But the ordeal of such a frantic flight into the wild proved a sore trial of strength for them and Neissa was assailed with an ague and thereafter died. Thus it was that Mardon found himself a widower with two young daughters on his hands to raise alone in the house of his in-laws. Being the youngest of the two daughters, Elendis was then quite young and memory of those events were cloudy in her mind now. Yet she never forgot that it was because of their vengeful king and his followers that her mother was forever lost to them. Because of this Elendis bristled with a cold indignation towards Urlavia.

"You would have me wed with a man of the same kindred that sent my beloved mother to her death?!" cried Elendis. "I would just as soon wed an orc than with such a lowly character!"

"Ah! What is this?" rebounded Urlavia, raising his voice above hers. "My ears must deceive me, dear lady! By what right would you compare the prince Ermegil with that of a base-born orc? What cause would you have to do so?"

"The prince is begotten from just such a race, for Denethil is a maliciously-minded creature that seeks to impose his evil ambition on others! Like all men in this world he has small appetite for little else save war and riches. He lusts for unbounded power and control over the will of others. He has been a plague upon all of Rhudaur since he usurped the crown! It is because of him that my mother now lies forever silent in the deep graves of earth and stone. I could never join myself in marriage with any of the litter of his loins!"

"Strong and damning words from so young a maiden!" exclaimed Urlavia with a narrowed brow. "I know nothing of your late mother or of the circumstances that led to her death. Yet you wrong Ermegil most unjustly by accusing him of familial complicity with his father, the king. He is nothing like Denethil! Indeed, the prince is in voluntary exile from his father's court because he bears a genuine feeling of contempt for his father and his rule! Ermegil bears few if any similarities at all with the man. Denethil has quietly acknowledged Ermegil as his son but little else. He has seldom ever had any dealings with the prince at all and has never bestowed any title of importance upon him in all his days. The two men have not exchanged a single word between them in over five years now. The prince desires the downfall of the king as much as you do, Elendis."

"I doubt that."

"I speak the truth! For you and he do share one unfortunate circumstance between you that you are not aware of, lady! Like you, Ermegil is bereft of his mother because of Denethil."

Elendis, who had turned her back on Urlavia in anger only a moment ago hesitated with these words. She then turned round and looked directly up into his eyes in order to detect any signs of false countenance that lay hidden behind them. The narrow heavily-browed eyes of bloodshot and blue returned her gaze as he nodded in confirmation of her look.

"She is dead?" asked Elendis.

"It is still uncertain," replied Urlavia more quietly as he looked away and sat himself down upon one of the cushioned chairs nigh the wall. He ran the back of his hand across his runny nose with a sniff from his nostrils. "Nothing has been seen or heard from her in nearly seven years now - or so I am told. The mother of Ermegil was the daughter of a miller who was also at one time one of the footsoldiers of Boradil, the previous king of Rhudaur. You see, the prince's mother was also a maidservant who somehow managed to find employment at Cameth Brin at the king's court - though I know not how. But this put her in close contact with Denethil, who in turn took a secret fancy to her. The rest you can easily guess. Yet after the king discovered that she bore his child he had her sent away into permanent exile."

Urlavia stopped speaking and a silence ensued between them both. He leaned his heavy head backwards against the wall and sighed.

"I am so very weary!" he said shortly. "You may believe me when I say that the prince favors you, for my quarters are far beneath what you have here! I would do much to lay down upon such a bed as that one there - if only for one night." He ended by gesturing across the room to the bed of white down that awaited Elendis.

"I do believe it. There is little you would not do to please yourself," replied Elendis tartly. "It is in your nature to be selfish, I think. Few men I have known can resist being so, and you least of all. I know it well enough by now. Nay! Do not flash your eyes at me in that wrathful manner, sir. You know what I say is true enough. You cannot alter who you are. But at least you do not deceive with malicious intent - so far as I know. Yet I doubt I may say as much for prince Ermegil."

Urlavia sat up in his chair again with a flash of irritation at these words. This was not the first time by any means that he had been forced to bear the scornful label of selfishness upon his head and by now he was growing tired of it. He ignored her attempt to steer the talk back to Ermegil and instead went on the offensive against her.

"Who are you, little naive girl, to stand there and insult me with epithets? Who are you to cast such a blemish upon my dignity? Back home a man would quickly find himself flat on his back in the dirt for less of an offense than that! But you are of woman-kind and thus are exempt from so brutish a fate. But like most of your sex," Urlavia mocked her previous similar slant upon all men, "you are foolish! Ignorant and short-sighted! You know nothing about what is happening here, girl. You stand there in your pretty little charitable gown with your head cast backwards in the manner of some little self-righteous princess with your eyes cast downwards at me as if I were one of your common subjects come before you to beg for alms and whatever pittance you graciously decide to cast at my feet! The Dunedain are all alike, say I! If you have met one you have met many and need not bother with any other, for they come from the same crumbling mould. Aye! I say it is crumbling all too truly, for your kin and their grip upon Eriador seem to dwindle ever more with every passing year. And where will the Dunedain find the artisan with the skill to repair such a faulty mould, I ask you? Nay, do not even bother to reply, girl!" added Urlavia, holding up a hand to ward off her forthcoming interruption. "There is no answer for that. Your kingdoms are already in decay whether you see it or not. I know this to be an absolute truth! Rhudaur shall not stand for long against the power of the black north that grows strong."

"It will endure!" chimed in Elendis hastily. Urlavia, now standing up again as his temper flashed anew, scoffed at this.

"It shall not, I tell you! Only by the ruthless policies of Denethil - the very man you say you despise - has Rhudaur staved off the mighty nemesis that now threatens to slowly devour it."

Elendis seemed to falter slightly in her steadfast manner with these words, though she knew not what this 'nemesis' was that Urlavia referred to.

"What is it you are speaking of, Urlavia? You speak in nonsensical clues that mean nothing to me! Just who are you, anyway? I have asked you this question once already and received no reply. Speak now and reveal to me the truth! Are you in alliance with this - 'Broggha' and his pet bostard prince who dreams of taking me for his wife?"

Urlavia managed to swallow up a potion of his anger for the moment, for he realized that if he still desired to accompany prince Ermegil and his small entourage in their departure from Dol Agwarth soon he must convince Elendis to acquiesce to Ermegil's desire and consent to wed with him. Besides, it would be for her own good, though she did not know it. After another pause he softened his tone, though he did not offer her any apology for his rant.

"I am only what I have claimed to be from the start," he replied at last. "Whatever his ill feelings for me, my nephew may vouch for me on that. I am no spy or traitor to you or any that went among our company. I am Urlavia of Rhovanion and nothing more. You must rely on that. Yet I also know a good deal about what has been transpiring in the world since you have been away chasing wildflowers and young horselords in Wilderland for the last three years. I have maintained a working relationship with prince Ermegil for several years now, and it is chiefly through him and other contacts in Eriador that I know of the perils that are looming ahead for Rhudaur. You say you hate king Denethil and his kin for the death of your mother..."

"Not only my mother," Elendis interjected quickly, "but also for many scores of innocent families that..."

"Never mind it now!" interrupted Urlavia heatedly. "It is over! It cannot be undone. Yet Denethil has no desire to relinquish his crown just now to any man or power! He will not go quietly, that you may believe. Many a man's blood shall stain the green grasses and forests of Rhudaur red ere this contest is over. The old life that you have known for so long here cannot be regained now. Civil strife is inevitable, and one must needs choose sides in the conflict that grows apace."

"And this man - 'Broggha'," inquired Elendis, "will turn aside meekly and allow the prince to wear the crown as king in his stead? Is that what you believe?"

"Do not berate me, girl! Of course he will not! With Denethil gone at last and the crown laying vacant upon the throne a new contest will arise for possession of it. Hence my declaration to you just now of the upcoming bloodbath. Broggha will be the natural claimant for Denethil's seat."

"As well as prince Ermegil?"

"Aye. As Denethil's son he will certainly aspire to his father's crown."

"Do you and he really believe that Broggha is ignorant of his secret desire of the kingship? Surely he is no fool."

"Not a fool, perhaps," added Urlavia, lowering his voice out of paranoia, "but he is impatient and suffers from over-confidence. I do not think that there are many men in Eriador that would welcome a - a man of barbaric origins such as Broggha to the throne of Rhudaur. Certainly Arthedain would object and seek his overthrow. But a fellow Dunedan such as Ermegil, son of Denethil! That is a matter altogether different. I, for one, would also like to see that come about in the future. And it can be done! Ermegil is a stouthearted man with ambition and determination coursing through his veins. He will make a fine king one day - a great improvement over his ruthless father, no doubt."

"No doubt you, too, shall personally benefit from Ermegil's kingship, Urlavia," said Elendis wrly. "The rewards you will receive from him for your assistance will make you wealthy, no doubt! Your coffers shall be overladen with riches! Aye! It all begins to make sense to me now. Your mind becomes plain and transparent to me. At least my 'girlish' head can decipher that much! This was the sole reason for your presence in Wildaria's company from the beginning, was it not? Do not deny it!" Urlavia passed over her comment with a shrug and would have went on, but Elendis could not resist another barb, and added, "As ever, greed is the primary motive in your ambitions. If, as you say, the mould of the Dunedain is ever the same, then so, too, is the mould of all lesser men! Greed, war and lust for power is all that propels you men through your empty lives. O woe to any that intervene in their path of self-gratification!"

"Silence that tongue, dame!" exclaimed Urlavia wrathfully. But Elendis went on.

"Yet at least I now know that I may have it within me to cause your scheme to go a little awry by refusing to wed with the prince! Know this, Urlavia, that I will never consent to such a union with him or any other man as long as I shall live! I will forever remain a humble maiden. You see! Your errand has failed. Go now and tell him so! Tell him also that he was too generous to me when he turned his glance in my direction!"

"You will do as you are told, girl!"

"Get out, Urlavia!" cried Elendis in dismay and anger. "Leave me alone and do not return!"

With this Urlavia could restrain himself no longer. Greatly did he desire to swing the back of his hand across her cheek at that moment but retained just enough control to know that such an action would be calamitous for himself in the long run. Therefore he turned his wrath upon the wooden table by seizing the same chair he had sat in a moment ago and violently crashed it down upon the tabletop causing it to splinter in two with a loud crack! Immediately thereafter he hurled the chair across the room where it smote the wall and fell upon the bed. Elendis had stood aside with her arms over her head and cried out in terror at Urlavia's sudden display of violence. After he had done this he stood away from her, panting with labored breath, which was soon followed by a fit of coughing. He could not stop coughing for some time and was forced to stride over to the bed to sit down upon it. He felt as if he were somehow growing ever more ill the longer he remained in residence at Dol Agwarth. When his fit had subsided and silence ensued Elendis blinked away some of the tears that welled up in her eys and softly but sternly asked him to exit her chamber.

"Aye," said Urlavia, getting up, "I shall leave. I am weary of you. Your company exhausts me, girl." Elendis shied away from him as he walked past her to the doorway. But before exiting the chamber he paused and turned back to her. "You think that you thwart me and the prince's ambitions by refusing his hand. Perhaps that may be so, but my final council to you ere I leave you is this, and I give it you whether you desire it or not: Vilthavia's fate may well lay in your hands now. The prince is not one to brook denials in so serious a matter. Your rejection of him will not sit well and he will seek to even the score with you by sending Vilthavia, whom you profess to hold in such high esteem, to the labor mines in the frozen wastelands of the north. To Angmar he will go and languish in misery - providing, of course, that he makes it that far. Many do not. Knowing well his fear of high places I would not judge it very likely. Many who travel the labor trains through the snowy passes of the mountains perish along the way. Is that what you desire, lady? Do you wish to sign my nephew's death warrant?"

Urlavia fell silent as he gazed darkly at Elendis, who sat herself down upon the bed and began to quietly wipe away the tears that had cascaded down her pale cheeks. Her fair locks, that had been washed anew by the maidservants and scented with jasmine, fell down across her face once again as she began to weep.

"It can all be avoided by simply welcoming the prince's generous offer of matrimony," he added. "Then both you and Vilthavia shall be taken care of; you in the safe company of the prince and Vilthavia avoiding thralldom. Perhaps even freedom to depart here. It is really that simple, lady. I leave you now to dwell on that in your solitude. The prince shall call on you this very evening to sup with him."

"You are a dog, Urlavia," returned Elendis, the hatred unmistakable in her voice. "A vile dog!"

Urlavia frowned in return of the insult and closed the door behind him as he left her chamber.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 1:27 pm

Elendis sat herself down upon her bed in horror and despondency for several moments after Urlavia had left her alone. She wept bitterly at the evil choice that lay before her now: enter into unhappy wedlock with prince Ermegil, son of the loathsome king Denethil of Rhudaur, or refuse his hand in matrimony and seal Vilthavia's fate as a thrall in Angmar. Not only would Vilthavia suffer much as a result of her refusal but so too would she. Her punishment would be severe, no doubt. Yet just what it might consist of she did not know. More than likely she would either be sold into slavery or auctioned off to some lewd and lascivious man of foreign origin to become his concubine in some remote corner of Middle-earth for the rest of her unhappy life. It was an unthinkable prospect! The very thought of such a fate made her head reel and her stomach turn sour. Desperate ideas of escape entered into her head and vanished again immediately afterward. Escape? Escape to where? Where might she flee in so vast a mountainous wilderness? How far would such a flight take her? She would only be intercepted again later by another scouting party of Hillmen and delivered again into the hands of Broggha. There was no escape from Dol Agwarth, for that is just what the engineers of old purposed when they raised up this sturdy fortification in the days that followed the death of Elendil the Tall, when the realm of Arnor was whole and undivided. But that was long ago and beyond the knowledge of the young lady Elendis.

All seemed lost to her. Everything had gone so awry following the death of her late husband, Wildaria. Though she had not truly loved him in her heart as she might, she always acknowledged his true kindness towards her and respected him as one of the very few fine men in the world. She genuinely missed him now in her hour of need. Elendis sat on the bed and cradled her knees in her arms and rocked back and forth as her sobs now began to overwhelm her. She could not have restrained them now even had she desired to. Yet amid such weeping there was also a rising feeling of anger and bitterness. Whenever a sob would relent for the moment she would cry out and utter her curses against a world of hateful men who would stop at nothing to see that their selfish and self-gratifying aims of conquest and dominion were fulfilled. It seemed tragic that the good men of the world perished while the wicked lived on. But there was one thing left to her that she could still cling to; one final act of choice that not even the Valar themselves could prevent her from carrying out if she so chose to. And she did.

Elendis rose up and fled her chamber as her tears of woe blurred her sight. She did not bother to close the door behind her for she had no reason to believe that she would return. Great was her sorrow at what she knew she must do now if she ever wanted to be free again. She took no heed of the old maid-servant who had just been making her way down the corridor in a hurry to deliver the young golden-haired maiden her mid-morning meal upon a silver tray. The woman called out to Elendis in surprise and alarm as the young girl sped past her in the gloom of the hallway but received no response. Elendis quickly found herself at the top of a descending stairway and lost no time in traversing them downwards. The stone steps were cold and clammy upon her bare feet, for she had not bothered to put on her slippers, so great was her haste and despair. They soon deposited her at the entrance way of another corridor that was lit here and there with a flickering torch upon the walls which provided scant lighting, for most of them had already been extinguished with the rising of the morning sun. She ran down the hallway and passed several wooden doors that were all fastened shut, save one at the far end of the passageway. Here she paused a moment in panting indecision as she looked into the adjoining room. It appeared devoid of any occupants. At the far end of chamber, which contained the usual sparse and dull decorum of any typical guest room in the keep, she saw what she had been seeking. She had not expected to find it so suddenly before her inside the only room along the corridor whose door was not closed and locked. But having discovered it now laying wide open to her in her very hour of desperate need, without the burden of human occupation to bar her way or prevent her entering therein, seemed a thing strange indeed. Surely it must be a sign from her divine intuition that she had chosen the right course to pursue in order to see that her destiny, which she believed she had no control of by now, was brought to its proper closure.

As she stood and pondered for a moment, ignoring her tears which still seemed unrelenting, she at last began to hear sounds of pursuit from the way she had come. At least two intruders were coming for her now; this she was sure of. She lost no more time and bolted inside the open room. She knew she must not delay in her decision, else risk losing the courage she knew was only fleeting. A flood of natural light from outside combined with the fresh clean scent of mountain air immediately pervaded her senses as she came out onto an open balcony - precisely the sort of venue she had sought. It was the only way of it now. Broggha and Ermegil had quickly and unrighteously taken away all her freedom of choice and had separated her from all whom she loved in the world by thrusting her into a dark world of isolation and imprisonment without just cause. If they refused to give back her freedom to her then she would wrest it back from them in the only way she knew how: she would end her life and remove herself from them all forever.

The mid-morning sunshine still shone dully upon the world below through drifting ranks of graying clouds that threatened to grow thicker and more numerous as the day went on. Elendis felt the chill air of the Misty Mountains blow across her face and through her newly cleansed hair of flaxen gold as she approached the stone safety wall that surrounded the precipice of the balcony like the taffrail of some great sea-vessel. She hesitated a moment as she looked over the edge of the railing. She had expected to see the stone floor of one of the courtyards of Dol Agwarth far below her, or perhaps the snow-covered mountainside. Instead she beheld a small squared off meadow of grass a mere three stories beneath the balcony she presently occupied. A lone tree of grey ash stood with its limbs drooping lazily over a neglected garden that had obviously lain fallow for some time now. In short it seemed that her ambition was thwarted, for her death would be far from certain were she to leap from so short a distance. If necessity and desperation forced her to seek her own end by way of a deadly free fall then she must needs find a higher place from which to leap, for from this meager height she would accomplish little save another bodily injury before her recapture, and that would be worse than death.

Elendis could hear the sounds of pursuit getting closer outside the chamber. She did not desire to be seen ever again in the world by any that called Dol Agwarth home and felt the impending signs of panic begin to creep over her. She was beginning to feel trapped. But then she turned round and look upwards and saw that she had one more chance to control her own destiny. There were several columns of hanging vines and moss hanging down from the wall above her balcony. Further still up the wall she saw that an open space existed one more story above her upon the adjoining wall. In all probability it was an inclining roof top, though where it might lead to she could only guess.

She lost no more time and quickly climbed upon the stone railing of the balcony and reached up to grab hold of the hanging vines, whereupon she began to clumsily scale the stone wall. She wore no shoes and this seemed to lend her aid, for her toes easily found the necessary purchases she required to propel herself upwards. The labor was not easy by any means, for she still had not fully recovered from her injuries she sustained in the disastrous avalanche two weeks previous. But because of the urgency and despair that she now felt at her hopeless situation, her Dunadan constitution and strength of will lent her what she needed to achieve her objective.

At last she had made it. She was just crawling onto the roof of the open area of the wall when she heard the shouts of the old maid-servant and that of a man upon the balcony she had only just vacated. The words of the old woman were mostly unintelligible, for she was unaccustomed to the common tongue of the west. Yet it seemed likely that she was calling up for her to come back down. But Elendis paid little heed to her and rose to her feet again as she steadied her weight upon this new landing of stone. She spared a brief glance back down towards the little meadow below and knew that she must remove herself to a more lofty section of the castle if she hoped to escape the dreadful doom of life as an imprisoned wife of a despicable husband.

Up and up she went. More than once the slender vines creaked and groaned with the new weight of her lithe body tugging at their strength, but in the end they held true. The landing space she had discovered following her ascent up the vines seemed to benefit her, for at length the incline of the floor she crept upon soon leveled off as both walls disappeared on either side of her. She soon found that she had reached some kind of platform that served as the roof of some unknown chamber below her feet. She paused here to gather her breath. She knew she had stopped weeping by now but her sorrow had not left her. The wind that blew across the mountain valleys of the foothills was more keenly felt at this new elevation and Elendis had to remove the blowing hair away from her face more than once in order to see properly. The breeze dried up the tears upon her cheeks and her dress clung to her thighs as she slowly went on again in a somber resolve. Her mind began to race in circles as she allowed herself to wallow in her own self-pity. How could things have gone so utterly wrong for her? Only now did she at last feel the sharp pangs of regret for ever volunteering to leave her homeland in place of her difficult sister, who had refused her father's wishes that it be Calime, not Elendis, who would enter into the agreed marriage with Wildaria. Would it have been so, and fate more kind to her, she felt that she might have went on in her life to achieve all the goals she wished to accomplish and extracted all of the happiness and joy from life that her heart had yearned for since her early girlhood. None of it would come to pass now. She had reached the end.

Ten more paces forward she halted. A drop of unknown height lay immediately before her now. Elendis had come to the edge of the lofty rooftop she had been treading on through a great mental fog of woe and sorrow. She discovered that she stood upon a narrow ledge that ran parallel along two more walls of stone that loomed up on either side of her. The ledge itself was less than two feet wide and ran in both directions along the wall; the way to her left went on for no more than five or six paces before turning away again to the left and out of her sight, while the way to her right went on easily for another twenty before angling away. She craned her neck forward and peered over the edge. At a guess she reckoned that she was now no less than a hundred feet up and easily high enough to facilitate a quick death upon striking the hard stone courtyard below. With a glance below she saw that it was indeed a large courtyard that contained a garden of both green and stone luxuries along with an old poplar tree with outstretched limbs. She did not know it then but she now beheld the old Death Tree; that same one that served as the hangman's apparatus where only a few days before a crowd of onlookers had cheered the deaths of three of her former companions who had been executed for a premeditated plot to kill the very guards that brought them their daily bread during their incarceration.

Her fear redoubled as she boldly stepped upon the narrow ledging. Her bare feet recoiled and her toes clenched nervously as they felt the rough cold stone beneath their weight. In truth Elendis had no wish to die yet. She loved her life, despite its many sorrows. But what other recourse had she now? The only options that life could offer her now were all shrouded in darkness and misery. She feared everything and everyone. As she spared a glance from that high place to look out across the descending ranks of evergreens and snow-capped boulders that seemed to litter the entire expansive landscape around her she felt that even the very mountains themselves were menacing; Vilthavia had been right about them all along. It was a land that housed evil things. There were no decent folk who lived in mountainous areas. Only those who thrived on brigandry and treachery called such places home. She should not have come here. She wished she had lived out her life with Wildaria in the lands nigh the Anduin. But she could not go back there now. It was too late. Renewed tears of bitterness and regret leaked out from her eyelids as she shut them tightly and stood with her back to the wall behind her. Memories of her childhood darted in and out of her mind - scenes of happy days growing up in her parents home in the Rhudauran countryside while her and her sister Calime spent their youthful days in flowered meadows and lazy streams amid hilly woodlands. She recalled long winter treks with her father and sister back and forth from their little homestead to the peopled vicinities closer to Cameth Brin. Summer evenings alone with her dear mother singing old tunes and learning from her mother all she needed to know about the native Rhudauran flora, for she had hoped to become a healer and herbalist one day. Such a desire would never be recognized now.

After some time of solitary contemplation upon the ledge with her back close against the wall behind Elendis garnered the courage to make her feet move sideways in the way she desired them to go. She chose to follow the ledge to her right, for it was longer and would allow her to put a little distance from herself and the open area of rooftop that she had come by, and therefore provide her with a better chance of detecting any sign of pursuit. The ledge that jetted out from the wall seemed to become even narrower the further she crept away from the safety of the open rooftop, though she knew this must surely be a trick of her unstable mind in such a perilous condition. Five steps onward and she halted and risked another look downwards beyond her toes. She heard voices far below. The open courtyard had been silent and devoid of any folk until now, but presently she could see the top of two hairy heads walking astride one another in a purposeful manner, as if they had somewhere to go or someone important to see. Their speech was too remote to decipher from her lofty vantage point, but she could tell the two male voices were discussing something in earnest by their tone. Elendis felt the sudden urge to call out to them in her desperate condition. She wanted to tell them that she was about to leave this earth forever. She wanted someone, some earthly being - apart from eagles and turkey vultures - to know that Elendis, daughter of Mardon, would control her own destiny now. There was no longer anyone to take that away from her. She wanted to cry aloud to them that no man alive, not even Ermegil the prince, would command her fate ever again. The words nearly escaped her lips but died a quick death ere they could be spoken aloud.

The two men down in the courtyard had traversed the length of the stone courtyard below and were gone. They had not even been aware of the fragile young maiden standing destitute upon the ledge high above them. Time eked by ever so slowly. The wind blew in unsteady gusts across the aerial landscape. Elendis closed her eyes and prepared again for the deadly leap that she knew she must take. She cast another glance downwards. There was no one in the courtyard. All seemed strangely silent, and despite her inner turmoil she wondered at this. She had no way of knowing that the bulk of Broggha's fighting men had left the castle and were out in the fields and forests of the upper foothills of the mountains, marching towards some of the last remaining holdouts of rival clansmen that still refused to enter into partnership with Broggha and his elite Hillmen guard. All that Elendis knew was that she must overcome her innate fear and at last undertake and execute the most horrific act any man or woman might perpetrate: the voluntary termination of their own life. Her annihilation was at hand; she must not avoid it any longer. Any more delay might cost her what strength of will that remained within her.

Elendis took a few more slow steps to her right along the ledge and again halted. The inner turmoil that afflicted her now was nearly intolerable. How could she force herself to to do this? She began to seriously doubt her ability to conquer her fear of death now. She recalled then a phrase in the elven tongue that her mother had repeatedly uttered upon her deathbed only hours before the deadly ague had claimed her life eight years ago:

"Ennas hain al duath min gwanath! Ennas hain en calad! Di-nguruthos aphad u anim!"

In the common tongue it translated as, "There is no darkness in death! There is only light! The shadow of evil shall pursue me no more!" Elendis leaned her head back against the stone wall behind her and rocked it back and forth with closed eyes as she uttered the elvish words again and again to herself. The phrases offered some comfort to her - but not nearly enough. The wind now came on across the foothills from the west in periodic spasms. Her dress clung to her belly and thighs while the loose folds of fabric flapped haggardly in the wind. She was getting cold by now. She felt her teeth begin to chatter uncontrollably. An odd combination of rising anger and overwhelming sorrow joined forces to assault her from within and threaten to totally paralyze her. "You must do it now!" she told herself silently. "Do it now and cheat the evil fate that they have created for you! Cast off your fear, Elendis! Cut it loose and imagine yourself gently floating on clouds of pure white that shall float you skyward into the farthest regions of the western heavens! You shall feel no pain when it is over! Delay it no longer!" And again she cried aloud in a clear but shaky voice, "Ennas hain al duath min gwanath! Ennas hain en calad! Di-nguruthos aphad u anim!"

Elendis released her steely grip upon the wall and positioned herself upon the very brink of the ledge of doom. She was now several inches away from the stone wall behind her. Her death was nigh at hand as she stood thus alone and without physical support upon that lofty ledge where only the birds of the mountains were accustomed to perch. She no longer looked downwards but instead looked upwards in a trance-like stare to the rolling clouds that marched overhead as she unclenched her bare toes from the stone moulding that lined the ledge. She breathed in deep the cool air of the mountains as she slowly raised her arms outwards in a horizontal position with her palms open and facing forward, as a supplicant might do when seeking pardon for some offense. She inhaled again and it seemed that by breathing outwards she was allowing her fear and terror to exit her body. She repeated the breaths twice more, crying aloud in a voice of renewed strength and volume, "Ennas hain al duath min gwanath! Ennas hain en calad! Di-nguruthos aphad u anim!" Her voice echoed across the courtyard now. Had she then redirected her gaze downwards she would have been aware of a trio of onlookers down in the courtyard looking upwards at her in shock and amazement, but her mind was solely upon her suicidal mission by now.

A sudden gleam of hidden sunshine somehow managed to pierce its way through a gray cloud at that moment and illuminate that poor and hopeless maiden of Rhudaur - the very moment that Elendis had thought that she had at last closed the door upon her relentless horror of her situation. Another blast of howling wind then hurled itself at her fragile body, causing her to lose her balance. And then she felt it! That horrific and most dreadful sensation of unintended free fall - a spasmodic quiver that shoots upwards in a heartbeat from ones feet up and through the throat in a pale vomit. It fell upon her so quickly that she very nearly lost consciousness then and there, and nearly fell into deadly ruin. But Elendis was a daughter of the Dunedain and thus might not be felled so easily, despite her swoon. In a flash (of what she would later on insist could only be from divine deliverance from the Valar themselves), she found herself turned on her side and falling downwards - down once again upon the hard surface of the ledge. Encompassed within that shining yellow ray of innocent sunlight must have surely been a last vestige of hope and promise, for all at once Elendis felt her desire for life conquer her longing for death. She knew that she had no wish to die then in that cold and lonely place, and instead clung tightly to the whithering strands of her existence; an existence so wrought with frailties and hardships that one could only marvel that she, a young and weak maiden, had endured it all. Had she outlived so many of her strong and hearty male companions only to end her life by her own hand? Had she managed to suffer and endure such terrible tribulations in the cold mountains just to throw her life away in the end without a fight? Nay indeed! It would be a travesty! Such a thing could not be endured by any Dunadan, whosoever they may be. Avalanches, sinkholes and broken limbs had not managed to accomplish her death thus far. She would not let it all end now. She could not. She would live on.

But her preservation had not come without a cost. By ill-chance the life-saving tumble back to the safety of the ledge that she had exchanged for the death plunge had sent her down hard upon the very same arm that had been broken from her ordeal in the avalanche. It had been nearly healed over the last several days but now must needs be aggravated yet again. The sharp pain shot through her wounded arm and she quickly rolled over to shift her weight off of it and found herself facing the stone wall with her back to the oblivion. She felt immobilized. She could move no more and instead began to cry out for help, having nothing else left to her. More and more folk down in the courtyard below had begun to gather therein at the sound of the commotion far overhead. They murmured amongst themselves and pointed upwards in amazement. But Elendis did not hear them over the noisome winds. She lay and wept like a mournful child upon that hard ledge of stone under the pale mid-morning sky, teetering on the brink of the void, and did not even notice the shadow of another form that loomed above her upon the high ledge of doom. Her rescuer had come.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN (pt. One)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:52 pm

Urlavia refused to exhibit the indignant flash of hot emotion he felt when it was announced to him by the guard that he was to accompany them at once to an unspecified location. He knew full well that the announcement had been forthcoming since his unexpected meeting with Vilthavia's father, Hunthor, in the courtyard, but he had not expected it so soon. The morning had not even progressed to the hour of mid-day when the glaring noise of spear poles banging upon his closed chamber door from outside shook him from his dreary contemplations on what his chances of escape might prove to be should he feel it necessary to attempt it now. In any event, he had little notion of how to proceed with such a drastic plan. Yet there would be no escape from Dol Agwarth now, save perhaps by extrication from his former employer, the prince Ermegil, whom he had not seen since his speedy exit from the courtyard following the the latter's murder of the Dunadan prisoner.

The pair of armed men garbed in leather vests over shirts of chain offered Urlavia nary a word other than their initial instructions that he must accompany them without delay. Urlavia glanced hastily back into his quarters with a nervous air of panic, as if he would inadvertantly leave behind some item of personal worth that might be stolen from him during his absence. But all that he now possessed of any value was a pair of silver bracelets that he somehow managed to filch from an old woman's soup kitchen after he had left the private chamber of Elendis in a rage following their heated disagreement over her choice of her destiny. He had seized them from a cupboard during his impromptu burglury in the hopes of procuring something of at least enough worth to bribe one of the guards for tidings of the outside world. He had every intention of performing more burglaries as well over the next few days before his impending departure from the castle in the company of the prince. But that plan was now in serious doubt following the previous incident in the courtyard. His eyes shot across the room to the ragged cot and matress of straw he had used as his bed for the last several days. He had stuffed the two slender bracelets into an open slash on the underside of the uncomfortable cushion. But he knew that he would lose them now, for his room would almost certainly be searched while he was away. Would he even be able to return here afterwards? After what? He wondered at this and had a brief vision of himself being put to the torture by the strongmen of Broggha in some darkened corner of one of the cold dungeons of the castle. Indeed, he might never see the light of day again, for that matter. He then turned his eyes towards the narrowed window-hole of his room to see a glimpse of the grey-clouded world outside going on its loathsome way without him. Perhaps he had seen his final sunrise already?

There was no clang of his door being closed behind him as he was marched down the corridor by his armed escorts. He felt like turning round briefly to see if anyone else had entered his chamber as soon as his back was turned but thought better of it. He did not need another knock to the side of his skull to add to his indignity. As they rounded the corner and began to descend a curving stairwell Urlavia felt the unwelcome presence of fear creep up on him again. Again, it was fear. Would he ever be rid of the miserable nuisance? Fear had been his almost constant companion since the unlucky day of his apprehension in the frozen wilderness of the Misty Mountains nearly three weeks ago. He had been afraid for his life on numerous occassions since setting foot on the high passes. He had only just managed to escape with his life intact in an avalanche, a hidden crevasse and exposure to the frozen elements. Would that he had taken the rations of his dead companions back in the remote cave and then fled on foot! He could have done so easily had not his conscience hindered him from it. To flee then would have meant abandoning his nephew Vilthavia to certain death - or so it seemed then. He did not love his nephew, to be sure. He was too disimilar to himself for him to bear much affection for. The boy was a poor traveler and succumbed too easily to hardship. The lad was not strong. Yet some day he himself would return to Rhovanion and to the house of his sister. What then? What would he say to her about her lost son? He could not merely tell her that Vilthavia was captured by ruffians in the mountains while he himself managed to escape. That would never do! After all, had he not promised to look after the boy himself? He did not feel that he could lie to her face by telling her that Vilthavia was living safely in Rhudaur, tucked away in some random house of comfort in some annonymous village in the countryside; nor could he tell his sister that Vilthavia had found his father at last and chose to remain in Eriador. Yavinia was too shrewd and clever to be deceived in that way. She would recognize the deception. It would not work. Therefore, he reckoned to himself, he had done the only thing that he could have. He suffered himself to be imprisoned by these despicable folk long enough to ingratiate himself, not only to Broggha by swearing to him an oath of fealty, but to Ermegil as well. "I am a survivor!" he said inwardly, consoling himself as the sound of his heavy footfalls in the stairwell drummed into his ears as he was led downwards. "I have survived worse calamities than what may come to me next. I will endure at least one more dilemma now and emerge intact in the end!"

Their silent descent ended at last when the spiral stairwell evened out in a narrow corridor of rough hewn walls. A lone torch flickered mekely from a sconce whose light revealed a closed door of reinforced wood at the end of it. One of his escorts opened the old door with a creak and inside Urlavia could see the forms of two men with their backs to him speaking softly to the hulking form of Broggha himself, who stood quietly in profile as a young male servant attended his lord's wounded arm, which still hung limply in a sling. The chamber therein seemed plainly to be the castle's primary dungeon, for inside the cold and gloomy chamber Urlavia beheld an eerie scene that immediately sent a chill down his spine. Numerous flickering torches upon the walls revealed a room of chains, whips, pillories, racks and bare stone tables with leather straps on their sides. If there was any lingering doubt in his mind about the chamber's primary function it quickly disappeared when he heard the sound of a mournful groan of dejected misery come from one of the shadowed corners. The room was not empty of prisoners. He could presently see no less than a half dozen men against the far wall mostly slumped down upon the floor in their nakedness, their chains rattling like iron nails falling into a drinking vessel whenever they tried to move round.

Urlavia felt a slight shove from behind him as the foremost guard ushered him inside the doorway. The two figures that stood facing the lord Broggha turned round to look at their new guest whom they seemed to be expecting. The shorter of the two men was plainly Rhugga, son of Broggha. With his head slightly bent forward he glared over at Urlavia with his dark eyes that were set coldly beneath a low forehead and a pair of bushy eyebrows that seemed almost to connect above his nose. There was no mark of any kindness, pity or empathy in those ruthless pair of blue-grey beads that bore into the Rhovanion as he stepped inside the dungeon. Urlavia feared this man more than his father because with Rhugga it was impossible to discern what thought lay behind the mask of that intimidating stare, unless it be of raw hatred and violence. With Broggha there were few secrets in his motives or agenda. He desired a power no less than the absolute overlordship of all of Rhudaur. He wanted the overthrow of king Denethil and the latter's throne within Cameth Brin as his own - to say nothing of his desire to see all of the Dunedain either destroyed or driven out of eastern Eriador. He also desired the people of that land to live as subjects under his own will and authority. Most folk knew this. But with Rhugga it seemed otherwise. He was driven not by his innate greed like his father but rather by his sheer hatred and lust for the blood of all that opposed him. Perhaps it was fortunate that Broggha ruled the lands instead of his demented son. Rhugga would live out his entire life on a path of vengeance whatever the cost. Urlavia may not have been reckoned among the wise by many but he knew instinctively that his characterization of this man must be near the mark.

The man who stood alongside Rhugga was a stranger to Urlavia. He had not seen him before and he wondered much at the man's unusual appearance. He certainly was not of the race of any of the Hillmen that inhabited the western Misty Mountains. He was the tallest man in the room and was clothed in a habit of a long grey tunic that stretched down below his knees. It was fastened close to his lithe frame by a belt of some strange animal skin that Urlavia was unfamilar with at first sight despite his long experience in fur trading. Beneath the man's long tunic he wore long breeches that were tucked into the top of his long black boots which came to a point at the toes. His arms were bare up to the shoulders, both of which sported strange and colorful markings and designs that looked to have actually been etched into the very skin itself, unlike mere war paint that might be washed away at will. The designs of the skin markings were difficult to ascertain in the gloomy torchlight but the form of a slitted eye like that of some wild cat could be plainly seen upon the left shoulder. Yet it was perhaps the man's very skin that seemed so unusual to Urlavia as he approached them both slowly. The color or hue of it seemed almost milky white when compared to that of an ordinary northmen. The stranger's hair was dark and short-cropped like it was often worn by many of the Dunedain, but it was the man's eyes that drew Urlavia's attention. They were of different colors. The left eye was of the palest blue, while the right was considerably dark - even black but also painfully streaked with bloodshot as if he were in want of sleep. It was not until he looked into those blue eyes that it occured to Urlavia that this man must surely have some elf-blood coursing through his veins. Surely this man was of a half-breed race that he had never come across before. His countenance was not that of unbridled animosity like that of Rhugga's but more of a kind of suspicious curiosity as he looked Urlavia over head to toe.

It was Broggha who spoke first as he waved away his attendant. The great war-chieftain himself was still dressed in his travelling clothes, though his fair hair had been replaited and neatly brushed through once again. He did not bother to face Urlavia yet but instead accepted a small drinking vessel from another servant before raising the cup to his lips and quickly devouring the contents in one large gulp. He grimmaced at the taste of the unknown liquid and then tossed the cup aimlessly to the ground where it fell with a brief clatter.

"I shall come to the point at once, Rhovanion," said Broggha addressing Urlavia by his foreign status as he looked studiously across the chamber to where the prisoners lay in bonds against the wall. "In my realm the penalty for both treachery and espionage is death. The only difference between the two is the duration of the final sentence: for the former it is quick and done with as soon as possible. Yet for the latter death comes only after a good deal of painful interrogation. But in the end the result is the same, I fear."

"Am I a guest or a prisoner now?" Urlavia boldly querried after a pause in Broggha's speech. "For I was under the assumption that I belonged to the former class. I have given you an oath of loyalty already, lord. I delivered to you the members of my company as well all our possessions in our keeping."

"You were not bidden to speak yet!" interrupted Rhugga acidly. Broggha turned to face him at last before speaking again.

"A guest? What is a guest? Do you think of yourself as a guest here, Rhovanion? I did not summon you here to my abode, nor have I ever heard word of you. But why should I have? You are an insignificant thing really. I have little time to spare for a trifle such as you, for other matters lay at my door that I must look to. Yet here I am standing before you now - and at that I marvel. Why do you guess that is so, foreigner?"

Urlavia knew perfectly well why he had been brought here into their presence but preferred to let the question hang in the air unanswered. He must be wary of rhetorical traps and refrain from taking any bait that was proffered to him in their speech. Though he began to feel his nerves quiver he said nothing. Broggha stared unblinkingly at him for many seconds before suddenly smirking with a mischievous little grin.

"Answer him, you runt!" hissed Rhugga impatiently. Urlavia flinched a little at this but merely shrugged with an involuntary sigh. Seconds passed before the silence was broken again.

"Where is thy tongue, stranger of the eastlands?" asked the mysterious half-breed man suddenly. "A guarded tongue belies a man possessed of hidden guilt that he desireth to conceal." His use of the common tongue was not only accented but also employed the usage of a dialect that sounded to Urlavia highly antiquated when compared to the speech of the brutish Hillmen. "Yet I dare say it lieth somewhere portcullised behind thy rotten teeth. To remain silent in the face of authority displays an insolent contempt of the unwarranted hospitality that has been bestowed upon thee. Dost thou wish to lay in chains as a villain among the rats?"

Urlavia found it hard to return the man's menacing glance. At length he forced himself to speak in reply, though he scarcely considered the content of his reply before doing so.

"My lord," he said haltingly as he looked back at Broggha. "I do not know the purpose of your summons to me now - but I beg you to allow me once again to repeat my former oath of fealty to you! I am not a traitor to you!"

"A mere liar then?" responded the chieftain coldly.

"Nay, lord! Nay indeed."

"You are a spy employed by Denethil, perhaps?"

"Nay! I am no spy! I have never met the man in my life, lord! Nor will I! I have been a servant of prince Ermegil, who is a sworn enemy of the king, though they share familial ties!"

A few moments of eerie silence followed this remark, broken at last by another woeful groan of pain somewhere among the enchained naked prisoners against the far wall.

"Prince Ermegil, you say?" asked Broggha in a slightly raised tone. "Did the prince then summon you to him here?"

Again Urlavia hesitated with uncertainty. Of course no summons of any kind had been made to Urlavia by the prince. Indeed, it was nothing short of a miraculous coincidence that he had crossed paths with Ermegil at all here in the vastness of the Misty Mountains. Yet surely the latter had told Broggha he had specifically summoned Urlavia to him in order to legitimize Urlavia's sudden appearance at Dol Agwarth. The fact that Broggha's band of scouts had come across him and the rest of his company and taken them as prisoners would not necessarily make such a claim untrue. But how could he be sure here and now, in the face of such an interrogation, that Ermegil had proclaimed as much to Broggha. Perhaps the prince had told him just the opposite? He could not be sure now. But any further hesitation on his part now might prove him guilty of lying.

"Aye, lord," answered Urlavia, opting to go with the untruth. He prayed that he was right. "Aye, he summoned me to meet him in Rhudaur."

"Where in Rhudaur was your rendezvous to take place?"

"The village of Harrowdale - or such it is called by the folk who dwell there." Urlavia blurted out one of two or three villages he could remember in Rhudaur from his past excursions into the country years ago.

"His ivory portcullis is raised at last, tho' I deemeth it lay ready to fall close'd again at will," remarked the half-breed queerly in a hushed voice almost to himself as he glared at Urlavia.

"Harrowdale?" asked Broggha oddly in his ominous voice. "Where is Harrowdale? I do not remember it."

Urlavia forced a counterfeit spasm of coughs to burst from his mouth in order to stall for time. Rhugga scowled at this as an obvious delay tactic, proclaiming aside to his father in the tongue of the Hillmen that it was plain that Urlavia was deceiving them. But though he did not speak their tongue Urlavia guessed at the nature of Rhugga's words to his father and insisted again that he was not lying.

"I speak the truth lord," he assured Broggha pointedly as he allowed a trail of spittle to escape from his mouth to the floor. He was partially doubled over in an act of labored breathing. "I ask your forgiveness, my lord, for I have been ill. But this is no fault of mine, as I have suffered much since the horrors of the winter weather assailed us in our lofty passage."

"Allow me to assist you in clearing your wind-pipe, Rhovanion," remarked Rhugga rather laconically. He then came up behind Urlavia and surprised the latter by suddenly pounding with his closed fists upon the coughing man's back so hard and repeatedly that Urlavia fell to the floor with a gasp quite stunned. But this alone was not enough to satisfy the son of Broggha, who refused to allow his victim to roll over on his back to parry the blows. Rhugga stooped over and delivered no less than ten blows with his closed fists to Urlavia's bruised backside before relenting at last. Before stepping away from him Rhugga placed his boot upon his victim's shoulder and gave it a shove so that Urlavia toppled onto his back at last so that he lay facing upwards into the eyes of his assailant. He groaned in pain as he closed his eyes and spewed out a trail of coughs and spit that were now quite genuine.

"Do you think were are at your disposal in order to mock us, you foolish dog?" shouted Rhugga aloud down to Urlavia, who lay on the floor. Broggha stroked his hairy chin, slightly ammused at the spectacle before him. Then he gestured at his son to raise Urlavia up to his feet again. This being done the chieftain repeated his former question.

"I repeat myself: where is Harrowdale?"

"Harrowdale," began Urlavia again through teeth clenched in pain and fear. "Harrowdale is located about a day's march west of a tributary of the river Loudwater; near another settlement of men that is called Smokemere by the locals."

Urlavia looked into the eyes of his lord to guage his reaction but Broggha showed nothing, and instead lobbed another question at him.

"I shall confirm this much with the prince at any time. Do you realize that?"

Urlavia nodded without speaking.

"Why did Ermegil desire a meeting with you?"

"To join him in the business of trading furs and horses, lord."

"He ought not to have use of such a trade while he is in my service," said Broggha. "It serves as an unecessary distraction. I knew nothing of it ere now. Futher still, he has not offered me a share in his profits, for these mountains and all that roam hither free and wild I do claim under my protection. Does he wish to conceal his actions from me? The fool!"

Urlavia shook his head meekly to indicate he simply did not know the answer to that question. It made him wonder as to the nature of Ermegil's relationship and motives pertaining to Broggha and his new realm.

"You have little fear now while you tell me the truth, Rhovanion," returned Broggha with an effort to sound more colloquial. "Furthermore the rewards I bestow upon those that willingly divulge their secret thoughts to me are well-known among the clans, I assure you. I bid you open your mind to me now and leave nothing hidden or guarded. The prince has been deep in my councils as of late and to think that he may have alterior motives outside of my own would be most unwelcome with me."

Rhugga bridled with irritation at this last statement from his father, for he hated and distrusted Ermegil and resented the renegade Dunadan for his rising influence with his father and even more so because of his inclusion in his father's privy councils while he himself, his father's flesh and blood, had always been excluded. Yet he said nothing of his mind now and instead bit his lip as he shuffled his feet.

"Lord," began Urlavia haltingly, "I met the prince several years ago, tis true. Yet I have not had any dealings or communication with him in some time now. The summons he sent me was the first correspondance we have shared in no less than five years, as we reckon time in the east. Yet I admit I welcomed the messenger when he found me, for I have been plagued by hardships in the east where my homeland languishes in decreptitude. There is little wild game left along the frontiers there because of the draughts have driven them eastwards towards the inland sea beyond the mountains. That is why I rejoiced when I received the prince's invitation to come to Eriador, for here we have heard that greater opportunities are available to those that are hardy enough to seek them out."

"Dost thou claim as much for yourself, then, Rhovanion?" asked the half-elf. "Art thou a man of 'hardy race'?"

Before Urlavia could reply Broggha spoke up for him in the tongue of the Hillmen, saying, "He must be stout and hardy enough, for he survived the hardships of the high passes while many others of his kind did not!"

The half-elf raised an eyebrow at the chieftain's mild reproof of his own doubt before saying in reply, "Very well then! Take him into thy service, lord Broggha. Why delay it any longer? Time presses and there is much to do yet."

Broggha looked back at Urlavia again, unable to shake off a remote misgiving that remained lodged in his heart.

"Why did Ermegil choose you and not another? What marks you as a man more accustomed to trade with foreigners in Rhudaur?"

"I have much experience in the art of barter and trade, lord. Furthermore, I was bringing the prince the sort of steeds from my homeland that are much prized in Eriador."

"You refer to the horses that the men you traveled with brought with them? Were your companions in agreement with this arrangement?"

"Indeed so, lord. They were to profit greatly from it."

"How is it that that they perished and you did not?"

"I suspect you betrayed your own companions," added Rhugga in great suspicion, "and expected to claim the prize of the horses for your own."

"That is false!" exclaimed Urlavia. "I did no such thing! Those men were my friends and companions, my lord! How might I have perpetrated such a deed? It is beyond me to do so. Only a wicked mind would set to that!"

"Yet still it is odd that you - a man who was preordained to meet up with the prince Ermegil, one of my chief servants," said Broggha, "would manage to survive so many calamities when others in your company did not."

Urlavia sighed and looked away displaying a countenance of deep sorrow at the memory that might or might not have been genuine.

"I know not, lord," he replied meekly. "Yet I am possessed of an endurable spirit, that much I know well enough."

"A cowardly spirit, you mean," returned Rhugga flatly before his father had opened his mouth. "For well do I remember the day we met you out in the snow-covered wilderness. We caught you at unawares as you made ready to flee at a herd of sprinting deer that fled in your direction."

"Lord, pray let me prove my fealty to you!" persisted Urlavia nervously, declining to remark on the afore-mentioned incident. "You have but to name your desire and I shall perform it."

Broggha turned away as one of the prisoners upon the far wall begged for water. The warlord ignored his plea and instead jerked his head at the two guards for them to attend to the pathetic creatures who lay in chains. Urlavia saw the spearmen go over to one of the naked men and unchain him by his wrists before assisting the man to his feet. The victim must have been of fair height but the deep shadows prevented any accurate judgements pertaining to the man. The only other aspect of the poor wretch that Urlavia could ascertain was that the said individual must have been in a state of deterioration, for the man could barely walk. It was difficult to make out the man's identity in the dim torchlight of the chamber and from the distance between them. But he could see that the prisoner was then led over to one of the tall load-bearing pillars that stood in rows within the chamber. The pillars themselves were remarkable for the many well-crafted letters (carved out in a tongue Urlavia could not make out) and numerous images of scenes of a variety of birds, beasts and men and women from the ancient past of the Dunedain, in both profile and portraiture. But it was not the skilled artistry of the stone pillars that drew Urlavia's eye just then but rather the built-in chairs that had been chissled out of the hard stone columns themselves. Every tall pillar of stone in the room had one of these set-in-stone chairs built directly into them. Urlavia began to wonder what strange purpose these chairs served but came close enough to the answer himself when he saw the naked man forced to sit in one of them.

"Are you familiar with a man who goes by the name of 'Hunthor'?" asked Broggha unexpectedly as he drew Urlavia's attention away from the victim in the pillar-chair across the room. Urlavia had been prepared for this question and had already rehearsed the reply he would give them, for he knew well enough that his once brother-in-law was the real purpose he had been summoned here.

"Aye, lord. I know of him." A silence followed.

"Tell me how then, curse you!" spat Broggha irritably, his impatience getting the better of him.

"Lord, he is a man of mixed lineage as far as I know him. He is both Dunedain by blood and also of the Rhovanion people, like myself; though of course there are many kinds of the latter."

Urlavia paused. He could see the wrath in Broggha's eye with his own incomplete reply so he hasten on in his answer.

"What I mean, lord, is that Hunthor is also a trader and merchantman whom I had at one time performed some business with in the east." Then, catching the queer gleam in the half-elf's eye, and fearing to be caught up in a falsehood that he could not ammend later he added truthfully, "Furthermore, he was my sister's lover once upon a time, though that was long ago."

Urlavia could not help but again fall silent as more movement from the opposite corner of the chamber caught his eye. Turning his head slightly he beheld two more naked prisoners being led away from the adjacent wall and being tied down to two of the stone pillar-chairs in the same manner as the first victim had been.

"Do not turn your head away from my father when he is speaking to you, dog!" threatened Rhugga acidly as he reached out and cupped Urlavia's hairy face in both his hands and forcibly turned his head back to it's forward facing position where Broggha stood glaring at him. As a parting shot, Rhugga added, "I shall beat you as a lowly dog again as I did before if you are lying to us now."

Urlavia did not return the insult but instead shot Rhugga what hateful glance he could muster in his present plight, for his fear of Rhugga was beginning to give way to his rapidly growing loathing of the man.

"What else have you to say about him?" asked Broggha, coming closer to Urlavia.

"Well, lord, it is like this..." Again Urlavia stumbled over his words. His nerves were beginning to fail him by now. It suddenly occurred to him that he had forgotten what he had planned to say to Broggha regarding Hunthor. He simply could not remember the words now! He silently cursed himself and his errant memory.

"Hunthor," he began again, "you might say, is a rival of sorts to me and my business back home."

"Is that why you were seen by my son to spit in his face out in the courtyard earlier?" querried Broggha.

"Aye, lord," answered Urlavia, grateful to be supplied with a suitable excuse for that former action of his.

"Is it a custom of your people to spit upon those whom pose a threat to you?"

"He is a man of ill-repute in Rhovanion because of his dishonest method of trade. Further, I have heard word that he was driven out of the Wilderlands specifically because of this." Seeing Broggha turn his eyes to the floor with sigh, Urlavia reckoned one more embellishment to his story would suit him now, so he added, "...I assume that is why he has left the eastlands to seek his fortune in Eriador? Though I know not for sure, lord. I was most shocked to see him here - as you might imagine."

Urlavia prayed that he would not be asked to describe Hunthor's so-called 'dishonest methods' to them, for he doubted another fabricated story would be believed as truth by them. He was spared the ordeal, thankfully.

"What a strange thing fate is to us all," replied the half-elf shaking his head slightly in a manner of mock astonishment, "that three such unwelcome acquaintenances might all follow the same path to the same foreign door - tho' that very door be unknown to them all!"

Urlavia felt his heart quaver. It was indeed a remarkable coincidence and thus difficult to believe. But it was true, nevertheless. He ventured no further explanation presently.

"He should not be trusted with any further liberties, father," remarked Rhugga as he turned aside as spoke privately with his father in their native tongue. "He might very well be a spy from Arthedain, for they are wont to employ men from far abroad for their secret mercenary purposes. It would explain his strange acqaintance with our captured Dunedain well enough, for the latter is certainly a spy."

"Aye, I believe he is, but perhaps it is otherwise for this 'slug' before us now," Broggha said, motioning in a depricating manner with his hand at Urlavia. "He does not possess the wit necessary to conduct acts of espionage as far as I can make out. And that is why I find his presence here the more odd. He is a worthless wanderer, more likely."

"Are we to let him go free then?" there was unveiled disbelief in Rhugga's voice as he spat the question to his lord and father. "He may be indeed a wanderer as you suggest but I also deem him to be a self-serving rogue who shall not hesitate to reveal our presence here in this old mountain keep to the Dunedain to the west if he is permitted to walk away as free as a bird! He walks in a state of penuary and will do anything to fill his purse. I say it is madness! A foolish and unecessary risk to take!"

"Silence yourself, Rhugga!" returned his father angrily, pointing his finger at his son. But Rhugga could not resist one more remark that bordered on insubordination.

"Slay him now, father! What harm can it be to us to do so? Or if your injured arm is not up to the task allow me to perform it in your stead!"

"Patience!" exclaimed Broggha heatedly again to his wreckless son. Rhugga's open betrayal of his inner-most thoughts before outsiders had always displeased his father. The mysterious half-elf from the north had already begun to step away from the pair but hesitated now and turned his head round at Broggha's noisome burst of wrath. "Quiet your tongue! Do not ever raise your voice to me in anger again, boy! Do you hear me? I am not merely your father anymore, nor am I the leader of a paltry band of run-about spear-wielding brigands as I once was but rather your lord and master as well as every other creature of these mountains that goes about on two legs or four! Do not think that because you are my son I shall bestow preferential treatment upon you. I can easily place you in the lock-ups as I did Ermegil just now. I hold your fate as well as all other men in my hands alone!" Then seeing the temperment on his son's face quickly change and his resolve relent to him, Broggha softened his tone, though he did not let the authority in his demeanor fall away. "It is I, Rhugga, and not you who decides the order of things here. You are a fine warrior and hunter, but you are only recently come to your full manhood and have much to learn about the world yet."

"Think you, young warrior," asked the half-elf unexpectedly in their native tongue as he again strode over to the pair, "that the king of Arthedain sits upon his throne in Fornost oblivious to the world without him? Nay, the walls of his city are not so lofty so as to blind him from your conquests of glory up here, tho' the leagues between him and thou are many. Tidings of thy victories shall reach the ears of Malvegil soon enough! It cannot be otherwise. Yet our eyes are not without vigil as well, and all that is said and done both there and here are not unknown to us. Remember it well, son of Broggha."

Rhugga had turned to face the odd man of half-breed origin with a mixed expression of confusion and suspicion. He had only met the man a few days earlier and found himself wondering just who he really was and why he and another companion of his had been 'sent' to Dol Agwarth from the mysterious realm of the northern mountains. His father had merely told him that the pair were 'ambassadors' from a realm in the cold north that men called Angmar, and that they had come to offer their aid to Broggha and his newly crafted alliance of Federated Hillmen against the agressions of the Dunedain of Rhudaur and abroad. He had not been warned of the two men's arrival by anyone among his father's circle of advisors and he felt a sense of resentment for what he considered a slight on his character. But Broggha could not trust his son's wreckless mouth to remain guarded and thus he had instructed his councilors to refrain from telling Rhugga anything at all in regards to Angmar if possible. Therefore Rhugga resented this man's presence here in his father's dungeon amongst the prisoners, for he had pined for the moment when he himself would act as both their inquisitors and tormenters. Now it seemed this man had come down here to usurp that honorable privilage from him - or so his father had hinted at earlier.

"Your speech is strange and tangled much in riddles, sir," said Rhugga almost reluctantly to the man. "Do you mean to suggest that we are under your surveilance as well as the king of Rhudaur?"

The half-breed blinked repeatedly as he offered the son of Broggha an almost sinister little half-grin. Broggha bristled at his son's insistant badgering. Their attention was again diverted when one of the naked prisoners bound by the wrists to one of the pillar-chairs began to cough and spit at the feet of one of the guards, who in turn ignored the man. The half-elf said nothing more but instead strode slowly over to the three bound men upon the chairs and scrutinized them all in silence.

Urlavia watched the entire exchange between father and son in a state of high anxiety. Their words were unintelligible to him but he knew well enough that he was the main topic of discussion. He feared what might come next. He suspected that Rhugga wanted nothing more to do with him but had no clear inkling what Broggha or the bizarre half-breed intended to do with him now.

Broggha pursed his hairy lips tightly together as he stepped forward and gazed into the face of Urlavia. Nothing was said by anyone for several moments as the tension slowly gathered in the air about the four men. Urlavia could hear one or two of the chained prisoners against the far wall speak to their two companions who were now forcibly tied and secured into the stone chairs but he could not comprehend their speech. Nor would he dare to redirect his eyes in that direction with the new lord of all the Hillmen present before him holding his eyes to his very own. At length Broggha stepped directly up to Urlavia so that only a few spare inches lay between their respective noses. Urlavia could now smell the man's foul breath that recalled to him the odor of ale and some unknown spice that resembled a mixture of onions and foul curd. Broggha refused to release the gaze of Urlavia for many seconds as he scanned the Rhovanion's pupils before glancing down to his mouth and nose before once again settling on the eyes. Urlavia felt that one of his upper eyelids was quivering and this made him nervous, for he feared that Broggha would perceive that as a sign of a man attempting to conceal a lie. Urlavia tried vainly to keep his eyes steady and relaxed but found it impossible under this man's menacing stare. He started slightly when Broggha broke the silence without even moving.

"You shall indeed be required to prove yourself to me, foreigner." The tone in his voice was casual but not without threat. "One act of fealty is not enough for a man like yourself, I deem. Henceforth you shall swear yourself to me every day whenever and wherever it shall please me until I am satisfied of your goowill. Let the trail begin. Your first display of fidelity begins now. Follow me!"

Reluctant to comply but even more fearful of disobeying Broggha he slowly followed the war-chieftain across the high vaulted chamber until they drew nigh the three restrained prisoners who sat in a row in the narrow pillar-chairs of stone. Urlavia witnessed the two guards fastening leather-bound cords around the three prisoner's necks. The cords were then drawn back behind their heads before the ends of the three bonds were looped through accomodational holes in the back of the 'chairs'. The loose ends of the cords were pulled through these holes and tied securely around a vertical crank-shaft that had been built in to the back side of the pillars themselves. Upon these shafts were round handles that could be turned by the inquisitors so as to tighten the strength of the tension of the straps around the victim's neck. They were called 'choke chairs' by some, or 'strangulation chairs'. Whatever the name, the effect was the same - that is to slowly (or quickly) strangle the victim tied into the chair either until they were willing to provide the information that the inquisitor sought or else to the victim's own death. It was solely up to the will of the tormentor.

Urlavia was bidden to approach the three prisoners who sat helplessly by in their nakedness upon the deadly chairs of cold stone. Urlavia stepped closer to examine the man who sat immediately in front of him. Broggha motioned for one of his servants to come forward with one of the flickering torches in order for them all to observe the actions that were to follow without difficulty. Once the young servant drew nearer Urlavia gradually beheld the identity of the first man come into view. It was as he feard it would be: Hunthor sat in his state of bondage with a countenance upon his battered and bruised face that seemed to suggest that he no longered cared in what direction his fate would now lead him. As he saw earlier, back up in the courtyard, Urlavia observed that Hunthor scarcely resembled the man he had known him to be in the past. He had been beaten and abused badly, that much was plain to see. Yet it was Hunthor's lack of reaction to his presence that seemed queer to Urlavia. Hunthor sat with his head drooped forward and his long hair, now soaking wet for a reason unknown to the Rhovanion, hanging down low in front of his eyes. But Broggha called out to the hapless Dunadan by his name which stirred a flicker of life in the enchained prisoner. Hunthor jerked his head slightly and let a short moan escape his lips before slowly raising his head to look up at his tormentors. Urlavia grimmaced and nearly turned his head when he at last saw plainly the horrific apparitional face that gazed back at him between the hanging locks of soggy hair covering his cheeks. Upon the forehead of Hunthor was a black and charred form of the letter "A" that had been forcibly branded with a red-hot prod upon the skin just above the bridge of his broken nose. But it was the eyes of the poor victim that commanded the highest degree of horror and sympathy for Urlavia, and his grimmace of shock and fear gave way to a genuine display of sympathy and regret for the father of Vilthavia, his nephew. The right eye of the Dunadan had been torn out of the socket, leaving only a gaping hole.

"Behold, Dunadan!" said Broggha in a voice that smacked with a glimmer of triumph, "You have an old relative before you that has come to see you off!"

Hunthor seemed to be looking up into the face of his brother-in-law of old but Urlavia couldn't be sure if he recognized him or not. But the last words of Broggha that were laced with sarcasm boded an ill fate for the unhappy prisoner. Urlavia wondered just what sort of information they had extracted out of him in their torture rooms. Nevertheless, he seemed doomed to die shortly.

"Have you ever killed a man before, Rhovanion?" asked Rhugga mockingly to Urlavia. "I refer not to any form of armed combat, but rather the joy of slaying a man with your own bare hands - unaided by the use of a blade. The power you wield in such a circumstance is remarkable."

Judging by the unknowing blank stare of Urlavia it was obvious the answer to that question was 'no'. Rhugga smiled at him.

"I see that you have not," he continued. "Then today you shall be reborn, Rhovanion. You will thank us later for opening up a new pleasure to you that you had never dreamed of ere now. This shall be your first test of fidelity to us; to the new realm of Broggha, lord of Rhudaur!"

He assumed that he would be forced to watch them conduct the execution of Hunthor as a means of physcological torment to himself. But he was wrong - it was much worse than that. Instead he was expected to act as his executioner. Urlavia stood as one dumbfounded as he looked into the maniacal eyes of Rhugga before turning his glance back to Hunthor - a man that would expire by his own hand. To refuse the office might very well bring the same fate upon himself. But despite his unenviable position he still clung to the hope of a better life after all this mayhem reached its final conclusion. Laying down his own life now was not a thought he could court in his heart. He loved life, though life may not love him. Yet he desired to live - for he knew he was a 'survivor'.....
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North

 
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN (cont.)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:49 pm

CHAPTER SIXTEEN (cont.)

Escape. Freedom. Solitude. Plentiful food. Warmth. The complete absence of b astardly Hillmen! To never lay eyes on another soul of this miserable race of men ever again! Ah! A simple act of compliance now would make all of these dreams come true. The mere thought of escaping from the stronghold of Broggha tantalized Urlavia like a carrot dangling from a string in front of a hungry hare. If he could overcome his nagging conscience and perform the evil office that was now required of him by his captors his own black fate might turn on its head and light up anew for him. All he had to do was cooperate with their demands. He had never before slain a man under such circumstances before, it was true. Only once had he caused the death of a man in his lifetime, and even on that occasion - when he had only just reached his full manhood - he had not performed the act with his bare hands but rather with a bow and arrow. Furthermore, his victim had been a known poacher who kept company with brigands and thieves. He had shot the man square in the back as he fled after returning from a stream where he had laid his traps the night before. That had been an easy task then, for he had considered it a just punishment. But death from a distance bears little resemblance to outright murder! He had not been acquainted with the thief he had shot and killed all those years ago but this time the case was much different. As Urlavia stood staring down at the pitiful form of his former relative and in-law who sat tied and bound in the garrote-chair he realized that he had been wrong in his former judgment of Hunthor. He no longer thought him a spy in the service of Angmar as he had told his nephew when he visited the boy in his cell several days ago. How could he be? Hunthor had been apprehended fighting against Broggha in the service of the Guant tribe, who was the enemy of Broggha. If he was a spy at all it was probably for Arthedain - not Angmar. In any other situation he would feel a fool. But now he only felt fear and apprehension for himself and his plight.

"You have guessed at it by now," said Rhugga acidly to Urlavia. "Surely your head is not of so thick a stuff to make it impenetrable as a block of stone! You shall fill the office of the executioner today, Rhovanian, for I am weary of the chore by now and wish rather to observe you in the undertaking. Will you do it, I wonder?"

Urlavia cast him a sidelong glance from the corner of his eye. He hated this man. In so short a time he had come to hate him as much as any man might hate another. He saw himself suddenly step forward and raise his arm upwards and slash the throat of the monster before him with his dagger that he had concealed beneath his wool shirt. Rhugga gave a garbled cry as he fell backward to the floor with a dull thump of agony. He had breathed his last breath in this world.

But no – Alas! It was but a mere hallucination of the moment. Rhugga lived still. Would that he might someday have opportunity to strangle him in his turn! That would be an act he would relish performing. There would be no hesitation at all on his part for that! Rhugga recognized the wicked glance he received from Urlavia. It seemed to please him and even make him smile, for he knew the look well enough.

“What say you, Urlavia?” The new voice was that of Hunthor, who by now was alert enough to recognize the familiar figure of his former kinsman before him. He spoke in the native tongue of the Rhovanians but was plainly hard put to it due to his physical mishandling by his captors. “Wilt thou slay me now? Wilt such an act by thy own hand release thee from this monster’s service? If so, pray get it over with! Yet you know little of these folk – unworthy dogs that they are. Betrayal! The very air itself reeks of it.”

“Silence!” cried Rhugga striding forward to intercept them. “This is no place for happy reunions of estranged kinfolk! You are doomed to die today, ‘Shadow-head’! Your allotted breath for speech has expired now.”
Broggha, who had been taken up in a brief exchange of conversation with the mysterious half-elf, turned upon hearing the boisterous bellow from his son and recalled Rhugga to his side for private instruction.

“Nay, let the pair speak and converse for yet awhile, Rhugga,” he told him, “for not only is this fellow from abroad lacking in wisdom he is also wont to let his guard down in his free speech. Secrets he might still be seeking to keep may yet spill forth from his mouth unbidden. Furthermore I desire to observe his mood and countenance for signs that he might just yet possess trace amounts of courage inside his heart that we have not seen yet.”

“Courage, say you?” asked Rhugga in astonishment. “Do you think a grown man who flees at the sight of a herd of caribou possesses any courage? Nay, father! Surely you overestimate this fool and his use to us. Did he not soil his britches when we threatened to beat him back out on the mountainside?”

“Dost thou frequently brow-beat thy own lord and father with thy tongue, boy, despite your lack of authority in his own court?” The half-elf blurted out the question to Rhugga almost before the latter had finished speaking. “As a dog before the feet of his master thee should be now!”

Rhugga flared his nostrils as he sought to hold his head up high and proud before the admonishment he now received from this odd stranger from the north. It occurred to him then that he did not even know the man’s name, for he had not volunteered it nor had his father told him what it might be. He saw plainly that the stranger wielded some unknown authority over his father – or at least stood on equal terms with him. This struck him as most unusual as he assumed by now that no other man east of the Loudwater maintained any authority over Broggha the Strong. But his father had spoken nothing to him of the northern realm that men called Angmar, save that whomever they might be they served as allies in their common cause.

“You are right to a degree, my son,” spoke Broggha more leniently now, “in your judgment of the Rhovanian man. He and courage shall ever be strangers unto one another. A fool would he be whosoever might trust this man to protect one’s back in battle. Yet his emotions might betray his heart if he is assaulted with accusations now by his kinsman. At the least it can do no harm. Stand aside now and watch and wait, Rhugga.”

Broggha turned then to the half-elf and inquired whether or not he was fluent in the eastern tongue of Rhovanion. The dark stranger with the queer eyes replied that he did not with a slight shake of his head.

“Nay, I do not know it yet – but will soon enough.”

Urlavia paid no heed whatsoever to the private huddle of his three antagonists as he awaited the conclusion of their rhetoric. Instead he tore his gaze away from the dilapidated figure of Hunthor before him and looked at the other two prisoners that were bound perforce to the remaining choke-chairs. One of them looked to be one of the two captured fighters he had first seen in the back of one of the bullock-carts that the little team of oxen had pulled up the slope and into the front gate of the castle. Like the other prisoners he had seen the man looked to have been recently beaten by his captors. Though the flickering torchlight in the room was scant Urlavia could just see the glint of the man’s eyes. They had made visual contact with one another. The man croaked out a few non-syllabic words in a foreign tongue that Urlavia could not understand, though he assumed the man was imploring him to free him. Urlavia let his lips part open as if to speak to him but decided it was pointless to offer the man an unintelligible reply, so he simply shrugged. Again the poor man tried to speak to him, this time more loudly but Urlavia shook his head to indicate he did not understand.

“He is warning you not to trust the word of Broggha,” said Hunthor wearily in the tongue of Rhovanion. Urlavia hovered awkwardly before the apparitional form of Hunthor who, like his two companions, sat helplessly in his death chair. The doomed prisoner hung his head as low as his bodily restraints permitted him to do so, his long hair hanging down from his head like the mane of some soggy horse that had spent too much time in the rain. He did not raise his head up to Urlavia as he spoke. The tormented Gaunt again spat out more garbled words at Urlavia. Hunthor translated the words for his kinsman, though his voice was faltering by now.

“He says you too will sit in these chairs one day soon. You will never again see the world beyond these mountains if you remain here, whatsoever they might tell you. He says you at least ought to make a martyr of yourself by murdering Broggha if you opt not to escape in secret.”

A harsh cry from Broggha himself interrupted them.

“No outsider tongues are allowed in my abode while I live! Prisoners are to use the common speech of ordinary folk only! Repeated violations of my rule shall result in the forcible removal of their tongues from their mouths!”

Urlavia turned his head and stared with wide eyes over at Broggha before quickly nodding in compliance like a frightened school-boy before the wrath of a bully. Hunthor had barely even flinched at the voice of Broggha and ignored the warning by venturing on in the tongue of Rhovanion. But Urlavia hushed him down, reverting back to the common tongue.

“Stop it, Hunthor! Cease your prattling! They shall kill us else. Your life may be near its end but mine is not!”

He regretted his words almost before he had finished uttering them. It had been a callously cold remark to make in such a circumstance before his former brother-in-law in so sorry a condition. Yet his nerves were frayed by now and his mind a turmoil of indecision - his common sense crushed beneath the weight of his own fear and concern for his own preservation.
“You are nothing, Urlavia,” replied Hunthor in the common speech again. He raised his head to behold his former kinsman with his one good eye between the tangles of his matted hair. His empty eye socket again yawned back at him like the small hole of some spider’s den in the earth. Urlavia tried not to look directly at Hunthor’s empty eye and bruised face and instead continually darted his glance at other areas upon the prisoner’s body.

“You have ever been a weak and cravenly thing. I have known children who possess a stouter heart and mightier backbone than yourself. This is why I marveled so when I beheld you for the first time yesterday in the courtyard; when you spat in my face. What in Eru’s wide world could have led such a churlish man such as thou to such a troubled and violent place as this? Know you not that the high passes are closed to travelers from both sides of the Fence?”*

Urlavia felt a brief touch of hostility rise up in his throat but he choked the angry words down again. What was the use of argument? Just look at him, he thought silently to himself. He will die soon. He is helplessly defeated. I have sunk to a lowly status now. His words might be true enough. Let him go on and say what he needs to say to me. It means nothing in the end anyway. I do pity him, though. At least I have not lost that one little ounce of empathy that all good men must genuinely feel towards those less fortunate.

“Does no information of the outside world come down into the Wilderland these days?” Hunthor began to find new strength as the words tumbled out from his swollen lips. “Fool. You have stumbled into a bloody warzone, Urlavia, dooming yourself and whomever you brought with you on your fool’s errand to, at best a speedy death, and at worst hopeless imprisonment and thralldom. What was it this time, eh? What new form of fool’s gold lured you away from your comfortable home in the east to this terrible place? Will you not tell me now, here at the end of my life?”

“I was contracted by contacts in Rhudaur to deliver mares and stallions to the cavalrymen of the king,” answered Urlavia. “But never mind it now. I failed to see it through, and am stuck here even as you are.”

“You insult me. You dare compare your plight with mine? You shall live another day to see the dawn whatsoever choice you make now. What about myself? Never again shall I behold the world beyond these walls - unless as a thrall. I would rather be dead than endure such a thing.”

Urlavia let this remark pass him by, preferring to press on in dialogue with his old brother-in-law.

“I might yet be able to discover a way out of this for us both. Broggha might listen with a favorable ear to me if I assure him that you are possessed of valuable intelligence that he is not yet privy to.” Here Urlavia paused a moment to look back at the three jailors of the dungeon. Broggha stood alongside the queer half-breed stranger, the latter of whom leaned casually against the wall as he stared earnestly at Urlavia. No doubt he was attempting to eavesdrop on the auditory discourse between the two kinsmen. Rhugga had paced away from his father and presently had his back to them all as he busied himself with something upon one of the tables in the chamber. Urlavia lowered his voice before going on.

“You must tell me something of worth now, Hunthor, if you can. Why are you involved in the affairs of these Hillmen? Why do you fight alongside the Guants? In whose secret service are you really employed? Such information might prove useful now! We might organize a plan between us…”

“You should have remained in Rhovanion, Urlavia!” Interrupted Hunthor, ignoring Urlavia’s words. “Are you not the brother of my son’s mother? You followed your own selfish greed yet again and left the only two people I love in the world on their own to fend for themselves! Curse you, Urlavia! Where is my son? Where was Vilthavia when you selfishly abandoned him? You shall at least tell me that!”

“He is….” Stumbled Urlavia hesitantly, “He was safe – when I saw him last. Fear not. Yet I implore you to confide in me now!”

“Where was he when you saw him last? I would die the easier knowing that he is safely tucked away at home with his mother. Would that I might see him one last time and beg his forgiveness for my neglect of him! I crave the sight of him. Oh that I might at least retain my ruined eye once more to unleash my tears!”

Urlavia saw that a wave of renewed sorrow overcame Hunthor with these words. The pathetic man shook his head in misery. At the sound of his sobs the prisoner bound to the adjacent strangulation chair upon the nearby pillar called out to Hunthor in the native tongue of the Gaunt tribe. Urlavia did not understand the words but guessed that they were words of consolation. The two men obviously knew one another well enough. It was then that Urlavia began to consider reversing his decision about concealing from Hunthor the presence of his son elsewhere in the castle. Would not such knowledge of Vilthavia’s presence coerce his kinsman to loosen his tongue to him now? Or would it simply increase the man’s misery doubly so? He had precious little time to decide the matter. Broggha was beginning to lose patience with him by now, surely.

“Listen to me, Hunthor,” pleaded Urlavia, drawing so close to him now that scarcely two feet now separated them. He decided instantly to take the risk. “You must not give up hope. I know where Vilthavia is even as we speak.”

This caused an immediate reaction from Hunthor. He turned his head back at Urlavia and stared at him earnestly with a wrinkled brow.

“No,” he replied softly, shaking his head. “Pray, do not say it. Say not that he too went with you on your fool’s errand! I’ll kill you if such a thing has come to be.””

Urlavia faltered in his resignation at Hunthor’s countenance. The man seemed to put away his misery in a blink of an eye and replace it with a countenance of austere authority. Many old memories from bygone days in Rhovanion gradually returned to his mind - recollections of past disagreements and quarrels over countless subjects. Both men had very different views on life and how best to make his own way in the world. Urlavia saw the earth as a mold of clay; a tool to use as men saw fit in order to achieve prosperity and bounty. To Hunthor Middle-earth was a rare and fragile gem – a gift given to elves and men (primarily) only by the good graces of the Valar. They were to treat it and all creatures (excepting orcs and the like) dwelling therein with mercy and goodwill. Urlavia swallowed down these untimely images and went on.

“He is here – but is quite safe I assure you. I have seen him and spoken with him only a few days ago.”

It was a revelation of monstrous proportions for the stricken Dunadan. His gaze remained fixated upon his former kinsman for some moments in deadly silence before falling briefly away to the floor and then back again to Urlavia, who shifted his feet uneasily as the invisible wrath and despair of Hunthor struggled within him to gain the mastery over the other. The unsightly blackness of his empty eye socket repulsed the Rhovanian causing him to look away again.

“It cannot be,” uttered Hunthor, barely more than a whisper. “It is impossible. He is only a boy! He could not have come so far on so hard a road! You lie to me, Urlavia!”

“Nay, I do not lie. Yet blame me not!” These last words because of the growing look of anger and desperation that was spreading across the face of Hunthor. “I did not want him to accompany us from the start! Yet he would not be dissuaded from his endeavor, which was to find you again, or at least to learn tidings of your whereabouts.”

Hunthor shook his head in disbelief, still unwilling to yield to the reality of the situation.

“Yet he is alive and well, Hunthor,” continued Urlavia, seeking to take advantage of his kinsman’s momentary loss for words. “Many others perished along the way through the passes, but Vilthavia endured it all! He is here in the castle, as I said just now…”

“He is here indeed!” exclaimed the strange half-breed stranger from across the room. The sound of his voice was brittle and possessed of an eerie edge. Despite the distance between them he had evidently heard the entire exchange well enough and had decided to join in at last as he began to walk towards them. “Thy son is here in our keeping. He is safe for the time being, but offer no assurances that he will remain so. His fate may depend upon thyself, Dunadan. Yet we have looked after him as if we were his parental guardians – which is more than may be said of his pitiful father. Thou art a wretched man; a miserable creature from a miserable race doomed to fade and wither away like the snows of the earth that melt and turn to water before disappearing at last into the dirt. Do I not speak the truth, Hunthor?”

He did not answer him, but the insult struck home. Hunthor felt as if he would surely collapse to the floor if he were not bound and restrained by the harness of the garrote-chair. The beatings he had received at the hands of these men had left their mark on him to be sure but it was the torturing of his mind and will that had done the most damage. He truly was pitiful. He was a beaten man. He knew it well enough by now, for they had told him he was so. With his spirit nearly broken down he was beginning to believe them and all that they told him. No aid or comfort could he expect from anyone by now, for Belmir, his only remaining companion, was dead - slain by Ermegil in the courtyard. Whether he lived or perished hereafter he would do so alone.

“Behold your old brother-in-law, Urlavia!” taunted the strange man, suddenly directing his queer glance at the Rhovanian. He came forward and strode slowly past Urlavia until he loomed above the ailing form of Hunthor, who sat dejectedly in his naked guise. He slowly reached out a gloved hand and gently raised Huthor’s chin upwards so that he was made to look up into his face from his hard chair as he endured the humiliation of defeat. A flicker of a smile passed across his lean face as he stared into Hunthor’s ruined eye socket. He went on, adding, “A glittering star bereft of its light in the end! Let it not be said that the Dunadain do not shine with an unbridled spirit in their bosom! Their history is lush and littered here and there with momentary brilliance, no doubt. But thy flame is quenched at last, little star-child. The night sky shall no longer serve as a road for thee to tread upon. Henceforth thy path shall lead only to darkness and despair if thou insist upon hardening thy heart to thy conquerors. Submit, Dunadan!”

“May the fires of hell devour your soul, Hendunar! You villainous miscreant!”

This shout of furious protest was hurled from a foreign mouth across the chamber where some of the other prisoners sat in shadow. Urlavia instinctively turned round to glare in the direction of the disturbance to see that the curse had come from another of the men of Gaunt, though little more than the man’s silhouette could be seen. Broggha immediately called out to his son to enforce discipline upon the prisoner. Rhugga seized up a firebrand that still smoldered with an intense heat and quickly traversed the distance across the room followed by the pair of armed guards and a torch bearer.

“You touch me with that brand, lad,” warned the chained Hillman, “and you will live to regret it, I warn you! I am a diplomat of the tribe of the Lowland Gaunts! I am their ambassador and ought to be entitled to fair treatment by the rules of warfare!”

Rhugga cursed the older man as he came before him.

“A disobedient tongue has no place in the mouth of a diplomat, Ghurgan!”

Then Rhugga commanded the two guardsmen to restrain old Ghurgan against the stone wall while he himself performed the punishment. Another man next to Ghurgan complained of the punishment and sought Rhugga to restrain himself but was rewarded with a deft blow to his abdomen by the booted foot of a guard. The man crumpled forward as far as his chain length permitted him.

“Are we all become as orcs?” pleaded the old man as he sought vainly to ward off the hands of the guards that grappled with his wrists. “Cease at once, I implore you! Call off your maniacal son, Broggha!” Here he sought to call out to Rhugga’s father across the chamber for mercy. But Broggha said nothing as he drew nearer. “You have won your new kingdom! I offer no resistance to you now! You shall achieve nothing with your actions here.”

“How he wiggles so! Hold him by his mangy neck!” cried Rhugga to the other guard over Ghurgan’s whimpering. More pleading chatter then ensued from the other prisoners as they looked on in helpless horror.

“I recognize no authority in you, Ghurgan,” explained Broggha in a cold and callous voice as he stood behind his son, “to represent yourself as an ambassador of any kind. You and your kin had many chances to enter in our new brotherhood but you declined. There is no place for a diplomat such as you anymore in the realm that is soon to come in Eriador. You seek endless talk with the enemies of our folk. I seek no diplomacy with the king and his people – only the banishment and death that they so rightfully deserve for so many long ages of subjugation!”

“Enough of this!” cried Rhugga as his guards at last pinioned Ghurgan helplessly against the wall. “Time to answer for you insolence, Ghurgan!”

The smoking hot brand rose up in the iron grasp of Rhugga and paused momentarily before the eyes of the terrified Ghurgan, who repeatedly cried out for mercy to his assailants. He received none. The whimpers of fear instantly transformed into ear-shattering wails of pain and agony. Rhugga and his two thugs stepped back and watched the form of the old rival tribesman slump back to the ground in a sudden heave as if his legs had been stricken from under him. Urlavia found it impossible to tear his glance away from the horrific scene. He thought the old man must surely be dead but it was not so. Ghurgan had paused in his wailing but resumed it again with both his hands pressed firmly to his jaw, which hung open and red. He would never employ his tongue again in speech. He would live out his life as a mute, forever relinquishing his diplomatic duties. This torture had been enough to tame even the wildest of men, thought Urlavia, but it was not the only impropriety that poor man had suffered at the hands of Rhugga, for just as the torchbearer had begun turn away in pursuit of his lord Urlavia beheld the charred and blackened symbol of the letter “A” branded upon Ghurgan’s forehead. This puzzled him for a moment, for he might have expected in its place to see the letter “B” in representation of Broggha, or perhaps the letter “R” for his miserable son. But then it immediately dawned on him: “A” symbolized the victim’s intended destination, not a person’s name. They will send him to Angmar, thought Urlavia in awed silence. This old man before me is doomed to live out his final days as a thrall in Angmar! Perhaps I shall follow in his wake? It cannot be so! It cannot be! I must convince these animals that I am their obedient servant. I must survive this day at all cost!

*’The Fence’ was a common euphemism used by the folk of Eriador during the days of old Arnor that referred to the Misty Mountains and their impassability.
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Celebrimbor32
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...CHAPTER SIXTEEN (cont.)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Feb 03, 2012 2:03 pm

...His taste for blood still wet in his mouth Rhugga turned about and approached Urlavia who stood dumbstruck as he stared down at the older man still writhing in his agony on the stone floor of the dungeon. It occurred to him then that this was in fact the very first dungeon of any kind he had ever set foot in. There were few castles or keeps such as Dol Agwarth back east in his homeland of Rhovanion – a vast network of scattered plains, rolling hills and swamps where semi-nomadic bands of folk preferred walled treeless villages to stone buildings. Now that he was here every aspect of the conceptual dungeon he had heard tales about seemed larger than life. He hoped he would never see the inside of one again after this day played itself out.

“Wretched Gaunts!” snarled Rhugga with contempt, referring to the tribe of Hillmen of the same name. Then he laid rough hands upon Urlavia and gave him a shove towards the three pillars that also acted as garrote chairs. “You were born a pathetic weakling of a lowly race of men, Urlavia of Rhovanion! You proclaim loyalty to my father! Yet I say that you lie. We shall soon see if you feign or if you fancy your fealty!”

Urlavia scowled and shook himself free of Rhugga’s grasp as they drew near to another imprisoned tribesman of the Gaunts. Like most of the other prisoners the man was unclothed and bruised as he sat tamely in the third of the garrote chairs, tied hand and foot to the pillared seat. His head was held firmly in place to the stone column by way of a cord wrapped around his neck. Each end of it reached behind the man’s skull through two bored holes in the stone behind and at last poking through the reverse side where it was wound around a small wheel and handle that could be turned to tighten the tension around the victim’s neck
.
“Come here!” ordered Rhugga, coming up behind the stone pillar to make sure the cord was securely fastened to the rotating crank-wheel in the back. “You have your first test of fidelity before you now!”

Urlavia stood rooted in place nigh the condemned naked man roped into the chair. The latter seemed oddly calm and steady in his final countenance in this world. The Hillman sat with his eyes closed as his head and neck were now immobile from the tension of the neck cord. His lips were moving in a whispering incomprehensible speech that resembled one in silent prayer.

“It is an evil deed to murder a man in this fashion!” exclaimed Urlavia seeking a way to avoid the impending execution of the prisoner. “Indeed, it is doubly so considering that I have no quarrel with this man. Is this not a dungeon? Let him and his companions remain incarcerated down here until they come to the brink of starvation. Then they shall surely reveal all they know to you. The heavy darkness has a way of breaking down a man’s resistance over time…”

“Peace!” The cry of Rhugga easily drowned out the shaky voice of the Rhovanian. He went on in a tone filled wrath and hate, adding authoritatively, “You shall do our bidding now or you will sit in this man’s stead and suffer the same fate! These folk have thrown in their lot with our enemies and shall receive no mercy! Therefore be warned, horse merchant!”

Urlavia slouched in his posture as the heavy burden he now bore weighed him down. In a flash of a moment he suddenly recalled a similar situation he faced as a boy in his teen years back home. He had found himself confronted by a group of traveling companions who insisted that, as the eldest among them, he bore the responsibility of putting a wounded gelding out of his misery after the horse had broken its leg in a fall. He remembered recoiling at the sight of the poor beast’s blood upon his knife and how sick he had felt afterwards. Doubtless it had been the only proper thing to do then, for they had been out riding far afield in the wild and could not expect the horse to live while they went back to retrieve assistance from their elders. It had been an act of mercy, for the dying beast would have been torn to bits by the carrion beasts before it expired if they had let it live. It occurred to him then as he stood before the doomed Hillman that he must take on that very same mindset here and now. This poor man would die today whether he performed the execution or not. He might even be tortured again before the inevitable was carried out. ‘I must do it,’ he thought to himself. ‘There is no other way out of this! For me there is yet a good chance for survival. For this man there is none. It will be an act of mercy for him to die now.’

Seeing the impatience rising to the boiling point in Rhugga Urlavia exhaled in final resignation as he stepped past the prisoner and came up alongside Rhugga, who already had his hands upon the rotating crank shaft. Urlavia stood nearly half a head taller than the son of Broggha. Yet he knew that, in a fair fight between them, Rhugga was more than a match for him. The brute was stout and strong of arm and had much experience in combat. He reminded Urlavia of the wild dogs that roam the plains of Rhovanion. Men who bore dispositions of wickedness and paranoia were wont to capture such canines and raise them as pets in the harshest of conditions. They would whip and beat them until they became vengeful and aggressive beasts by nature in order to serve as protection from enemies. Such seemed the case with Broggha’s cruel son. He was born into an environment that not only condoned violent methods to achieve one’s goals but also let the very act of the violence itself become ingratiated into their very being – a welcome boon to the blossoming of unchecked power and authority over others. It was a necessary occupation in the growing court of Broggha the Strong. Such men as this were more than welcome to the evil minds at work in Angmar.

Urlavia felt the fear once again threaten to overwhelm him as he took the crank shaft of the garrote chair in his hands. He did not turn to look at his angry antagonist beside him but could feel the wrath of his glare upon him now. Rhugga said nothing but knew that he probably hoped for Urlavia’s nerves to fail him in the end. He would have liked to place Urlavia in the deadly chair himself and rid the world of his presence. Urlavia felt like a corner beast in the jaws of impending death. But he must stave it off! His only ultimate chance of survival was to earn this villain’s respect. The only way to achieve that was to carry out the execution without further delay. But it was so hard! What might such an act do to his conscience afterwards? ‘I am not a cruel man!’ he said to himself quickly. He repeated the sentence to himself over many times in rapid succession.

An audible murmur of exasperated impatience escaped from the lips of one of the guards nearby. Urlavia knew he had tarried too long. Rhugga sighed slightly and immediately followed it up with a soft chuckle of amusement laced also with disgust. An imaginary lightning bolt struck the heart of Urlavia then and there and straightaway he began to turn the crank shaft of the torture chair. He did not hesitate as he hardened his face and lowered his brow while rotating the iron wheel. A lump in his throat nearly rose up and stifled his breathing as he felt the tension of the cords go very taut as the cruel device did its deadly work. Urlavia repeated the words again and again: “I am not a cruel man! I am not!” But he realized that he must have uttered them aloud, for Rhugga had a reply at the ready, saying to him softly, “You are not a man. You are an animal. You shall be of no use to us, for you are churlish.”

The moment of doom had arrived. As he opened his eyes, for he had not even realized that he had closed them, he could see in the flickering torchlight nearby that he had slackened his hold upon the rotating wheel! There was no more room for delay. He felt an irresistible urge to glance up at his victim’s response to the cruel knotted cord that had tightened and now squeezed his neck. The man still sat surprisingly still in his chair. Had he expired so soon? It was doubtful. Urlavia could not restrain a groan of misery that escaped from his mouth then. Again and again he forced himself to proceed. The wheel turned four more times. ‘Let it be done!’ he cried inwardly inside himself.

It was indeed. The deed of death had been accomplished. Time must have passed but he did not feel it. Urlavia felt Rhugga’s hard hand upon his shoulder.

“Enough. Do you wish to kill him twice?” he asked Urlavia in a mocking tone. “He is expired. It seems you shall prevail after all?”

Urlavia let go of the crank shaft as if it were hot as smoldering ashes. He could not hope to conceal the shaking of his hands from Rhugga so instead he thrust them into his trouser pockets. He could not yet come to terms with what he had just done. He felt almost outside of himself, as if he were some kindred spirit that looked back at himself in horror, dreading his despicable deed.

“There now,” said Rhugga looking at the profile of Urlavia, who now looked pale and sick. “You have acquired a morsel of unbridled power! You should savor your victory – not a victory over this miserable creature,” he remarked, gesturing at the slunk and lifeless form of the still restrained victim, “but rather the victory over yourself! Before this moment you basked in your own weakness. You are still weak, no doubt, and may yet need to be broken down some more before any degree of trust will be granted to you by us. But you have at least taken your first step out of that insufferable dung heap that you have referred to as your life thus far, and for that, at least, you ought to be commended. Yet I shall be watching you closely, Easterling, of that you may be assured.”

“Do not welcome him so, Rhugga!” It was the deep and cutting edge voice of Hendunar, the half-caste that suddenly spoke up. He had strode silently up behind Urlavia while he was distracted with his operation of the rotating wheel. “Wilt thou ever learn to check thy tongue until thy head has prepared the words? This man has earned nothing from us. He is unworthy of trust.”

Urlavia felt his breathing had quickened considerably. Not only was he trembling with a sense of self-loathing following the act he had just committed but now he was becoming exasperated with a mingling of frustration and exhaustion. What did this strange half-elf mean? Untrustworthy? Had he not just proven his loyalty to his lord Broggha? With barely a glance at his detractors he immediately voiced this very objection to them. The half-caste raised his chin upwards and looked down on Urlavia darkly.

“By the killing of one miserable and anonymous stranger? Thou knowest him not! No love or endearment of any kind existed between thee and he! He was nothing to thee, and therefore no sacrifice of any sort hath thou given us yet. Such a task such as thou hast just performed ought to be a routine gesture on your behalf to your new lord for ridding your master of one more foe he must needs contend with! This man was but a tiny fly upon the wall and thou didst crush it as thou ought! Nay, there is more!”

Urlavia wanted to regain some sort of manly demeanor before the faces of these cruel men in order to salvage what little dignity that remained to him. He averted his eyes by looking downwards while biting his lip. A moment of eerie silence filled the dungeon before it was broken by a wail of pain followed by a deep sob from Ghurgan who had seemingly lost consciousness for a brief spell after being branded upon the forehead by Rhugga. A motion was made to the guards to remove the ailing old man from the scene and thereby be rid of him. As he was dragged away some of the enchained prisoners issued formal challenges of combat to Rhugga, so outraged were they by his brutal treatment of their old friend. Were he alone without the supervision of his father and Hendunar he might have immediately performed their executions himself but the staying hand of Broggha restrained him.

The sound of two more men entering the chamber distracted the attention of all present. One of the men seemed to be as an escort to the other judging by their posture. Urlavia squinted his brow and attempted to scrutinize the identity of the escorted man from half way across the room, for a brief feeling of familiarity passed over him at the sight of the man. But the voice of the dark Hendunar drew him back again to his immediate plight and he forgot them.

“Where is the boy that thou hast spoken of?” inquired the half-caste, directing the question more to Rhugga than to Urlavia. “I refer of course to the son of our Dunadan.” He made a gesture with his head towards Hunthor who scarcely looked cognizant after witnessing the torture of Ghurgan and the execution of the Gaunt Hillman at the hands of his former brother-in-law. He merely sat in stupefied silence while still tied forcibly to his stone death chair. One of the guards answered Hendunar without delay, so intimidating was his presence among them all.

“He is being kept in the old livery chamber down below. Attempts have been made to find a habit that might fit a boy of his stature but there are few children here at Dol Agwarth. Shall we go and fetch the boy now?”

Hendunar did not answer the man but instead turned away from Urlavia, who managed to glance over at the half-caste at last. The ambassador from Angmar paced over before the naked form of Hunthor again and stared down at him before speaking.

“What say thou, Dunadan? Dost thou desire to look upon thy son ere the end? Yet is it really the end? Such a choice is thine own to decide. Art thou ready at last to cooperate?”

Urlavia scanned the face of Hunthor again. He was relieved to feel a wave of renewed sympathy wash over him for this poor man’s condition. ‘At least I know that I my heart is not black yet,’ he thought inwardly to himself. ‘Would that I might save him! Yet I can do nothing for him now.’ Hunthor bowed his head and shook it quietly. His long locks hung limply downwards beyond his face obscuring his visual countenance. But there was no doubt of the man’s misery. ‘To bring him a swift death now would almost be an act of mercy. Surely they will force me to execute him ere long to prove my fidelity to Broggha. How can I do such thing? My conscience shall become a monster too great to slay ere my life’s end. What sort of life shall I lead thereafter? What a dreadful doom I have stumbled upon with these evil folk!’

“I hath already divulged to you the names of those complicit in the impending invasion,” replied Hunthor in a shaking voice that betrayed his defeatist mindset. “You know already the location and manner of assault that shall be employed thereby.”

“It is not enough!” interrupted Broggha as he drew near them. “Tis’ plain to see by now that in you we have but a small piece of a complicated plot – an impending and preemptive attack against myself and my folk. And for what reason does the king of Cardolan wish to expend so much of his limited resources in this aggressive crime against a small tribe of Hillmen so many leagues removed from his own realm? I demand an answer to this! Look at me when I address you, curse you!”

With his one good arm Broggha reached down and seized the hanging hair of Hunthor in a closed fist and jerked it upwards in a violent motion. Hunthor could not now look away from his tormentor but rather returned the hateful glare of Broggha without a trace of emotion. This served to enrage the great warrior further still and he rewarded the Dunadan with a harsh backhand across the face that made Hunthor grunt with the impact of it.

“Bring forth the boy!” called Hendunar to the spearmen that stood guard by the entranceway. “Let him be a witness to what shall follow hereafter!”

“Nay! Do not so!” croaked Hunthor desperately.

“Tis’ too late,” replied Broggha as his nostrils flared in anger. “I want your son to look upon you as the very life is choked out of you! Then he will know what real fear is in truth!”
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North

 
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN (cont.)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:10 am

Hunthor grit his teeth and grunted like an animal as a surge of raw hatred rose up in him against his oppressors. In an uncontrolable fit of rage he began to thrust his bodily weight back and forth where he sat confined against the stone pillar behind him in order to test the strength of the bonds that held him fast. He had no thought whatsoever as to what he might do should he be able to free himself and he did not care. Just to be free for a wild moment or two would give him an opportunity to spend his last strength on the slaying of at least one of these vile villains ere he himself was slain - a prospect that no longer held any fear for him, as he no longer desired the gift of life. Of what use was it to him now? He would never escape the living hell he now found himself in. He would most likely die here - either sooner or later. That much was apparent. So let it be sooner! he thought to himself miserably. Or was he communing to the Valar themselves? Elbereth perhaps? Manwë? Iluvatar the One himself? Were any of them even aware of him and his plight at all? Or were they blind to his sufferings? But no, he felt they must surely know of him. They would decide his fate now, not he. It was all beyond his control. Yet at least allow me to kill one of these evil monsters ere I depart this world! he begged them silently in his tortured mind. His hands were still tied at the wrists behind him and he jerked them to and fro violently to test their strength. The test proved a failure; the bonds too strong for him. Who would he slay in the event he was suddenly turned loose from his confinement? That was the immediate question he tried to answer as he struggled in vain against his predicament. He soon tired and gave up the feeble struggle, however. Hendunar, the half-caste elf, seemed to read his thoughts as he looked upon Hunthor darkly as the latter thrashed about in his chair.

"Thou art in the grip of hatred, I see. Which among us wouldst thou slayest, Dunadan?" he asked the prisoner as he drew near him. "How wouldst thou carry out such a kill? With thy bare hands and teeth alone?"

Hunthor refused to look up at him. He panted for breath and leaned back again against the cold stone pillar. His body was nearly drained of its strength and his ruined left eye pained him exceedingly. But the thought that his own son would soon look upon him in such a state of naked vulnerability drove al such physical necessities clear from his mind. He greatly desired to see his son again, to be sure, but not under such horrific circumstances. Hendunar now sought to make sport of him while they waited for the guards to go and fetch Vilthavia from the liveries and bring him to the dungeons.

"Perhaps thou might attempt a wreckless sortie upon lord Broggha himself? He is maimed and his strength is not now at high tide, eh? Thou might even score a life-threatening injury upon him by seizing his dagger and turning it upon himself! Thou would, of course, be slain immediately thereafter - but the glory of achieving the death of the new overlord of Rhudaur might be renowned in song by the bards of your people long after thy own demise. "'Hunthor, spy of the Dunedain' was a true martyr for our cause!" That would suit thee well in thy death, would it not?"

Hunthor would not reply to that. He stared blankly up into the shadows of the invisible ceiling overhead for several moments before closing his eye and quietly mumbling to himself in the language of his people. Urlavia stood apart from him as he looked on his kinsman with abject pity. He desired to help him in some way but knew that he must not betray his true feelings to Broggha, his new self-sworn lord. To do so now would be as if to condone his own swift death as a reward. Yet he could not help himself from casting his glance quickly around the room for some sort of tool or weapon that he might casually seize to free the bonds of Hunthor and the remaining prisoners upon the wall. He hated these heartless men as much as any of them did and would rejoice to see them slain in a mélee against all the prisoners at once. An ill-conceived plot quickly formed in his mind of somehow getting behind Hunthor and the pillar he was thus enchained against so as to cut the cords that held him in bondage. Immediately thereafter he would dash over to the wall and free at least enough of the prisoners so that together they might make a stand against of their enemies, of which there were scarsely a half dozen present. It would be a bloody affair, no doubt - and indeed there would be casualties among them - but they would at least manage to lay hands upon Broggha and his son Rhugga; to say nothing of the evil-minded Hendunar. In the end they might prevail and live to make their escape from this miserable dilapidated old castle and make their way westward down into the lower elevations where they might find more civilized folk that would lend them their aid by supplying them with food and clothing as well as shelter from the spearmen of Broggha that would hunt them all down like dogs.

But no, he thought. It would not do. What if he himself were among the casualties in the revolt? The thought of his own death still haunted him. He had always feared and loathed the idea of dying - especially if it were slow and agonizing. A momentary feeling of guilt and worthlessness washed over him as he turned his eyes back upon Hunthor. How long would he hold out against his torturers? How could he endure such pain? Oi! The thought of it! One of his eyes had been torn out of his skull! What else would it take for his old brother-in-law to loosen his tongue and reveal all that they wanted to know from him? Surely he knew more than he had told them. But why keep it so close in self-confidence? What could be so important? Nothing could be worth so much suffering and pain! He dwelt on this as he looked upon the sufferings of Hunthor. It suddenly dawned on him that he not only hated Broggha and his brute-of-a-son but also Hunthor as well. Pangs of secret jealousy stabbed at his conscience as he reflected upon the man he had know for many years by now. In his heart of hearts he knew Hunthor was twice the man that he was - or indeed, ever could be. The thought of it grated upon him like nails upon bare flesh. All his life Urlavia had desired, if not glory, at least a sort of super-imposed recognition from his peers as a man of respectable professionalism; a fair and just man-of-the-world who went to great lengths to improve the lives of his people in Rhovanion. After all, he had always purposed to return home after his business with the Rhudauran nobles had been concluded in order to give away much of the fortune he would make in Eriador in horse trade. He would keep a portion of it, naturally - but not very much. But it had not worked out that way. Instead of making riches he had barely survived the tribulations of nature and fallen in with a band of villains he had somehow foolishly sworn fealty with in order to preserve his own life. His dreams of lucrative horse-trading was dashed. He was now, at least in principle, a part of a hateful clan of ruthless Hillmen. He was a minion of Broggha now - thug and bully of Eriador. In short he was trapped, his only conceivable escape could only be realized in death - and that was a prospect his heart could not court. He must live at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing his dignity to do so.

Urlavia's inward reverie disappeared in a whiff of smoke as he was jarred back into the reality of the situation at hand. Hunthor's show of defiant indifference towards Hendunar's musings prompted the latter to again to approach the prisoner. Hunthor sensed rather than saw the approach of the half-caste and turned his head away but Hendunar reached out and cupped Hunthor's chin in his hand and slowly turned his face back toward him again. He ordered the prisoner to look him in the eye but was not reciprocated.

"Dost thou despise thine own life? How much worse must it get for thee? Dost thou wish to lose thine other eye as well?"

"It matters little to me now!" retorted Hunthor, "for it is only the darkness that shall welcome me from this day forward, and I have no wish to live thus!"

"Nay, Dunadan! Ye shall not die. We shall not permit such an escape. Thou thinketh that ye hath been preserved thus far only to be allowed to slip away from us so quietly? Thou shalt live on, I say unto thee. Thou shalt live on in sorrow and torment until the end of thy days in the pits of Angmar where the Witch-king of Carn Dûm shall pursue your inmost thoughts with a vengeance and fury hitherto unimaginable to thy mortal mind! Thou wilt cave in ere the end, Dunadan, I assure thee!"

With these last threatening words Hendunar stooped forward close to the right ear of Hunthor and laced them with such malice that Urlavia felt his heart quail at the sight of it. Yet Hunthor merely sucked in his breath and held his tongue, refusing to give the half-elf any further satisfaction. Hendunar at last looked directly at Urlavia with a look that might have frightened a famished wolf away from a fresh kill.

"Come hither, vagabond of the east. Turn the wheel. Do not stop until until thou art told to."

The moment he had dreaded all along had arrived. Urlavia would be forced to act as Hunthor's executioner! 'Alas this day! he thought miserably to himself. May the God's of the west forgive me!'

He stepped warily over to the round crank-shaft in the rear of the stone pillar that bore Hunthor so securely in place to the built-in chair. Hendunar grabbed hold of Hunthor's wide forehead with his long and slender hand and shoved the prisoner's head back against the stone pillar. With his hands clasped upon the wheel he began to turn. Slowly at first, but when Rhugga reminded him that he would be next in line for the punishment if he did not hasten on in his duty Urlavia began to turn the crank faster. By now the cord that had been looped across the neck of the prisoner began to constrict and Urlavia let the expression of revulsion upon his face become evident to all. Another rotation of the crank tightened the deadly bonds even more and Urlavia saw Hunthor react to the extreme pressure by trying to jerk his feet forwards but the ropes that held them were too strong. The prisoner sought to alleviate some of the pressure by twisting his back back and forth but it was in vain. He was slowly dying at the hands of his own son's uncle!

"Halt!" ordered Hendunar as he looked on the proceedings with a careful eye. "Forebear a few moments. But do not ease up on him! Hold the device in place so our prisoner may yet think the matter over a while."

Relieved to the utmost at the half-elf's command, Urlavia craned his neck sideways to get a better look around the pillar. The light from the torch nearby would not afford him much visibility. He certainly could not see Hunthor's face from where he stood and he was glad of it. He knew that if he met Hunthor's eye at this stage he might not be able to continue on in what he must do for fear of his quailing nerves, and as a result he too might die this day. This time it was Broggha who spoke to the tortured victim who sat gasping for breath in the chair.

"Are you ready to tell us why the king of Cardolan has hired you to spy upon us up here? What mischief does he seek to sow here and why? Move thy fingers upon thy hand when thou art ready to speak to me. Yet in the end thou must speaketh or else suffer thyself and thy son also to a most dire consequence hereafter!"

Hunthor was unable to reply, so tightly was the cord constrained around his bare neck. The leather of it bore deeply into his flesh and he wanted to scream because of it. His remaining eye had been shut fast but he opened it slightly and tried to look around at his environment in order to glean the reactions of his tormenters at his sufferings. He saw no sign from any of them that they possessed even a trace of pity for him. Hendunar commanded Urlavia to turn the wheel twice more. The Rhovanian bowed his head down and swallowed hard before complying slowly. Tears began to well in his eyes now, and at this he was glad. 'At least I am yet capable of compasion and am not yet an animal!' The crank squeaked as it was rotated again. Surely Hunthor would die soon if this continued. How many more turns of the wheel would it take? The prisoner had made a short grunting gasp that emanated from somewhere in his throat the first time Urlavia had turned the crank shaft but now all such audible sufferings were choked off. The victim's mouth gaped open in agony. Any thought of tangible speech was quite impossible now.

"Forgive me, brother!" quailed Urlavia aloud to Hunthor as he went on. "I implore you! I have no choice!"

The struggling Dunadan made no sign that he had heard Urlavia's plea. Nor did he thrash about in his confinement, for his strength had nearly run out. In the mind of Hunthor it was very nearly over. Not only his own life but the lives of his kin who had secretly recruited him for this present task of espionage that he had reluctantly taken on. Should he cave in now to the horrific pains of the body that tormented him to the delight of his tormenters those few anonymous folk would be in dire peril. Hendunar would surely alert the powers in Carn-Dûm and all measures would be taken to ward off and destroy the hidden threat to their growing realm and the rising might of Broggha by way of the information that Hunthor would provide them with. Yet what choice did he now have? Any continued resistance might spell disaster for his son - a prospect that he could never live with. Even his own death might not be enough to avert Vilthavia's dark fate here in the clutches of such villains as these. There might be far worse to come than this insufferable torture thus far. They might very well torture his own son before his very eyes until he acquiesced to their demands. He was only a boy but he knew that they would possess no qualms in doing so. They were not men, after all, but beasts without heart or pity. They were the new representatives of a new face in the north - one of fear and hatred. Therefore what was the use in resisting them now? He had failed. He must accept it. His mission was over. Even as he experienced the worst phyiscal pain he had ever thought possible thus far Hunthor was not without his wits, for he was of a mighty race among the Edain and still strong as it was reckoned among the men of those earlier years before that race feel into decline. Yet he knew well enough the limits of his spirit. He was not infallible and could not endure such agony any longer. In a last effort of will he made the decision to abandon the struggle by rapidly folding and unfolding the fingers of his hands in a token of submission.

Broggha snorted in delight at this while Rhugga looked on in astonishment at the resistance of the prisoner. He had lasted far longer than the Gaunt prisoner that Urlavia had strangled to death only a short time ago. But Hendunar showed no emotion whatsoever at Hunthor's signal and merely nodded with his head at the dumb-stricken Urlavia to ease up the tension on the leather straps around the neck of the prisoner. Urlavia shook off his bewilderment and eagerly began to turn the crank-shaft in the opposite direction until Hendunar quickly ordered him not to loosen them over much.

"The prisoner shall not be set free as of yet!" he snarled to Urlavia suddenly. "The lesson in correction hath not yet ended for him! Let us give him time to find his voice anew and tell us what he knoweth about his errand!"

Hunthor bowed his head in a tremendous fit of coughing. A deep but dry gurgling noise in his throat quickly trumped his choking after a few more seconds and was followed by a non-productive vomit that could surely be heard from outside the torture chamber. At length the prisoner fell in to a hapless state of lethargy that would have been silent but for occassional lapses of more coughing and spitting, which merely dripped slowly down the naked chest of the prisoner, so weak and frail was he by now. Slowly Hunthor's mind began to clear enough so that he could make out and recognize the identities of his hated oppressors that still stood round him in a casual manner. Urlavia too could be made out to his left as he stood lankly with wide eyes tha were both eager and hoffified at what they saw before them. Seeing that his old brother-in-law had now turned his one eye towards him through the wet columns of hair that fell across his forehead Urlavia quickly looked away and faded into the shadows nearby out of guilt and shame for what he had done. Hunthor was at present too overwhelmed with extreme pain and fatigue to take up any form of recognizable countenance. Yet later, as he contemplated his close brush with death during the short time of his subsequent convelesence, he grew to hate Urlavia even more than both Broggha and Hendunar - not only for the strangulation that he had endured at Urlavia's own hands but even more so for the fact that he had brought Vilthavia along with him on so perilous a road as the high passes of the Misty Mountains and had thus placed his son in undeserved danger and incarceration. That, he later reckoned, he would never forgive.

Presently, however, all that went through the mind of Hunthor was that the immediate pain was over. Slowly, and only after several minutes had passed, the breath began to return to him. They did not release him from the stone chair of the pillar but permitted the straps that bound him to be eased enough to provide him with enough space so that he could move his arms a few inches in either direction as well as his torso and neck.

"Yet it shall be known to thee," reminded Hendunar malevolently, "that the pain shall be rejoined anew for thee should thine answers fall short of expectations! Therefore steer clear of falsehoods and deceptions as thou speaketh, for I hath been trained by the power of Angmar to root out all lies that spill forth from the mouths of the enemy."

After some moments of uneasy silence Hunthor began to speak in a hoarse whisper but his voice soon gave way to periodic spasms of the belly which were accompanied by fits of dry cough. He felt that the straps upon his stomach must be loosened if he were to have any chance of speaking with enough volume in his voice to be heard by anyone more than a few inches away from his mouth. He decided to raise the issue with his interrogators by way of hand gestures. Seeing that the prisoner was in a much reduced physical state by now it was granted. Urlavia was given the task of reducing much of the tension of the cords that had so constricted his former kinsman's body during the torture method. The former seemed greatly reluctant to comply with the order and did not wish to come near him out of some strange fear (or perhaps of guilt) of Hunthor. He scarcely looked like his former self anyore and resembled rather a naked skeletal man rather than a member of the Dunedain. Yet Urlavia knew that the man possessed an inner strength that, despite his feeble condition, might enable him to attempt some sudden act of bodily revenge against him for his cruel treatment at his own hand should he draw near him. He knew he had no choice in the matter, however, and he did what he was told. Hunthor stared straight ahead of him with his one eye and seemed hardly aware of Urlavia as the latter loosened the straps. For any other man such a simple task might scarcely take longer than a few meager seconds, but for Urlavia, out of shaky nerves and poor lighting, the chore consumed well nigh a full minute to complete. As the last of the knots were loosened he was about to raise up and step away but Hunthor suddenly turned his head and glared at him. Urlavia screwed up his eyes at the sight of him but did not move away.

"Deliver my son from this evil, Urlavia," whispered Hunthor in the Rhovanion tongue. "Do so or I shall place the curse of the Dunedain upon thee for as long as thou liveth!"

Urlavia said nothing in return but merely stared back at Hunthor as if in shock. He had never heard of such a curse before and only half believed that such a thing existed. Yet some inner doubt seemed to suggest that Hunthor might very well be capable of it, for the Dunedain were unlike most other men in the world; more akin to the Eldar than the race of Men - and few mortals alive doubted the power of any elf to lay a curse upon their enemies in times of duress.

"What was that he said to you just now, eh?" asked Rhugga as he drew near. "We could not quite hear him."

"Doubtless he was making his own private threat to our vagabond, here!" replied Broggha with a demeaning reference to Urlavia. "Yet he has been warned already against uttering foreign tongues in my abode! Nor are any secrets to be conferred between you. If either of you do so again I shall see that you suffer the lashes of our whips."

"But I said nothing in return, lord!" objected Urlavia, stepping away from the prisoner.

"But your ears heard his words, no doubt. Your wits may be slow but I suspect that you may be yet capable of hatching mischief should we turn you loose again to roam my halls at will. Indeed, had I know that you had been doing so ere now I would have put a halt to it at once."

"That was Ermegil's doing, father," explained Rhugga, "not my own." Broggha glanced at his son but had nothing to say.

"Lord," pleaded Urlavia rather meekly, "I have sworn my allegiance to you already and that I do not take lightly, for I owe my very life to you."

"All that are present here at Dol Agwarth owe their life to me! Save, perhaps, Hendunar here, who owes his fealty to a higher power than my own!" This last statement was added in a gesture of obesience to Hendunar, who did indeed hail from that very root of true power that fed the life of Broggha's sudden rise to glory. Broggha knew this quite well and had no wish to ruffle the feathers of the half-caste ambassador from the north. He hated bowing down to anyone by now, but he knew that he must do so in order to remain in the good graces of the influential Hendunar who could easily disrupt his future plans of the conquest of Rhudaur and the destruction or capture of king Denethil, whom he hated. He went on, adding, "That aside, You shall now carry out your second task for me as my sworn subject. You shall go off at once to the liveries to see why my footman delays so in returning here with the boy. They have had enough time to return by now."

"I shall go with him, father," said Rhugga coming forward. "He cannot be trusted in your halls without escort."

"Nay, Rhugga, let him be. Our vagabond here fears the lash of the whip enough not to attempt anything that would incite our displeasure. Besides, there is nowhere for him to go down here that would afford him an exit. Here now, vagabond! I trust you have not forgotten where our liveries stand?"

Urlavia did indeed feel unsure of its exact location, though he himself had been brought there soon after he had been forcibly brought to the castle after his capture. But he put on a hard face and nodded in affirmation of his lord's question. Despite his uncertainty he welcomed the chance to get out of this gloomy and chilled dungeon if only for a little while - to say nothing of the strange intimidation he now felt of Hunthor and his threat of a curse should he fail to extricate Vilthavia from the clutches of the Hillmen. Still he stood rooted in place as he looked sharply at Hunthor, who in turn was gazing back at him expectantly with his mishapen form.

"Go then, you fool!" barked Broggha pointedly. "How you do tarry so! Get thee gone!" Urlavia needed no more direction and immediately sprang back into life as he made his way to the entrance of the dungeon. One remaining spearman remained near the exit and he refused to step out of Urlavia's path, which forced the tall Rhovanian to go round the man. But ere he could rush through the opened door way he heard the voice of Rhugga call after him, saying, "Mark my father's words, Vagabond! Pray do not make me come looking for you! The way there and back again is not long and little time is needed to complete the distance! I have my whip at hand!" Urlavia said nothing in reply as he looked at the hated villain from across the chamber. Rhugga began to utter more threatening rhetoric to him but Urlavia chose, at his peril, to ignore the brute and depart as swiftly as he could on his errand to locate Vilthavia and the guard sent to fetch him.


***


Broggha watched Urlavia make his departure quietly before he turned back around to face Hunthor, his prisoner-in-bonds. He stared in earnest at him as the latter sat restlessly in his stone pillar-chair with a sorry look of defeated submission on his bruised and battered face. The force of his bonds had been loosened but this was of little comfort to the prisoner whom seemed in the clutches of some great personal and private agony of both the mind and body alike. He uttered no words aloud but instead seemed to mumble incoherantly to himself so softly as to be unheard by his tormentors. Broggha watched the man's lips quiver and move silently for several moments. He made no motion to interrupt him though. He simply watched Hunthor in his state of misery while the man held some sort of inner discourse with himself. 'What went on in the mind of this strange Dunadan?' he wondered to himself. 'Surely he realizes the impossibility of his plight by now! I have him under my thumb and shall not release him. Yet there is something peculiar and unsettling about the race of the Dunedain that cannot be explained in words. To be sure they are a miserable and insufferable lot of trespassing interlopers under the tutorage of those miserable elves. But they have never been fools; not like these hapless Rhovanians or the weakling Gaunts! This man thwarts me with his answers. I can feel it thus! Despite the sufferings I expose him to he continues to harbor a secret knowledge from me that I have yet to wean from him. He is crafty in his designs. That is why he was recruited to spy on me by our enemies. It may be that he possesses a hidden knowledge that may serve as our undoing ere our designs for usurpation have even been hatched. It cannot be so. He must be made to submit! But it may be that he is plagued with so great a devotion to his cause that it may be that he shall resist even at the sight of his own son's torture and death! What then? Nay, it must not come about. This half-caste arse they have sent me from the north shall be watching me closely, curse him! Hunthor must be made to reveal his mind to me at all costs. I must break him.'

"Rhugga!" cried Broggha aloud to his son. "Everyone present is to exit the chamber at once, save the remaining prisoners over there." With this last he gestured to the far wall indicating the last four naked men who were thus chained to the wall as they laid or sat in the shadows, temporarily forgotten until now.

"It shall be as you say, my lord," replied Rhugga obediantly. "Should you also desire the prisoner in question to restrained once more ere we continue with our interrogations?"

"I do not! Rather will I have you to release him entirely from the pillar so that he may stand (or crawl) freely at his desire."

Rhugga stopped short at this answer and looked puzzled. Seeing the incomprehensible look on his son's face Broggha clarified his command to him, saying, "Do as I say, lad. Then once you have set about this I will ask you to remove yourself from the chamber as well. See to it!"

Rhugga looked suddenly consumed with embarrasment mixed with anger, and he could not help but question his father's wishes openly, insisting that he deserved the opportunity to remain present for what was to come in regards to the prisoner. Hendunar said nothing at this outburst but instead turned away and began to pace the room in silent thought. Seeing the reaction of the half-caste and feeling himself slighted by his own son he made no attempt to restrain his temper in his reply.

"The shame of it! Am I to be shown about by a rag-tag ruffian as thee, though you are my own flesh and blood? Do you question my authority even now? Be gone, Rhugga, and do I as I bid thee or I shall have you reduced in rank before the very eyes of your comrade-in-arms as if in disgrace!"

Rhugga was indeed taken aback by the swift rebuke but refused to show any fear even before his own father, his lord and mentor. He stroked his whiskered chin briefly as he considered whether or not to risk one last brief clash of words with Broggha but wisely thought the better of it. He offered is father a slight trace of a bow before turning on his heel to carry out the order. Within a few moments Hunthor was released from his bonds and the room emptied of all save those few mentioned in the decree of Broggha. He at last gestured for his young servant to leave the two remaining torches upon the wall before making his own exit, adding at the last, "Allow no one to enter herein until I give the word."

There was very little light to fill the large dungeon by now. Hunthor looked round him and could see nothing at first, for neither of the flaming brands were anywhere near him. But even as the one good eye left to him was adjusting to this new shadowy darkness he felt his hearing begin to sharpen. He could hear the soft click-clack of Hendunar's boots pacing the floor nearby behind him as well as one or two of the prisoners still chained against the wall whispering amongst themselves. He thought he could make out the vague sillouette of Broggha several paces in front of him but he could not be sure. He felt relieved to be set free of the awful torture device he had been bound to but the pain in his throat from the cords that had nearly choked him to death still plagued him. He rubbed and massaged his neck slowly and gently as he ventured to rise up to a standing position. It was no easy effort. He very nearly fell down again even as he stood up and had to lay hold of the pillar to steady himself. He was completely lacking in all manner of clothing and the cold stone of the floor made his bare feet timid. He ran his hands through his ragged hair and pushed the mass of tangled locks back and away from his face as he tried to focus his impaired vision on the dark form of Broggha before him. The latter seemed to be standing still as stone as he observed his enemy begin to recover.

"I trust you are able to find your tongue by now?" he asked Hunthor, breaking the eerie silence of the room. "Your throat is still in pain?"

Hunthor answered nothing. It was an absurd question that precluded only one possible answer immediately following a grueling torture. He knew he could not speak aloud more than a few short words at a time in his condition but he knew that he would have to conjure up something resembling articulate speech very quickly if he wanted to stave off any more 'corrections', as Hendunar had termed the use of torture. He doubted they would force him back into the strangulation chair again if they had any hope at all of gleaning any useful information out of him but they would almost certainly expose him to the lashes of their whips. He had somehow managed to survive up to the present, but the call had been close. Surely his drained and damaged body would not hold up under such tortures. He decided to try asking the first question in order to test Broggha's resolve and countenance.

"Why have you imprisoned my son here? He is innocent." The words came out more like a craggy grunt. But Broggha seemed to understand him.

"Maybe so," came the calm reply from a distance. "It may be that he fell in with a bad lot of folk for no good purpose, but what is that to me? The boy is not so young as to make him absolved of possessing a discerning intelligence. He ought to have had better judgement than to have undertaken such a fool's errand in so dangerous a land as this. Or perhaps he should have been born to a better father; a more nurturing father who would have been at ease in his duty as a guardian to a young lad at an impressionable age such as your son. O the shameful transgressions of the ever-absent father! As a father myself I would cast shame unto you, Hunthor, son of Belthor! How is it that you brought yourself to abandon him thus? I myself would never have done so such as thou! I have always been available for my children at need! My wives will attest to this! Just ask any of them. You have seen for yourself what a fine lad my Rhugga is since coming into manhood! We are all proud of him!"

These last words were undoubtedly laced with a hint of sarcasm, and at this Hunthor wondered much. Had he been in any other condition or plight at present he might have offered Broggha his own dose of sarcastic witticism, but not now. The pains of the body were still too troubling for him to do so. Broggha went on, adding, "Yet if you do indeed perish here it will be that you have dug your own grave with the poor wisdom you have displayed up to now. Besides the neglect of your son you have unwisely chosen to employ yourself in the illegal act of espionage against a people who have never cast as much as a single stone in your direction! Aye, to be sure we Hillmen of the mountains have our own problems with one another. We fight and bicker amongst ourselves in an internicine manner - yet that is nothing new. But the Dunedain of Eriador insist in stirring the pot of a woe that concerns them not!"

"If thou art a true leader among men of virtue, such as thou claimeth," reasoned Hunthor feebly, "then the release of an innocent boy from thy custody and out of harm's way would be as natural to thee as...as throwing back to the sea a fish that is too small to consume! It is the natural way of things."

"It is often the smallest of fish that creates the most troublesome snag in the fisherman's net," returned Broggha. "You ask me to release your son from my care - I say 'nay, I shall not'. He has become too great a weapon for me to wield against you by now; and I ask you, what kind of leader is he who casts away such a valuable tool at need simply because the tool in question is delicate by nature? Your son is your currency and I shall use him well - or misuse him, depending upon your behavior now."

Hunthor might have frightened away an enraged mountain lion defending its cubs had it gazed now upon the Dunadan's penned up rage and wrathful countenance following the threat of Broggha. Hunthor was naked, weaponless and exceedingly vulnerable but even Broggha held back from further approach. The father of Viltahvia looked battered and bruised with many hurts of the body and had probably lost a good portion of his bodily weight while in captivity. Yet Broggha suspected that the man could still put up a healthy fight if given the chance, despite the missing eye that he had ordered wrested from him by brute force. Furthermore, the chieftain of the Hillmen was partially lame with his wounded arm that rested in the sling around his shoulder and neck. It was not that he feared the physical pain of being injured at the hands of Hunthor - but the thought of losing the intimidation and respect he had achieved from so many of his subordinates following his potential maiming at the naked prisoner's hands - to say nothing of what Hendunar would think of it. Therefore Broggha decided to ignore Hunthor's silent rage and instead decided to press forward with his line of questioning.

"Why did you take up arms against me with the Gaunt tribe? One cannot help but wonder why a Dunadan ranger from far away lands might risk his very life in such a venture. What profit did you seek from such an alliance with so small and useless a folk?"

Another heavy silence ensued as no one spoke. At length, after somehow managing to conquer his inner rage, Hunthor deflected the question by asking for clothing to wear in order to warm his 'chilled bones'.

"No," was the immediate reply.

"I am stricken with chills," replied Hunthor in a shaky tone. His throat still hurt him miserably. "A fever grows inside me."

"No, I say! I care not! A man of 'superior race'," Broggha said derisively, "such as thou ought to be used to such hardships."

"If I sicken even more and die of an ague down here what woud'st thou gain from me, Broggha, but another useless carcass to be cast to the wolves of the wild? Thou art correct - I do indeed possess hidden knowledge that is hidden from thee at present, but I shall divulge what thou wish me to if I am preserved from death."

"I give thee no assurances of preservation," said Broggha. Hunthor pretended not hear this, instead launching into a short fit of coughing. He spat and went on.

"I shall swear an oath unto thee, Broggha, that I shall unleesh my tongue and reveal my mind to thee - providing that I am given assurance that my son, if not released from thy custody, at least is not brought hither to look peforce upon his grim father in such a sorry state as I have been reduced to by thyself and thy dark dungeon."

Despite the deep shadows of the dimly lit chamber Broggha sought to bore holes in the head of Hunthor with his unblinking and baneful gaze. Soon it would be his turn to fly into a rage again. But he quenched the desire to club the prisoner over the head and instead turned his anger inwards in order to stow it away and retrieve it later when necessary....
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (pt. One)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun May 20, 2012 12:41 pm

The loneliness of solitary confinement had very nearly driven Vilthavia to his breaking point as he tried desperately to keep count of the days that had passed since his capture at the hands of Broggha's spearmen. While in the darkness he would grope for loose rocks and pebbles that lay here and there upon the floor and use these to count off the days as best he could by lining them up in rows of seven. But after what he assumed must be the fourth day he abandoned the attempt out of fatigue. Before being temporarily released he guessed that he had been held alone in his empty chamber for no less than ten days. The only contact he had with outsiders was when the servants came to bring him his twice daily food rations – a cold mixture of dried meat from an unknown source along with various root vegetables in a cold broth; all in all a bland and tasteless mixture that served as a staple diet for the prisoners of the castle because of its ease of preparation and availability. In any other time and place he would have let it sit on the floor untouched but every day that passed while in captivity brought the pangs of gnawing hunger closer to home for him. Therefore He forced himself to consume the meager meals, knowing that there might come a time ere long that he would need all his strength to overcome the hurdles that must surely await him soon.

They had separated Vilthavia completely from his Rhovanian companions after their incarceration. He wondered much at this at first, for what reason had they to jail a youth from a faraway land? What sort of threat had he, himself, posed to the Hillmen? None that he could imagine. But after his bitter interview in twain with the prince Ermegil in the courtyard, and being forced to watch the hangman's noose being placed around the fair neck of the innocent Vidui, his one true friend in the world, before being marched away under armed escort to yet another dark and cold cell, he at last began to see why his presence at Broggha's abode had garnered so much interest by the warlord and the others had not: he was reckoned by them to be of the race of the Dunedain. This, in part, was true enough. Hunthor, his absent father, was more than half Dunadan by blood which naturally made Vilthavia, his son, no less than a quarter Dunadan. He possessed the blood of a mixed variety of northmen in truth but the fact that he was at least partly belonging to the race of high men was enough for the Hillmen to suspect him of being a spy in league with their enemies. As to just who their enemies really were he could only guess at; Denethil, king of Rhudaur he supposed. His best guess was that Broggha suspected him of being a spy of the king. Therefore his best chance of survival by now was to somehow convince Broggha that he was no such thing. The very idea of it was absurd.

Then suddenly he was released by the guards and placed in the custody of the b astardly Ermegil. This came to nothing - to know good end at all, save to torture his youthful mind by being made to watch perforce Vidui and his colleagues die at the end of a noose. He had watched Rangar, the rogue from the Rhûnlands in the east, kick and dangle helplessly at the end of the rope ere he expired and had felt true sympathy for the man - despite having been attacked bodily by him while still in the frozen cave. He had never desired the man to be killed as such. Then Vidui was hanged. He did not actually witness it himself, tis true, but it was all but certain as Ermegil whisked him away. There could have been no escape for his friend, alas. He too was now dead. Then suddenly word came by way of messenger from Broggha to Ermegil that the 'boy from Rhovanion' must be returned to captivity. Away he went, back to the chamber that served as his unwelcome home for so many days. He was given no explanations – only cold silence to his pleading questions. Two more days passed in this way; he retreating to his empty darkened corner – sometimes crouching down, sometimes laying quietly with his limbs sprawled out, and occasionally, when madness threatened to devour his mind, pacing round the dark room lost in thoughts of gloom and sorrow. Thoughts of death began to consume him by then and he could not keep out depressing thought of how he might go about ending his own life somehow.

Twas on the third day (or so he assumed it must be) when the same servants that had brought him his meals before had come to drop off the tin plate and saucer that came with his cold soup every day that he had decided he had had enough of it all. He overturned the bowl with its liquid contents and applied his strength to bend the plate in half so as to create two sharpened edges on either side of it. He still had not been afforded any source of light by his keepers, save what managed to filter in from the hallway through a small hole Vilthavia had managed to open up by tearing away at the old splinters at the base of the old wooden door. Yet this slender beam of light would provide him with enough to see by while he used his new makeshift weapon of sharpened tin to drag it across his wrists and make a morbid end to his life. He thought of his mother and his homeland and wept softly to himself as he sat on the floor by the door and let his self-pity get the better of him. He wished he could see her again and explain things to her and tell her how much he loved her and would miss her. He thought, too, of Elendis, the first and last girl he would ever kiss. He wondered if she yet lived. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that she did. She would have been too valuable a prize for Broggha to let go. Small comfort would it have been to him then in his prisone to know that she too, only a few days previous, had attempted to make an end of her life as well upon a lofty ledge high above a stone courtyard filled with onlookers below. He might have been obliged to offer his thanks to Ermegil for coming to her rescue just in time. But Vilthavia knew nothing of this. He bid her a quiet farewell and wiped at his tears before closing his eyes. It seemed a tremendous shame, for he guessed that the two of them might have gone on to become the happiest of couples, as they had their whole lives ahead of them to become more acquainted with one another. Now it would never be. Alas for their unhappy and undeserved fate!

For a few fleeting moments he turned his black thoughts to the unenviable chore of his own suicide. How should he cut himself? Whereabouts on the wrist should he make the incision? Perhaps it did not matter. But he wanted it to be done quickly. Alas that he had ever been born into such a cruel world! He said this to himself many times over as he leaned back against the wall. Time passed. His eyes were heavy with weariness and the burden of life.

A bright shaft of light suddenly appeared all about him. Surely he had died and gone to the halls of Mandos where go the souls of the Edain after their bodies perish and leave Middle-earth forever. But the light was not of eternal sunlight, nor the heavenly glow of the stars above, but rather of flickering torchlight in the hands of an ugly male youth whose face was covered with long and dirty facial hair. In one hand he held a glowing torch and in the other a small set of keys. He was not alone. As he shielded his eyes from the sudden light Vilthavia was also aware of a tall man in knee-length boots and an overcoat of wool that covered a vest of steel chain that went down below his waist. He was little more than a dark silhouette at first but when the man stepped forward Vilthavia slowly became familiar with the man’s identity, and as a result he flinched as he scooted himself backwards on the floor. He knew then and there that he had not died at all and must have merely fallen asleep at some point while still in his cell as he mustered up enough courage to end his own life. Seconds passed in silence as the two newcomers gazed in on the downcast youth from Rhovanion upon the stone floor. The man then spoke, his voice oddly tin and rather shallow for a taller man such as he. His tone was contemplative and keen.

“Well met again, my young friend,” said prince Ermegil. “Cast away your gloomy thoughts, Vilthavia. Fortune doth smile upon you this day!”

Vilthavia screwed up his eyes as he gazed back and forth between them. He made no motion to rise up and this seemed to irritate the younger man, who snorted with impatience.

“The prince says get up now!” he spat with a heavy accent. He stepped forward and grabbed at Vilthavia’s ankles and physically pulled him out through the doorway and into the hall. Vilthavia quickly gave in to the anger long shut up inside him and gave the lad a swift kick with his stocking foot (for his shoes were in tatters) that connected with the servant’s groin. It was an awkward blow and irritated the youth more than it actually hurt him. The keyman cursed at Vilthavia in a dialect of one of the Hillmen tribes as he returned the kick to Vilthavia’s hip, which in turn made him cry out in pain as he rolled over on the floor. The lad was about to deliver another kick to his prisoner but was prevented by Ermegil.

“Enough, boy!” he said in the same clannish tongue. “He is in my charge now!”

The young guard glared first at Ermegil and then back at Vilthavia who was nursing his hip while still on the floor.

“He may be in your charge, lord, but you are in mine – despite our difference in age! You may do what you will with this boy but I shall not leave either one of you alone. Take heed, lord! I am your guard as well as you are his.”

This was all too true. Ermegil had only just recently been freed from his temporary confinement by Broggha for his brash slaying of the Dunadan warrior out in the courtyard a few days previous. Astonishingly, the lord of Dol Agwarth had made the bold decision to jail the prince for three days to remind him of just who wielded the authority now. The prince shot the guard a hostile glance before stepping by him and assisting Vilthavia to his feet. It was then that he caught whiff of the foul odor of the empty chamber and immediately recognized the smell as excrement. He cast a cold eye inside and caught sight of a dull glint within. He stooped down and seized the small makeshift weapon of flimsy tin that Vilthavia had purposed to use upon himself. He knew right away what Vilthavia had intended to do with it. He then carelessly flung the trinket back into the dark recesses of the chamber where it could be heard to smack against a wall and fall to the floor. Let the next luckless prisoner try his luck with it, he thought to himself. But this did not concern him.

“You are a sorry sight to look upon, lad,” said Ermegil as he observed the youth who leaned against the wall. “You are a bag of bones. Indeed, you look to have lost at least four or five stone by now. I do not doubt that you are weak and light of head. But you will soon be of better cheer, for I take you now – by the leave of our estimable warden here,” this last a sarcastic reference to the young guard who bore the keys, “to one who awaits you most eagerly. I doubt not that you shall be glad of the meeting, boy, though I wonder greatly at your reaction to the tidings that your interloper shall deliver to you. Yet we shall see. Come now! The way is not far.”

Vilthavia shrugged off the grasp of the guard who sought to urge him forward and instead forced himself to walk unaided in the train of the prince, who seemed oddly light of heart as he led the way down and out of the jail rooms. They went forward and made two right-handed turns and were thereafter before a narrow archway that led out onto another small courtyard. There was no one about here and Ermegil led the way quickly to the adjacent doorway that would plunge them back inside more gloomy corridors. But before they did this Vilthavia raised his voice up and begged leave from the prince to stay but a moment in the open air so that he might collect his breath to negate the dizziness he currently felt. Ermegil frowned at the request but did not refuse him, though he insisted on hurrying on after the briefest of pauses. The young guardsman entrusted to keep his eye on them sighed irritably. But Vilthavia ignored the man and instead looked about him. The sky above was littered with grey clouds that refused to give way to allow the sun to shine down upon the mountainous terrain. He reckoned it must be an hour or so after dawn judging by the lighting but after being locked away in his cell for so long he could not be sure. They were somewhere upon the western side of the keep presently, for beyond the stone fence of the courtyard he descried far, far away rolling hills of open sward that seemed to lead out to a distant forested land flecked by light snowfall. It was his first ever glimpse of the lands of Eriador, of the Rhudauran territory that his father had always told him was his homeland. It seemed very remote from his present vantage point and he wondered at how, or if ever, he would get there. All he knew now was that he would honor his vow he had made to Vidui in the man’s final moments that he would swear to do everything in his power to make an escape from the clutches of the Hillmen and come into that distant land that he now gazed at with wonder.

“Enough of this!” stammered the guard again as he wrapped his dirty coat tightly about him. “Let us hasten onwards. It is cold out here and I must return to my lord!”

Vilthavia turned away reluctantly. He too was chilled by the biting wind that swept over the courtyard and tossed their wild hair in many directions. He was still garbed in the old loose-fitting grey shirt and cut-off pants that were too big for his frame that had been given him upon his capture and they offered little protection from the cold. His shoes had been well-nigh worthless from the start, they also belonging to some previous youth who had probably disowned them for their poor quality. They had been too large and fell away from his feet as he walked about many days ago so he had eventually discarded them himself after coming to the painful decision to end his own life. Vilthavia wished now that he had kept them for at least they would provide some sort of barrier between his exposed feet and the cold unforgiving stone of the ground beneath them. But there was nothing for it now so he grid his teeth and followed after Ermegil back into the dank passageway that would lead them to their destination.
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (cont...)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 2:10 pm

Much had transpired in the days immediately following the rescue of Elendis from the high ledge along the walls of Broggha’s castle. It all seemed like a bad dream now, nearly four days gone since the incident had occurred. Much of the dread of that day had already begun to fade in her memory. She recalled climbing up to the heights of the keep by way of hanging vines of ivy and cracks and crevasses that served as purchases for her hands and feet. She also had a dim recollection of traversing the uneven rooftops and the cold and painful surfaces beneath her bare feet. But she remembered little of her effort to end her own life while on the ledge. She thought she recalled seeing a tall dark silhouette of masculine form looming above her while in the caught in the throes of mental and physical anguish but she could not be sure of it. It was not until two days later as she lay beneath soft blankets upon a cushioned pallet in a well-scented room that almost seemed welcoming in comparison to her previous chamber that a female attendant of the castle recounted to her what had taken place up on the ledge. Then Elendis became dismayed at the full memory of it and felt a surge of shame and self-pity wash over her knowing that she had very nearly thrown her young life away needlessly. She thought of her father and Calimé, her older sister, and how they might have reacted upon hearing the tidings of her death back home in Rhudaur. They would have been stricken dumb with grief, no doubt – assuming that any among these despised folk would even bother to send word to her family. But what was she thinking? Of course they would not! Neither her father nor her sister would ever hear of her death and would forever afterwards be filled with the sadness of never knowing what had happened to their little Elendis!

The maid-servant sent to comfort her and tend to her wounded arm would not let her patient fall victim to despair, however. Instead she drew back a brown curtain that concealed a windowed aperture made of glass (a rare luxury in the aged Dol Agwarth) and let the daylight from outside fill the room. She quickly lit more scented candles before telling Elendis of the identity of her rescuer, though Elendis felt that she could guess who it was already. Of course it was prince Ermegil. The servant told her that the prince had dared to scale the heights of the walls by crawling out of a high window and making his way out upon the very ledge where the slender young maiden lay in a painful swoon near the very brink of the abyss!
“You might very well be dead now, dear lady,” explained the maid-servant to her, “were it not for the bravery of that man! Very strong he is for sure, lady, for he stooped down and raised you up body and all and cast you over his shoulder despite the wind howling around up there. He walked himself backwards on that narrow landing for many a yard ere he reached the lower section of the rooftops where he could lay you down in safety. I saw it all from the courtyard below, and great was my shock to see you there. Dear girl! You owe your very life to the prince! This is his own private antechamber that you now find yourself in. He bade us take you here during your period of convalescence. You slept the entire day and night away after they brought you here ere you roused yourself at last from deep slumber. I and two other girls have looked after you since then. When you woke you cried aloud in pain as you clutched at your maimed arm so we administered an herbal potion that would allow you to sleep again. How do you feel now, little lady?”

Elendis blinked her eyes repeatedly as she lay there, slowly but surely coming to her senses once again. She turned her head to get a better view of the room around her. She could see the glass window-pane and the daylight from abroad filtering its way into the room. The chamber was ordinary in its size but was furnished with a well-crafted table of brown oak and two chairs, a column of stone cubicles that had been designed to come directly out of the wall by ancient masons now long dead, and two small wooden chests bound with iron linings and locks in the far corner upon the floor. The pallet which she presently lay upon seemed very comfortable indeed. It was unlikely that she had slept on a bed such as this in many a day and night! Small wonder she had slept so long in this cozy room. Further still she remarked to herself how warm she felt in here. Multi-handled candelabrums, their tapers lit with slender flames, stood erect on their pedestals in all four corners of the chamber giving off a soft and warm light through the air of the room.

“I am comfortable here,” replied Elendis at length. “Yet I feel the need of more sleep, for I am weary.”

“I expect you do,” the servant-girl answered slowly. “But I was referring to your arm.”

“There is still a pain in it, but it is lessened now.”

“Ah! That is to be expected. The prince assured us that you had aggravated it again, alas, with your fall. Indeed, he told us that your arm had been broken even before you came to us. How did you manage that, may I ask?”

Elendis rolled gingerly over upon her good side so that she might look the young woman in the eye. The girl wore a dull green sleeveless vest that covered a long-sleeved grey shirt that fell down to her thighs. About her waist was a slender belt of black leather that was fastened with a rounded golden buckle. Her long dark hair was pinned back with a star-shaped hairpin – again made of gold. She looked healthier somehow than many of the other females that Elendis had seen in habitation at Dol Agwarth. Or perhaps it was merely the girl’s pleasant countenance that made her seem so comfortable. There was a slight lilt in the girl’s accented common tongue that belied a natural positive nature in her. Unlike the other maid-servants that Elendis had seen thus far this young lady seemed almost happy to be here – and that in itself was odd in the mind of Elendis. All of this flashed through her cloudy head quickly before she replied to the girl’s invasive question. Elendis was too weary to launch into an account of her misadventure in the mountains before her capture and merely replied by saying that she slipped and fell while traversing a patch of ice on one of the slopes. The girl narrowed her brows and nodded her head to portray a sense of common understanding.

“What a strange journey you have had, it seems,” she said coming closer. “I don’t doubt that you have had a hard time of it. Your errand must have been pressing for you to have attempted the crossing of the Misties in these evil times. Were there any other maidens in your train to look after you or were you all alone?”

“There was only myself and fifty men. But I was well looked after, I assure you.”

“My word! My dear, you must forgive my astonishment but where I am from tis’ a thing unheard of that one young girl should be alone in a company of so many men traveling across the wilds of the mountains amid so many perils! I marvel that you are yet among the living, for I know well that I would never have had the strength to endure such a hard road. You must hail from a line of ancient queens!”

“Nothing of the kind.”

“Perhaps a line of noble princesses then?”

“I am no one,” replied Elendis deprecatingly, “just a foolish young woman who is wanting in proper judgment and wisdom.”

“I shall not comment on such sentiments, but I doubt that you are a fool. Certainly the prince does not think so, else he would not have risked his own life to save you upon that lofty ledge!”

Elendis looked into the girl’s grey eyes for a moment before laying herself down again flat upon her back, adding that she felt the need of more sleep. The servant ignored that and instead came right up to the bedside of Elendis and gazed down at her.

“You are not alone in your strife, dear lady,” she said more seriously. The girl seemed as if she wanted to confide in her. “You are not the only one here in this castle that has little or no say in regards to their fate. I suspect that your injured arm is not the only part of you that feels broken. I can sense that there is a cloud of grief over you that you cannot escape. Perhaps a dark memory that you wish to bury deep down inside of you so far that it might not rise to the surface ever again?”

Elendis had closed her eyes when the girl had begun to speak but opened them again and looked at her with this question. But she offered her no reply.

“Is that why you attempted to throw your life away up on the ledge?”

Again Elendis said nothing in regards to the woman’s bold inquiry, saying only that she was too weary to speak of her personal grief.

“Aye, I shall let you sleep momentarily. Yet you are young and fair and surely have much to live for. I suspect that you are someone important to lord Broggha – and to the prince as well. You have no reason to distrust me, for I too am held here against my will by Broggha. I wish to have your friendship, dear girl, for I wish to leave this castle as much as you do!”

“You are not of the Hillman race then?” asked Elendis naively. The woman frowned at that.

“I do not know why you should insist on lumping all folk who dwell in these mountains together into one folk. A man who chooses to dwell in the highlands may merely be a ‘man of the hills’ and not a ‘Hillman’ in the common sense of the term, as you Eriadorans commonly recognize them as. I am a daughter of many bloodlines, for my father was born in Cardolan to parents of southern lineage; while my mother was born in Rhudaur to peasant farmers who migrated into Eriador from over the mountains long ago. But I, along with my brothers, were born in the foothills of the Misty Mountains where my parents chose to dwell in peace within a walled village down in a valley which contained less than one-hundred inhabitants. Such was the case with many others in our community.”

“Yes,” said Elendis, “I understand. I meant no offense to you.”

“Truly, dear. Do not fret. But may I not know the answer to my question; what made you wish to rid the world of your existence?”

Elendis began to feel strangely annoyed by the girl’s persistent questions. She seemed eager to talk, whereas Elendis did not. She only desired to lose herself in sleep while she yet had access to such a comfortable little bed. Nevertheless, whether out of a sense of guilt for having offended the girl or else merely wanting the interview to be over as quickly as possible, Elendis decided to tell her the truth.

“I was informed that I must join in wedlock with the prince if I wished to see one of my friends set free from his jail here in the castle. I have no desire for such a union with prince Ermegil.”

The stern look of concentration upon the girl’s face slowly changed to shock and then one of joy as an open-mouthed smile broke across her face.
“The prince desires you for his wife? Oh! Dear girl! Why should such tidings bring woe upon you? He is your deliverance and savior now, girl! Are you unaware that he too desires to be away from this place? Ere long he will depart this old castle and ride down into the Rhudaur country where he will spy out the roads and forces of the king as he has been wont to do for Broggha. He has an abode and household of his own in Rhudaur that he maintains with discretion. Surely he will wish to secure his new bride there where she may dwell among his servants in safety. You would be far removed from this horrible place, at any rate.”

Elendis felt a secret wave of hope wash over her upon hearing the words of the maid-servant. She had wondered before at Ermegil’s presence here in the service of the Hillmen, and especially of his acquaintance with Vidui, for it had been the prince, according to what Vilthavia had told her, who had summoned Vidui to his employment in Eriador to begin with. That had quite obviously been proven false by now – as far as she knew of it. Ermegil was plainly in the service of Broggha and therefore must be deemed a traitor to the Dunedain of Rhudaur. Yet he was certainly a man of some importance to Broggha. Though she had no desire at all to wed with such a man she suddenly began to ponder over the merits of such a union. She knew little of Ermegil, and indeed had only spoken with him once thus far, but at least she knew by now that he was a self-proclaimed enemy of king Denethil – a man whom her own father had said was unworthy of possessing any kinship with the faithful Dunedain for his evil deeds in the past. She might be unhappy in such a marriage but then again it would buy her time and recourse to ponder over her future and where she ought to go. Furthermore, the prince might render her the aid she needed to find the wherabouts of her father and sister. Elendis sat up in her little bed, waved away the helping hand extended to her by the girl, and stared at the floor as if lost in thought. The girl interrupted her train of thought
.
“I see that these facts are unknown to you. You ought to take joy in such a union with the prince, my dear! What a terrible pity it would have been for you to have succeeded in ending your own life!”

“I felt trapped and afraid,” replied Elendis defensively. “I saw no other recourse of escape from this torturous nightmare I find myself in here. Death was my only hope then.”

“But it should not be now! A new door has opened up to you, my dear, with your union with the prince. Fate has not turned its back on you yet.”

“Do you know the prince well, uh…” Elendis paused, not knowing the girl’s proper name. The girl offered it immediately.

“I am called Helgha.” Elendis offered her a slight smile in return. Helgha went on with her reply, saying, “I have known him for only a few months now. He selected me to work for him as his maid-servant after I was brought here as a prisoner with many of the other women and children of our tribe when our men-folk laid down their arms before the face of Broggha’s spearmen. Their forces were far superior to ours, you see. Our tribe was among the many of those conquered by him. But it was the prince who delivered me from the harder labor that I might have been given to as one of the feminine prisoners here. I have heard rumors that some of the women of my tribe have either already been shipped away to the northern realm of Angmar or else have already perished for various reasons. Yet I have been saved from their fate by joining myself to him in this way. He has already told me that he shall even find a place for me in his household in Rhudaur when Broggha gives him leave to depart again. There, you see! You and I might even enjoy one another’s company after leaving this castle – you, my mistress, and I your faithful servant!”

Helgha almost seemed to glow with aspiration at the notion. But Elendis felt that the girl was a little too confidant in such a proposition. Yet she said nothing of it and instead pursued the topic of prince Ermegil
.
“I do not understand how the prince may maintain a residence of any kind anywhere within the bounds of Rhudaur while his own father is king there. I would think that they would be open enemies by now. Surely Denethil would desire to punish his son for his open treason?”

“I do not think that the king is aware of his son’s change of allegiance yet. Certainly he knows that his son opposes his policies and course of mind in most matters. Yet I doubt that is of much concern to him. The two have never been close because of Ermegil’s illegitimacy. Indeed, I do not know that the king has ever officially acknowledged Ermegil as his own.”

“Where is this covert household of his that you speak of?”

“Nigh the banks of the Metheithel river in the north – or so he has told me. I have never been there and cannot be sure, though.”

Elendis paused in reflection. It was well that the prince’s secret dwelling was nigh the swift Metheithel; assuming that Helgha was not misinformed. The river would prove an unerring vehicle for escape for her in the future should she wish to flee – a prospect all too likely, she guessed. She knew that river well enough, for she had visited it often with her father and sister in the past. Yet that was two day’s walk south of Cameth Brin, the seat of Denethil’s court. Ermegil’s clandestine abode sounded as if it were just as far north of there. She knew well that the men of the king maintained a guard on their own section of the river and feared that she might be espied by them if she were seen alone anywhere along the watercourse. She would surely be stopped and questioned, especially by boat. Furthermore, where might she go after escaping her new lord’s abode? The river would take her south but how far ought she to take it? All the way to Cardolan? What for? She knew nobody there. Who would assist her? She thought she recalled seeing a river-town marked on one of her father’s old maps once that straddled the watercourse many leagues in that direction. She could not recall the name now. Surely someone might take her in and render her aid there. Or ought she to try and cross the river somehow and make her way into Arthedain? The walled fortress of Fornost Erain in the Weather Hills was much closer. They certainly would not turn her away from their doors, they being mostly of distant kin. Aye, the westward road seemed more hopeful somehow. Unless, of course, she could make her way to her own house where her father and sister might still be dwelling here in her mother country. Yet to do that would require placing herself within close proximity to Cameth Brin, where Denethil dwelt. Though they had once been friends, Denethil and Mardon, her father, had fallen out with one another long ago and were now hostile towards each other – or so it had been before she had departed Rhudaur over the mountains bound for Wilderland nearly three years ago. If she were seized and brought before the king he would learn her identity and might hold her prisoner to be used as a pawn against her father. So many decisions to make! Yet so be it, she pondered quickly. One problem at a time!

“My dear!” Helgha raised her voice. She had asked Elendis a question but the latter had not heard her during her inward soliloquy. “I am speaking to you. Your eyes see things far away in your mind now. Is that it? Your attention wanders. Perhaps you fear that Broggha will refuse to let you go, knowing that you are of the Dunedan race? Is that it?”

She had not been thinking that but Elendis nodded her head anyway. Helgha shook her head in disagreement, then went on as she walked over to an empty wash basin and produced a flask of cold water for her patient to drink from.

“Nay, Broggha will not deny you to the prince if the prince seeks your hand in matrimony,” she replied, handing a small brass cup to Elendis. “Ermegil is important for him; just like Broggha is important for the prince. They make useful allies- for now, anyway, though they will never love one another. In all likelihood your destiny lies now in your own hands, as I see it. You may choose to wed with the prince and depart this place in safety or you may refuse him your hand and let chance fall where it will. Yet if you deny the lord Ermegil he will take the rebuff ill and do nothing more to aid you. In such a case I fear Broggha may hold onto you and use you as barter. Pray, child, do not let it come to that!”

“Yes, I see all of that,” said Elendis, “but I do not see how Ermegil would desire me for his wife so soon. He has ulterior motives in mind, you may be sure.”

“All men have hidden agendas, dear. Have you ever known one that has not? They keep a close guard on their hearts, often for mischievous purposes, alas. Yet you cannot over-burden yourself with such worries. If I may council you on the matter I would tell you to accept his offer and acquiesce to his proposal when it comes. You are about to object that you do not love him, I see it in your eyes. But nay! What has love to do with it in your present plight anyway? You are young and have little need for love now, I deem. Save such emotions for later. Will love aid you in your escape from this place? Of course not. Prudence will serve you better, girl. If he proves true to you and is a good man than you shall come to love him – or at least appreciate him for whom he is. I doubt he loves you as well thus far. Yet he did risk his own life to save you upon the ledge! Think carefully about it, dear!”

Elendis sighed and turned away. The voice inside her head bade her to heed Helgha’s council. Whatever the man’s faults – and doubtless he had many – the prince was in favor with Broggha and likely might have sway over the brute’s train of thought. She had no wish to marry again so soon on the heels of Wildaria’s death. She had never given him her heart as she had wished to, for love escaped her grasp. Yet he had been a kind man and a brave one, and she lamented his passing. He did not deserve to die as he did. Ermegil, however, was cut from an entirely different cloth. She knew little of him apart from vague rumors and her own judgment of him in their first meeting. He was not the sort of man she would have chosen for herself. She doubted the sincerity of his heart. He had killed men before, that much she felt certain of. What was worse was that he was an unabashed traitor to his kinfolk. Ermegil and the idea of honor would ever be strangers, she guessed. Men like he served only one master – themselves. In that way he reminded her of Urlavia, and that was not something to look kindly on. Both men saw nothing wrong with treason so long as it served their own needs. Could she endure wedlock with such a person? Her widowhood was still in its infancy yet here was another man who sought to manipulate through marriage based solely upon her high-born blood. But what else might she do? To this she had no answer. Refuse the prince and she would be doomed as a puppet of Broggha, and that would not do at all, she thought. Might as well have taken the deadly leap from the ledge. No, her life had been preserved for a specific reason: to escape from the mountains and come once again into Rhudaur and at least learn of the whereabouts of her father and sister. She must succumb to the voice of destiny’s unwholesome call. She must wed with the prince Ermegil, b astard son of the loathsome king Denethil.

Suddenly she thought of Vilthavia again. She felt the need to see him once more. She knew he was here in the castle somewhere being held prisoner like the rest of the survivors of the mountaineering company. Surely the prince would know where he was being held. She would demand to be taken to him. Aye! She would use just such a demand as a proviso to the prince for her acceptance of marriage. Indeed! She must be allowed to see him and tell him what was happening. Alas for poor Vilthavia! He would take the news hard, no doubt. She knew that he had come to love her in the short time they had been acquainted. They had survived many calamities together. Twas’ strange how the blackness of peril can bring two people together so quickly, she wondered inwardly. Did she possess any feelings of love for him, she asked herself? Yes, in spite of herself she thought that she did. But whether her feelings for him was that of true love or merely the kind of love that occurs conveniently through happenstance she did not know. Such love tended to be fleeting for many. Back in the frozen cave he had told her that he loved her and desired to journey with her into Eriador, forsaking his quest to find his father again. She did not doubt that he meant it. She thought she desired such a thing as well, despite his tender age. But even were such a vision to come true she suspected deep inside her that once both of them were free of peril her heart would betray both he and herself by tempting her to seek out a man more suitable to her in the long run. Vilthavia did not deserve such treatment. His heart was too tender and fragile to cope with such rejection. It would be better for them to separate now rather than later. Alas, she knew this was the proper way to go about it. If Ermegil truly desired to wed with her he must first allow her to see him once more and bring him fresh tidings. It must be so!

“Surely the prince cannot expect a dowry from me in the event of my acceptance of his proposal,” said Elendis, emerging from her reverie. She had meant make light of the comment but Helgha looked serious
.
“My dear, I cannot say what the prince expects from you – save for your approval of his hand in yours when he requests it of you.”

“Which he has not done yet.”

“It seems as if I have done so already by proxy!” said a new voice from the hallway. Elendis started in alarm at the crisp and edgy voice of prince Ermegil, who now stepped forward into the light of the chamber. There he was yet again; tall, fit and slim garbed in snug-fitting pantaloons of forest green accompanied with a loose shirt and vest that looked to be made of a fine dark silk material that Elendis had never seen before. His long dark hair had been well-groomed and trimmed short. If it were not for the peculiar raspy voice that greeted her now she might not have recognized him at first. How long had he been standing at the opened doorway unseen, she wondered?

“Twas’ ill of you, Helgha,” he continued as he stood rooted in place gazing at Elendis, “to leap to conclusions regarding my intentions toward the young lady, our guest. You gossip like a cackling hen upon her roost, you do!”

“Lord, you must forgive me,” begged Helgha, fearing her lord’s reproach. “Yet I knew nothing of these tidings until the lass here took it upon herself to confide them in me. She seemed desirous of speech on the matter, for her heart has been much burdened with sorrow, as you know well, and her melancholia grieved me, so I bade her speak to ease her heart, though I would have preferred her to lay down in silence for now."

Elendis flashed her eyes back at Helgha in surprise. Helgha returned her gaze with a silent look that seems to plead with Elendis for mutual compliance in her excuse. The girl’s testimony was not only false, or mostly so, but in the girl’s voice was a hint of disguised desperation, though her demeanor remained rather calm. She watched Helgha dart over to the wash basin and pour Ermegil something from a polished wooden flagon into a tin cup before dutifully offering it to the prince. He ignored the girl but instead focused his attention on Elendis, who had not yet bothered to get up off of the bed that she had been resting upon. It almost seemed as if he expected her to rise up in her injured state and greet him like he were her lord already – but this Elendis would not do. Ermegil at last entered the room in full and stood before her and gazed down at her with a broad grin on his face.

“I was eavesdropping on you, Helgha,” he said to Helgha without looking at her and waving the proffered beverage away, “for a few moments, at any rate. I would greatly appreciate it in the future if you would pay homage to proper prudence and refrain from discussing my private affairs so openly. Do not think that I am so inclined to take on any servants in my employ who engage or encourage such tongue wagging. It belies a mischievous heart, my dear! These are dangerous times that we live in. A man such as myself can ill-afford to have his privacy compromised.”
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (cont...)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:00 pm

The reproach had not been meant to be taken to heart, for the prince’s words were not harsh, but the girl looked mortified by it. Seeing that her lord did not want the cup of water offered him she replaced it back upon the old basin with a reckless gesture as she half turned away to cover her eyes. She wiped at her tears and running nose without turning round again. He sensed that she was most upset by his reproof so the prince turned his head to look at her in mild surprise.

“Why Helgha,” he said lightly, “do not carry on so. Come now! What is the use of weeping in the face of so trifling a rebuke? The matter is over now. Pray do dry your face and dam up your tears. Do not be troubled of heart, for there is no need of it.”

Helgha sniffled again as she lifted her sleeve to her face while trying to compose herself. With her eyes temporarily clean she turned to look up into the face of the prince for a moment.

“I have again offended you by stepping out of my place,” said Helgha subserviently. “I beg your forgiveness, my gracious lord! I am but a poor misguided woman who is wont to err thus. I would humbly ask my good lord not to forsake his foolish young Helgha, for I am in truth a fool. I know it well. But you are a wise man, lord, and know how a dame’s tongue such as mine is prone to run on like a babbling brook. Alas! It is oft’ a flaw of the weaker sex, I fear. I shall have it tied up into a knot if you wish it, my lord! Yet I beg you not to forsake me!”

With these last words Helgha actually dropped to one knee and reached for the hand of the prince. She kissed the back of it in the manner of a beggar pleading with her master to refrain from beating her. She went on again but Ermegil stopped her.

“Stay your tongue, Helgha! I had not intended to dismiss you from my service by any means. Again you assume too much! Yet though you are still young and in need of better judgment I deem that you are wise enough - in your own way. But you must be properly schooled in the way of discretion. You shall place a proper guard upon your tongue from this moment forward – do we understand one another? This is a dangerous world we live in now. The days of peace and rest for Rhudaur, such as they have been, are over. We are upon the threshold of a new order of things in the world that shall not brook offense lightly. You would do well to remember that, Helgha. Come now! Rise up and be gone. I have need of speech with the fair lady Elendis now.”

Helgha kissed her lord’s knuckles once more as another tear cascaded down her cheek. Then she rose up again and looked briefly at her patient. Elendis had sat upon her bed and observed the deprecating scene between lord and servant with barely disguised disapproval on her face. Though she knew that she lived in a world where every woman was expected to know her role as one mainly subservient to the wishes of the men-folk in their lives, Elendis had never been able to countenance displays of such meek timidity by any woman. It was her late mother whom had always taught her and her sister, Calimë, to retain a sense of independence and not ‘bow or scrape at the feet of men’ – a most uncommon idea that sat uncomfortably at first with her father and the ideals of tradition. Of the two sisters it was above all Elendis whom had most embraced this notion and employed it in all her relations in Rhudauran society in her brief fifteen years.

“Yay, good Helgha!” said Elendis quite unexpectedly, “rise up and sue for pardon no more, for you have committed no offense as I can see it. In one thing the prince is quite correct: you have done nothing to earn a troubled heart. Your conduct merits praise rather than punishment. I, for one, would thank you for tending to me and allowing me to unburden myself to you. Only another woman might empathize with my troubles, and I am grateful to you for hearing me out.”

Helgha betrayed only the briefest trace of confusion in her eyes at this before quickly realizing that Elendis had chosen to reaffirm her false testimony to the prince. It surprised her a little and she seemed unwilling to thank her patient outwardly for it before her lord. Yet she did manage to conjure up a short smile along with a curtsy before turning to hastily make her exit without further comment. Yet just before she had passed through the doorway Elendis offered the girl a final ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank-you’. Helgha paused a moment and looked back at Elendis nervously before leaving the room. She had just passed into the hallway again when Ermegil suddenly called out to her in the native tongue of her tribe. This was obviously done to hide whatever he had to say to the girl from Elendis, whom he was sure could not speak the tongue. Helgha was heard to mutter something unintelligible in response to his question before disappearing at last. Ermegil watched her go for a moment then turned back to face Elendis with a blank expression on his face before at last producing a smile that seemed almost mocking in its way. He had quite clearly not approved of Elendis’ undermining of his lecture to Helgha. He ran a hand through his hair in a backward sweep as he walked slowly up before where Elendis still sat upon her bed and halted one pace away from her. He quietly surveyed her entire form from her feet up to her narrow waist, at last moving from her light bosom to her grey eyes; a pair of oval discs perched above a firm nose with an even-lined bridge that bore the marks of recently healed cuts and scrapes upon it. Her yellowish hair still seemed fair enough, though it had recently been tied back by Helgha in a sort of queue.

“Well,” began Ermegil slowly, “You already look twice the young woman you did before I plucked you off of that high ledge. At that time you resembled to me more of a – a flightless swan who has doomed itself to die a pale and cold death in some lonely place. I thought I may have come too late at first when I beheld you laying there on the brink of the chasm. You may thank the Valar themselves that I was there when it almost happened!”

Elendis almost frowned at the way this man recalled her near-suicide in so light a manner. She sensed in his voice a sort of disguised patronizing tone that he now used quite deliberately to offend her, though only subtly. She knew full well that she probably did in truth owe her life to this man for saving her from death by her own hand, but she nevertheless felt reluctant to offer him her gratitude.

“Yet,” he continued, “it really is unlikely that the Valar had anything at all to do with my presence there that day. I, for one, mark it down to pure chance; a coincidence of fate, if you will. May I inquire, dear lady, what your thoughts on the matter may be? Do you believe that any one of the Valar was looking out for you that fateful day? Or perhaps you too think that fate plays with us all in a random manner, careless of the outcome?”

Already Elendis began to feel uncomfortable in the presence of the prince. It seemed a strange line of questioning to embark upon with so new an acquaintance as they were to each other. She wondered if there was any right or wrong answer he was looking for from her. Not knowing how to respond to this Elendis sought to deflect the questions.

“Shan’t I be granted a proper greeting from one Dunadan to another? We are, after all, ultimately of the same bloodline, though perhaps not as purely endowed as some others are.” It seemed a ridiculous thing to say at that moment, she thought to herself. But she was nervous by now and felt unsure as to the answer he expected to hear from her.

“I shall tell you what I believe,” he said, ignoring her question. “I think that you really had no wish to be rid of yourself that day. Your circumstances may have seemed dreary to you then, I admit – and perhaps still do – but you possess a youthful heart and one that is full of life. Your actions were chiefly a cry for help and guidance, I think. Yet who may blame you in this, dear lady? I certainly do not. Many other young ladies in your place would have fallen into ruin long ago upon such a journey as the one you have undertaken.”

“As would many young men as well,” she replied rather defiantly. The prince forced a slender smile at this.

“I doubt you not, my lady. The fate of many of the men in your company offer proof to your words, so I will not rebuff them. Yet what of my question to you? Do you have any thoughts on the matter of our ultimate fate - from ‘one Dunadan to another’, as you put it just now?"

Elendis looked into the man’s rather narrow gray eyes before glancing down to his other features. It was plain that he had come to her with a specific purpose in mind, for his rough-haired face had been recently shaven clean and his dark hair newly washed. Had he bathed himself as well? Here in this remote and forgotten old castle in the mountains? She thought he had, and she envied him for it. How she would have welcomed such a luxury! In all the prince was not an unsightly man by any means. True, his voice lacked the typical deep sonority of most men of his build that many women appreciated, nor was he exceptionally tall. He was kind-spoken, strong and firm-jawed. She might have even welcomed such a man’s courtship in another time and place. But this man was Ermegil, illegitimate son of the hated king Denethil of Rhudaur. What was more, he was an ally of the barbaric Hillmen, her folk’s enemies; a traitor to the Dunedain. He seemed to possess a suspicious mind full of schemes and self-serving ideas that would surely be to the detriment of innocent others in their fulfillment. He reminded her of Vilthavia’s repulsive uncle in this way and it did not sit well with her at all.

“I am too weary in both mind and body now to expound on the matter now,” she replied warily.

He dropped the smile and looked serious again.

“To my mind the idea of fate is a lie. As I have come into maturity I have realized that this is so. The Eldar have it wrong. Oh, the Valar themselves do exist – of that I do not doubt – yet I think of them as indifferent towards us; sorry spectators upon a world that they have largely abandoned by now. They may have been active participants in the old ages of Middle-earth that are now largely forgotten by men, but not so any more. If this were not so why do the elves flock to the western shores in groves to take flight in their ships? They are leaving these lands, my lady. Of that you may rest assured. One day I expect that the race of Men will dwell alone in Middle-earth. Therefore the idea of some preordained destiny for each one of us is a mistake. We must forge our own. We alone are the authors of our destiny. Fate did not lead you to that ledge where you teetered on the brink of death. You willed it so in your heart perhaps, but your head forbade it. Too often do folk lend ear to their heart, I think, and the consequences of it are often severe. It is the mind that possesses wisdom and prudence, and therefore the route you and I must choose to follow.”

“’You and I’?” she asked.

“Yes, Elendis. You and I both stand upon the brink of a dark chasm that lies before us, though perhaps you do not fully understand that yet. Make a step in the wrong direction and we shall fall into ruin – as you yourself very nearly did.”

“My own peril that I face is evident to me by now. I am a maiden trapped and alone without resources in a hostile land. Yet I cannot see how you can equate your circumstances to my own, for you are here of your own free will and may go whither you would.”

The prince shook his head at this and frowned.

“There you are in the wrong. You think I want to be here in this cold and remote castle in the mountains so far away from my homeland – surrounded by hostile folk?”

He let the question hang in the air momentarily before Elendis replied shortly.

“Yes, I believe you do want to be here. I sense that you are involved in some kind of - secret plot against your own people along with that villainous Broggha. Why you have chosen to involve yourself with him and his folk to the detriment to your own kin you yourself know best, perhaps. But I think it a shameful deed on your part to perform his bidding at the expense of the lives of others.”

Ermegil said nothing at first. He stood before her but turned his head briefly away – perhaps trying to contain an urge to rebuke her for her hasty judgment of him. He looked back down at her as she sat there upon her little bed and nodded his head. He retraced his steps back to the open door of the chamber and closed it for the sake of privacy before placing himself upon a nearby wooden chair. He spoke again.

“You malign me unjustly. I fear that you are in water too deep for your own good with this, lady; though you are right in one thing at least. I have indeed opted to side with folk who have been the traditional enemies of Rhudaur. Yet you have much to learn about a land that you have been away from for too long now. Your homeland, such as it was when you left it four years ago and more, scarcely exists as it did when you departed for Wilderland. The reign of Denethil, my father, has abased itself to such a degree now that folk are fleeing the northern territories for the south of the realm in great numbers. The population of the Angle swells ever more with each passing month as the people seek to distance themselves from his court at Cameth Brin. But they cannot expect to find much solace down there, for the king will surely pursue them and drag them back to the north. My father needs a solid populace in the north, for what use is a king when he has no subjects to rule over? He has proclaimed an official ban on all migratory travel in order to insure that his people stay securely under his omnipresent thumb. You see, word has gotten wind to him by now of the uprising of the Hillmen of the mountains and the budding might of Broggha. My father fears him in his black heart and what he might do if he becomes too powerful. He is becoming increasingly more isolated and cannot expect to draw assistance from either Arthedain or Cardolan in the face of any possible outbreak of hostilities against the Hillmen. The former realm has long since turned their backs upon Rhudaur and might very well even desire our demise. The latter realm he has unwisely estranged over petty disputes over trade and especially over possession rights of the great tower upon Amon Sûl. Therefore who might Denethil now call upon for aid in time of need? The answer, of course, is no one. My fool-of-a-father has doomed himself. It is only a matter of time.”
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (cont...)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:07 pm

Elendis gazed stonily back at the prince. His words, if true, prophesied evil days ahead for Rhudaur. She too retained a deep and genuine sense of antipathy towards the king and his cruel reign – an opinion that stemmed chiefly from the rantings of her father in the past. Though he had once been on friendly terms with Denethil long ago, her father now hated the man and regarded him as nothing more than a usurping tyrant who was intent on bringing ruin down upon them all in order to preserve his pride and hold onto his crown at all costs. Yet all the same Elendis wondered if the fall of Denethil and his court might presage some other greater evil thereafter. Would the people of Rhudaur – those that still remained – really prefer to see a barbaric warlord such as Broggha take his place in Cameth Brin? Assuredly not! Better to have a Dunadan wear the crown, despite his criminality, than an upstart tribal thug from the mountains who seemed to enjoy the misery of others.

“You are perhaps,” answered Elendis, “forgetting Denethil’s ties with the Northmen of the Anduin vales. He has long maintained a friendship with that people. This I know to be true, for I have recently come from there.”

“Friendship? And what friendship is that, dear lady? My father’s relationship with the men of the vales was strictly one of business. My father is too proud to call on them for aid. What sort of ‘aid’ might they render him anyway? They maintain no standing army of any merit at all, nor do they possess the necessary weapons of iron and steel that the king seeks to acquire. Bows and arrows are fine enough in their own way out in the open field but they cannot vie with the forces that are lining up against the Dunedain of Rhudaur – a land chiefly consisting of hilly woodlands.”

“But what of the horses they provide? The Northmen have been sending their beloved mares and stallions to Rhudaur for many years now, and the Dunedain have paid much for them.”

“Next to worthless now,” countered the prince shortly. “What use will the king make of them in a war of subterfuge such as Broggha shall have to employ against the people of Rhudaur? They would be better suited to be used as meat for table and plate after the food runs out. And of that you may be sure, I’m afraid. The forces of the Hillmen will not assault the king without first destabilizing the folk of the villages and countryside that support him and his court. Fields and crops will be razed and much of the livestock slaughtered wantonly. It is the usual way of such warfare. Famine will then ensue across the land. It is inevitable.”

Elendis shifted uncomfortably as she listened to his evil proclamations of the future. He went on again before she could answer him.

“I say inevitable because no help will arrive from outside Rhudaur. As I told you, Arthedain and Cardolan are estranged from Denethil now. Who else will help the remaining Dunedain of Rhudaur? The dwarves of the mountains? The elves perhaps? Nay, there is no one. The king has gotten careless over the years. It baffles me that he has been so blind that he has not recognized the impending threat to his realm by now. Do you think a king such as the likes of Malvegil, nay – even one such as Tarandil of Cardolan would have failed to take heed of their foes’ machinations just beyond their own borders? Ha! Assuredly not! Malvegil would have incorporated his spies into his adversaries’ ranks and rooted out the evil by now and stamped it out ere it could take shape. If the king had paid less heed to his loss of control over possession rights to Amon Sûl and more to the Hillmen and foreign rogues that come down from the north this evil might have been averted. The foolish man is completely obsessed with that tower! And worse so since he has aged over the years. His insecurities and suspicions of a possible collaboration between Malvegil and Tarandil against that of Rhudaur has clouded his judgment. What military might he still has these latter days has been unwisely dispersed and divided. The bulk of his soldiery he has placed at Amon Sûl, many long leagues away from Cameth Brin, leaving the heartland of the realm vulnerable to invasion – an inexcusable offense for a king to make, and he will pay a heavy price for it. But so too will the people. That is just another reason why Denethil, my father, must be deposed – one way or another.”

Elendis looked into his eyes as he spoke and read only truth in them. She did not think that he was lying. In truth he seemed quite earnest. But his words struck a finger of dread into her heart and she feared for what might come in the months and years that lay ahead. She feared for herself as well, but especially for her father and sister who, as far as she knew, still maintained residence in the Rhudauran countryside. What would become of them? Did they know of the peril that awaited the realm from abroad? She doubted it. How could they know this? If the king knew anything of it he certainly would not inform the people of such an evil prospect. They would either flee in great droves whither they would or else try and broker some sort of settlement with the Hillmen behind his back to his own detriment. She agreed with Ermegil that Denethil needed to be replaced as king, but she also wondered how any son could bring himself to take up arms against his own father regardless of how poor their relationship might be. Would Ermegil seek his father’s death after he had been deposed? Broggha almost certainly would. It is not enough to merely banish a fallen king from the realm if the usurper truly wished not to be threatened by the deposed later on. Only the final elimination of the king would suit. The war chieftain would probably even perform the regicide himself.

“So you would have me believe,” said Elendis, “that Broggha would make a better ruler than your father? Is that what you really think?”

The prince leaned back in his chair and looked to the ceiling as if pondering his answer. Elendis intensified her gaze at him, taking his hesitation to mean that he actually did not truly believe that.

“You take too long in your reply, sir,” she said. “It is a simple question. What need have you of thought if you have already decided upon a chosen course?”

The prince closed his eyes momentarily in a frustration that he found increasingly difficult to stifle. ‘Sir’? What sort of effrontery was this? The prince shifted uneasily in his chair at the girl’s use of the formal usage of the address. Was she deliberately avoiding the need to address him as ‘lord’? Was he not a prince? He thought briefly of interrupting her and politely insisting that she address him as ‘lord’ from then on but decided to delay it. That would come later – after he had tamed her.

“You do not truly want this blood-thirsty mountain-man to become the next king of Rhudaur, do you?” asked Elendis pensively. “The look in your eyes betrays your true thought.”

“Do not pretend to be able to read the thoughts of men, m’lady! I am not some innocent young knave who revels in idle gossip to impress a pretty wench. The matter you speak of is fraught with complications - more than you know.” Here the prince lowered his voice before going on. “But my answer to you is this: No, I do not believe that Broggha would be a great king. Yet I will tell you honestly that he would be far more preferable than others that might hold that office if Broggha does not wear the crown following Denethil’s removal.”

“You evade my question,” said Elendis. “I asked you if you prefer him or your father to wield power.”

“And I have given you the only answer that you shall get from me on that.” A hesitation followed.

“Then you will not interfere in your own father’s impending regicide? What sort of son would stand aside in idleness and watch his own father be slain at the hand of a monster like this Broggha? For slain he shall surely be!”

“The sort of son who was very nearly the victim of infanticide!” retorted Ermegil hotly. “Nay, do not screw up your eyes, lady, for it is true! Denethil, my own father, sought to bring about my own death after my birth. If it were not for the cunning and quit wit of my mother in the days immediately after delivering me into this world the strongmen of my father’s court would surely have found me and sent me speedily to my death. Yes, they did try to, but tidings of the arrival of messengers from the king reached the ears of my mother and she hastily fled our abode with me swaddled amid blankets inside a breadbasket while armed men awaited their admittance downstairs outside the gate.”

Elendis once again sat upright in attention as she looked upon him and sought to make out whether there might be any deceit in his words. Some of the wise women she had met while in Wilderland had used to tell her that, after some practice, a woman could look into the eyes of men and descry the signs that betrayed a man skilled in deception. Their eyes might shift or blink uncontrollably as they spoke; or they might look away or occupy themselves with a random trinket in their hands in order to give themselves a countenance. One sure sign that a man was engaged in a falsehood was by the size of their pupils. If the blacks of their eyes would seem to dilate as he spoke then the man in question was a sure liar. The wives of the men of the Anduin vales swore on it. Thus when Elendis leaned forward and stared back at this man before her and his tale of woe she sought earnestly to look for any one of these signs. But she saw none of them. He was either telling the truth or else had been deceived himself.

“It is all too true,” said the prince with a glint in his eye. He seemed to guess what she was trying to do as she gazed back at him. “My father sent armed men to slay me in my infancy because of my illegitimacy. He was ashamed of my existence and wanted none to know of me, for my mother was the granddaughter of an Arthedainian nobleman with connections to the king of Arthedain at the time. Though he would surely deny it, I was and still am Denethil’s first-born child. Knowledge of my birth and relation to my great-grandfather might be of considerable interest to those in Fornost Erain. With Denethil out of the way I might even have a rightful claim to the Rhudauran crown in the eyes of Arthedain! So of course my father desired my death. Why would he not?”

His tale sparked a flicker of interest in the heart of Elendis and she abandoned any attempt at lie detection.

“I doubt not that your childhood was a hard one, sir. You were fortunate to have such a strong mother who loved you so. Yet all the same, I find it difficult to believe that your honorable mother would sanction the nature of your present ambition if she knew of them. She would beseech you to abandon your plan of action now, ere it is too late.”

“You know nothing of my mother,” said Ermegil heatedly. “Do not pretend that you do.”

“Of course I do not!”

“Then speak not of her - I insist.”

“I am only attempting to convince you of the folly that you seemingly embrace. A man should not murder his father, however vile a man he may be. It is incomprehensible to me, such treason! You sully the honor of your nobility and lineage, sir!”

Elendis regretted her words even before they had left her mouth. Had she pushed the man too far by now? She knew that she had just insulted him and feared his reaction. He was a man capable of violence when roused and she knew it. But he surprised her, for instead of flying into a rage he merely smiled and subsequently laughed at this. He rose from his chair and began to slowly pace the length of the chamber while looking downwards in thought.

“There is little honor remaining to we Dunedain of Rhudaur, my little Elendis,” he said with an air of condescension. “Nay, the well of our virtue has very nearly dried up by now. Your youthful naïveté should not run so deep at your age that you are unaware of the recent history of our realm and its troubled past. You may think me cruel or unkind; maybe even depraved and wicked. If that is so I am sorry to hear it and I deny any charge of that kind.” He stopped pacing and turned to face her again. His voice grew more grave and serious now. “I am kind to those whom I love and trust; cruel only to those that deserve it. Yet can the same be said of Denethil, king of Rhudaur? You know, or else ought to know, that my father gained the kingship unrighteously. It is he who is the true usurper of Rhudaur. How is it that he, the youngest of the three sons of king Boradil came into power in the first place? It was because he betrayed Celadil and Faracil, his two older brothers, by setting them against each other with lies and deceitful ways. My father was directly responsible for their deaths. He had the throat of Celadil cut after they found him hiding away in the northern Ettenmoors among the rocks and caves of that remote land. Faracil was then forced to wage a desperate war against my father’s far greater army of mixed men of suspicious origin. Most of them were hired mercenaries I suspect. Faracil turned to flight and might have escaped had he made it to the river. But he died with many arrows in his back.” Ermegil paused for a moment with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Tis’ a pity, really. I would have liked to known my two half-uncles. I was only a suckling babe in arms when all of this occurred. Things would have been much different for Rhudaur had they lived. But you see the kingship ought to have fallen to Celadil after the death of my grandfather. But it did not. And why? – because my father is a deceitful murderer who tarnished the honor of the kingship through such evil that even ancient Mordor would have envied. Is it any wonder that both Arthedain and Cardolan now shun him and seek to oust him entirely from Amon Sûl?” He returned his stern gaze back to Elendis who had not moved from her bed as she looked back at him. “Therefore, dame, take heed whom you brand as a traitor to the lineage of the Dunedain.”

Feeling somewhat abashed at her own suspicious nature Elendis let her guard down and dropped any further attempt at rebuttal. She guessed Ermegil was being sincere. But that did little to break down the emotional barrier she felt towards him. He may have suffered an injustice in his youth – perhaps many of them. But what was that to her? She too had suffered much. She perceived a sly streak in him that was coupled with an innate greediness that was typical in most men who desired power. She doubted the man was very trustworthy, yet at the same time she could think of no advantageous alternative for herself save to tie herself to him through matrimony. ‘But he must raise the subject himself’, she thought silently. ‘I certainly shall not do so. Yet if he desires to wed me he must do so conditionally. That is the least he can do for me’.

“I have no cause to doubt your words, sir,” said Elendis more gently. “I feel for the wrongs you have suffered. But I fail to see what much of what you tell me has to do with me. Why have you come here? I doubt it was to teach me the history of Rhudaur and her violent past.”

“No,” he replied haltingly. “No, that is not why I have come to see you, of course. Yet first tell me about your injured wing! How does it fare today? There is more movement in it already, that is plain to see. I call that a hopeful sign. Has my Helgha seen to all of your needs?”

“Yes, I feel a degree of improvement in it,” replied Elendis as she adjusted the sling around her neck and maimed arm. “I can lift it several inches now, which I could not do formerly. Helgha has done a very fine job of tending me. I owe her many thanks!”

He looked a trifle annoyed at her last words. He scratched and fidgeted at his well-groomed goatee with his fingers as he smiled very briefly before sighing loudly.

“Yes, so you have mentioned two or three times by now, m’lady. You have expressed your gratitude quite thoroughly to my hand-maiden for doing what she is already obliged to do through verbal contract with me. She has done her job and has done it well. I am aware of it as well as you. Let us leave it at that and speak of other things, shall we?”

“Have I offended you, sir?” asked Elendis looking up at him again.

The prince found it increasingly difficult to hold his tongue on her neglectful address of his rightful honorific title. But he said nothing just then. Instead he pushed his agenda forward by ignoring her question.

“You asked me what business I have here with you now. It is a perfectly reasonable question to ask so I will get on with it without further delay. You are in grave personal peril while you remain here, Elendis, daughter of Mardon - far worse than you may know. Yes indeed! I see by the look on your face that you are surprised to see that I know who your father is. We have met, though many years have passed since I saw him last.”

“How know you of him?” she asked with eyes full of wonder.

“I was one of three agents that met with him in secret in order to procure his aid in a united fellowship against the king. We drank your father’s wine while we listened to him refuse our proposals of unity.”

“You drank with my father? Heavens! When did this occur? How long ago was this?”

“Well over five years ago I should think – perhaps six even. I am not one to dwell on the concept of time.”

“Where did this meeting take place?” she asked him after a pause for reflection. Ermegil hesitated.

“In a farmhouse upon a homestead – about a half day’s walk to the east of the house you then lived in, m’lady.”

Elendis narrowed her brows and frowned as she combed through the files of her memory, trying desperately to recall whether or not there were any such homesteads that served as neighbors while she was growing up in her father’s country house. She could no longer be sure. Yet all the same she did notice the slight hesitation in his voice and felt the need to probe him a little more, even at the risk of angering him.

“You will of course forgive me if I ask you to describe my father’s appearance when you met him that day.”

He looked at her momentarily with a stone face before providing her with a response.

“What a shrewd girl you are, Elendis. He bears a thin frame for a tall man and a pair of keen grey eyes housed within narrow ocular apertures that belie his innate sense of mistrust he sees in his fellow men.”

“My father’s mistrust in men is well founded, I would venture to say. Who can blame him for it when nearly all that he has loved in his life has been taken from him unrightfully. My mother stricken down with the disease of foreign men, his age-old home overrun by brigands and thieves, his citizenship of Rhudaur publicly discredited, his exile from Cameth Brin! I could continue with more injustices forced upon my father if you wish to hear them. Yet you are mistaken about his eyes, sir! I remember them as being as blue as a September sky. My whole life I have envied them.”

This was a bluff; a trap deliberately laid before the feet of Ermegil to trip him up and ascertain the truth behind his words. Her father’s eyes were indeed grey as Ermegil had said they were – this Elendis knew well. She fell silent and observed the prince and his reactions, looking for the signs of a true liar. But Ermegil was no fool. He had roamed the lands and woods of Eriador for many years and had met many men and women in his day. He had learned well enough by now how to determine when he was being used as sport by others, and it always angered him. But he held his tongue for now. He had successfully navigated his way through murkier streams of interrogation at the hands of greater folk than Elendis than to be fooled by a clumsy effort such as this. He felt the urge to put her now squarely in her place – to let her know just who was in charge here. But he knew that doing so might have an ill effect on his plans with the girl.To humiliate her would not do at all. Therefore he decided upon a middle ground.

“I would swear that the eyes of Mardon were as grey as the clouds of a Rhudauran winter’s morning. Yet all the same, your father never did remove his hood and cloak that day – if my memory serves me. His face was cast in shadow the entire sequence of our meeting. The important thing to know was that he and I did indeed meet and discussed issues of great importance at the time…Are you satisfied with that?”

Elendis began to feel confused in her mind. Yet her better judgment told her that Ermegil had spoken the truth. She answered his last question by supplying one of her own instead.

“Why did he refuse your proposals?” she asked him.

“I believe it was because your father is a suspicious man by nature. He might have supposed that we were spies sent by the king to ascertain where his true loyalties lay. I do not know for sure. But Mardon was too cautious for his own good. He would have done better for himself and many others had he joined with us, for your father used to be a man of great influence among many of the remaining noblemen of upper Rhudaur. Furthermore your father was rumored to have powerful acquaintances within the court of Tarandil of Cardolan; especially with Vorondil, the king’s elder son who bears a very old grudge against Cameth Brin. He would have certainly joined us and swelled our numbers with many Cardolani pikemen (*), for which they have been renowned for generations of men. United together we might have swayed the hearts of many both within Rhudaur and beyond its borders to rise up in strength of arms against the ever-weakening army of Denethil. He might very well have been toppled from his puny throne by now. But alas! It did not happen that way in the end. Instead of that glorious picture your father has since been thrown out of court by the king and now has become something of a wanderer without a cause. As for myself,” here the prince shrugged his shoulders in helplessness, “I found it necessary to look at alternatives that I ordinarily would have shunned out of disgust - I offered my services to the king’s ancient enemies: the Hillmen of the highlands. I admit that such a thing is unwholesome and smacks of dishonor. But I had become desperate, dear girl. It was the only way. Denethil must go and that is flat! And he shall go - one way or another.”

“By allying yourself with a ruthless warlord?” she asked in an impetuous tone. “It is not the right thing to do. Broggha is a monster of evil. There can be no good in such an alliance.”

“It has little to do with right or wrong, Elendis! The need is become so great that necessity must transcend propriety.”

“You might have gone directly to Tarandil for aid – or better still you might have offered your services to Malvegil of Arthedain! Did you not even once consider that?”

“Of course I did!”

“You should have acted upon the idea at once!” She interjected the notion at once in order to drive home the point; and to butter him up a trifle added more hopefully, “They would have welcomed your presence as a boon to their cause, such a dignified man as yourself! They would have welcomed the inside knowledge of your father’s court that you possess.”

“Oh, what rot!” he waved away her suggestion with impudence. “They would have done nothing of the kind, dear girl. If Arthedain desired in truth to be rid of Denethil they would have surely achieved his ruin by now. King Malvegil is a slouch; an over-cautious niggardly man who keeps the royal coffers sealed shut to all save his eldest son, Argeleb, who seems all too ready to throw around as much of his father’s coinage as he sees fit in order to accomplish his goal of constructing his mighty wall of stone and mortar east of the North Downs.”

“’Wall of Stone’?” asked Elendis.

“Aye, you heard me right. The tidings that have come to us is that, under the supervision of Argeleb, a new wall spanning well-nigh one-hundred leagues is to be built east and north of the downs in order to deter hostile forces from any assault that might come from that way. They seek to hem themselves in, the fools! It is a futile endeavor, you may be sure; but all too typical from their complacent king.” He stopped short here and paced quickly back to the closed door of the little chamber. He put his ear up flat against it for a moment before slowly turning the rusty handle. With the door open a few inches and no more Ermegil peered out into the corridor in silence. Being at last satisfied that they were quite alone he closed the door.

“One cannot be too careful here, you see,” he added cautiously. “Broggha has spies of his own that I may not be aware of. Perhaps I have already said more than was wise.”

“I do not doubt that. It would indeed be unwise to think that Broggha loves you well enough now to release you from his watchful eyes and ears entirely, sir. You must tread carefully while in his employ else you shall find yourself once again back in the lockups.”

Elendis regretted the jibe almost as soon as the words left her lips. Without altering his sideways posture he turned his neck quickly and shot her a wrathful glare that nearly made her flinch. Quite obviously his former brief imprisonment by order of Broggha for slaying the first of the Dunadan prisoners prematurely was a source of humiliation for him. He did not welcome mention of it from anyone – least of all a young maiden barely come to her womanhood.

“Where I am from, girl,” he said icily, “it is the custom to address a man of the royal line as ‘lord’, not ‘sir’. Am I not right?”

She shifted uncomfortably upon the bed and looked down at the floor before replying.

“You are right, of course…lord.”

“’My lord’,” he corrected her as an instructor would his student. “Say it again.”

She repeated it correctly this time before daring to add a small correction of her own, “Yet I also believe it is equally polite to address a woman amid exchanges of rhetoric as ‘Miss’ or ‘lady’, if you prefer.”

“Those are dignitary appellations normally reserved for females of, shall we say, ripened maturity, I believe.”

“I beg pardon – ‘my lord’” she said patronizingly, “yet I am not as young as I appear to the untrained eye, for am I not Dunadan also? We are older than we look on the outside. But you will honor me by addressing me with one of the aforementioned titles, if you would.”

Ermegil looked hard at her in silence for a moment or two before looking away. This would not do in the long run, he thought inwardly. This lass has a hard head and an independent spirit that is too active for her own good. After their betrothal (for there was no doubt in his mind that she would wed with him) he must make clear to her that she would be expected to fulfill the role of the typical dormant wife whose chief responsibility would be to bear him children and keep the servants of their house in line with his wishes. She would have little say when it came down to whether or not her husband and lord chose to come and go from their house while away on business, and certainly none at all in regards to the affairs that would take place at Broggha’s court at Cameth Brin in the aftermath of Denethil’s overthrow. She would raise their children and be content with household affairs or things would go ill for her. But he brushed these thoughts away quickly now and instead forced another counterfeit smile to emerge on his face. Then he smiled and even chuckled to himself.

“You astonish me, my dear! Such a virile tongue within the mouth of a young lass such as yourself! I have seldom seen one as such in my days ere now. Ha! Few even of the young men that have served me as my page have rarely bantered back and forth with me in this way; not without being properly punished for it, by and by.”

“Is that what you intend for me – ‘my lord’? Am I to be punished for displaying a strong and healthy spirit normally reserved exclusively for your gender alone? Yet if you have met my father you should know of what solid stuff we are made of.”

Once again the prince let escape an indecent guffaw from his lips at this.

“Ha! You speak the truth in that! If you were the ordinary shrieking female you would be long dead by now, no doubt. You would now be a frozen corpse under the heavy blankets of winter snow out in the wilderness along with those worthless men whom you took up with back in Wilderland. Yet you are not, and this is proof positive of the unique quality of your particular femininity, my dear. Like the spider’s web that does not deteriorate in the wind, you may often waft and waver under pressure but you do not break; I like that exceedingly well about you.”

(*) ”The Pikemen of Cardolan” – this is in reference to the skilled men-at-arms who served King Adornil the Great, grandfather of Tarandil. Those brave men achieved fame in their day by way of their deadly twenty-foot long pikes that they would employ against enemy infantry units. Arranged in narrowly spaced ranks apart from one another, the pikemen could march through enemy lines with relative ease so long as their flanks were well guarded. It was said that, in this way, Cardolan regained sole possession of Amon Sûl for a time and thus handed the forces of Arthedain, under king Celepharn, their only true military defeat of the day. Yet by Tarandil’s day, the time of the present narrative, the heyday of the pikemen was long past and in rapid decline – a fact probably unknown to Ermegil. Author’s note ~
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Celebrimbor32
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (conclusion)

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:01 pm

“In a world where men rule by way of threat and violence it is necessary for a woman to be strong.”

The prince said nothing but merely nodded his assent. She had no sooner spoken these words when one of the larger tapers upon one of the nearby candles withered momentarily before extinguishing itself. The room dimmed considerably because of this which caused Elendis to shudder with cold.

“You are cold, Elendis,” said Ermegil. “Let me lend you my cloak for now. I shall find you more candles for your chamber soon, though they are in short supply here in this remote castle.”

“You are very good, lord, but I am fine.”

“Nay my dear, you must keep warm. I insist. You must allow your body to recover without undo strain.”

He rose to his feet again and went over to a stone shelf upon the wall and removed a folded cloak from a bundle inside of a bag she had not noticed before. Coming back before her he placed himself uncomfortably near to her as he wrapped the garment around her shoulders and tugged at the edges to draw it tighter around her bosom and neck line. She stiffened instinctively at this though she tried her best to conceal her timidity from him. He did not step away from her at first and she felt his eyes upon her from above. She did not look up to meet his face for several moments until a heavy silence fell upon the chamber. Then, doing so out of nervousness rather than politeness, Elendis looked up at him. The prince offered a slender smile before resuming his position upon the chair before her. He broke the silence again by attempting to speak but she deliberately interrupted him, for she sensed he was about to broach the matter of wedlock between them and she still knew not how to answer him.

“What can you tell me about this place, lord? Who built this castle and why in so remote a locale?”

“The Dunedain of old Arnor built it long ago, during the reign of Arantar, great-grandson of Isildur. Dol Agwarth it was called, the ‘Lonely Tower’. As far as I know it the Dunedain abandoned it many years ago, long before either you or even I was born into the world.”

“But why so many leagues away from civilization?” she asked.

“Most likely it served as an outpost; probably to keep a watchful eye upon the passes of the mountains; or perhaps to observe the old Hillmen of the region. Both explanations are likely correct.”

“I suppose so. Yet why did they abandon it? Despite its present state of decay it surely was an impressive structure in its day.”

“Aye,” he replied unenthusiastically. “Yet another monument of our people to feed the fires of their vanity and egoism.”

“I think you judge the Dunedain harshly,” she answered him. “The descendants of Elendil would not have expended so much time and hardship to erect a lofty castle such as this merely to gratify their self-esteem. I doubt pride had anything to do with it.”

Ermegil sat back in his little chair and propped his head against the wall behind him as he stroked his rough chin. She sensed a trace of frustration in his demeanor once again.

“My dear Elendis, I couldn’t care in the least! My interest lays not in the past but in both the present and the future; especially the latter.”

“Why so?”

He sat forward again and leaned towards her with a stern and serious look.

“Let us dispense with any further trivialities, Elendis. I think you know full well why I have expended so much time and effort with you ever since your failed attempt to put an end to your life not long ago.” This last remark was a subversive attempt by him to bring her attention round to the fore at once before going on. It seemed to have the intended effect that he meant for it to have, for Elendis immediately raised her chin slightly and narrow her eyes. He went on in a smooth and well-polished tone, saying, “It is a poorly kept secret by now that I most humbly desireth your fair hand in wedlock. Though it is doubtless sudden and rather abrupt I think it fair to say that we should make a handsome match – you and I. There, you see? I can tell by the lack of surprise in your eyes that this proposal comes as no shock to you. Perhaps you even have been expecting it and have rehearsed a ready-made reply for me? Before you give voice to the thoughts that run rampant in your head let me also accompany this proposal of mine with a gift!”

Elendis closed her lips tightly as she swallowed hard and tried to control her shaking nerves. She watched Ermegil rise and go over to a small shelf along the wall where sat a small oblong wooden box that been placed there by – by whom, she now wondered? She had not noticed it there the day before when she had first awoken from a full day’s continued sleep. It may be that the prince had only recently set it there during one of his nonchalant walks back and forth in the chamber as their conversation progressed. Or perhaps Helgha, his maid-servant had put it there? She did not know. Yet of so that would seem to indicate that she had been in the know of the prince’s matrimonial intentions all along, though he had pretended to be surprised when Elendis had first voiced her suspicions of Ermegil’s plans towards her. Whatever the truth she had little time to reflect upon it now, for the prince had removed the item from inside the box and began to hold it aloft in triumph as he regained his former place immediately before her. It looked to be a medallion of some kind that was attached to a firm but slender chain of gold. She recognized it at once and gave an involuntary gasp of surprise.

“The amulet of my dear friend, old Cernan! You have it! I can hardly believe it! I thought it was lost, buried in the deep snows of the mountains! Pray, may I see it?”

Ermegil briefly thought of correcting her again in her address of him, for she had neglected to include the necessary appellation of ‘my lord’ at the end of her request, but he decided to let it pass for now in her excitement. He smiled warmly at her now as he handed her the locket. Elendis let the chain dangle in and out between her trembling fingers as she scrutinized it thoroughly for any signs of forgery or deception. Sensing her misgivings the prince at once assured her that it was indeed the genuine article that she had been missing since that dreadful day of the avalanche where over half of her companions had perished under the waves of falling snow and ice. Nevertheless Elendis turned the golden amulet this way and that before her eyes, at last flicking open with her thumb the faceplate upon the frontispiece that concealed the inner emblem of her father’s house. It was an intricately carved symbol of a multi-pronged silver star inlaid with a slender border of some other sort of glossy smooth substance that was shiny and fair to look upon. Yet whereas the star-gem had been sullied with traces of age and wear before its disappearance now all traces of weathered grime and been removed from it so that it gleamed fresh and new as never before.

“Consider it my betrothal gift to you,” said the prince. “I think it should serve well enough as such, considering neither one of us has any dowry to offer the other in our present circumstances.”

She glanced up and into the eyes of the mysterious man before her who in turn stared back at her expectantly. He knew that he had done well by giving the family trinket back to her in this way. He could see it in her eyes now. It was his good fortune and Urlavia’s hapless ill-luck. As if by odd chance at that very moment Elendis cocked her head sideways as if in sudden thought.

“Where, may I ask, did you find my old amulet, my lord?” There was a silent pause.

“Can you not guess?”

Elendis rose at last from her bed to her feet for the first time since the prince had entered the room. Seeing her tremble with the motion Ermegil steadied her by laying hold of her uninjured arm. His other free hand he placed upon the small of her back. She let escape an involuntary shudder that he surely must have sensed. His touch was not welcomed by her. She was nervous, that was plain. Had she been anyone different, perhaps a woman of royalty or even an ordinary mother of a local village he might have immediately released his hold upon her. But now he did not let go. He would not acquiesce to a young girl such as Elendis who was less than half his own age. Ere long he would be her lord proper and by releasing his hold upon her at her reflex would show a sign of timidity on his part. Even at this early stage he must assert his authority.

“Perhaps it is yet too early for you to walk about,” he said as he continued to steady her balance.

“Nay, I wish to stand upon my feet again. It is not my legs that are hurt.”

“As you wish, my dear. But I doubt that Helgha would approve of it so soon.” His grin now belied a hint of mockery in it, but Elendis ignored the remark before giving voice to her thoughts. At last he removed his hands from her.

“I do believe I can now guess where you came by my old family heirloom,” said Elendis as she slowly put a few more feet of distance between herself and the prince. She stopped and turned to face him again. She looked upon him in ominous silence for a moment then redirected her gaze to the chain and locket again that she still held.

“I believe that this was thieved from the body of Cernan following the avalanche. It was shamefully burgled from his person as he lay dead in the heavy snows by that hapless rogue, Urlavia. He was the first member of the company to have discovered the body. Do I not guess the truth?” Ermegil nodded in agreement.

“You do indeed. It was Urlavia who took your locket. Yet such a thing is hardy uncommon with men such as he. They are prisoners of their own greed.”

Ermegil knew by now of her dislike of Urlavia and the thought struck him that he might take advantage of her animosity towards the man by taking sides with her against him. In this way he might already begin to endear himself to her and thereby aid his cause.

“The man is a villain,” she replied coldly. “He is a cowardly rascal who cares only for his own skin. I recall well that fateful afternoon when the sliding snow from on high fell upon us so suddenly and so many good men, including my husband, were killed outright. Oh, if only that dreadful white wave might have claimed the life of Urlavia as well! What an injustice it is that such a man might live while my good husband perished!”

“No doubt you are quite right, my dear,” said Ermegil in agreement. “It is unjust. But consider this also: had not Urlavia taken the locket from him…”

“Stolen, you mean!” Interrupted Elendis. He nodded his head in consent then went on.

“Aye, ‘stolen’ it, as you say, then it would have remained buried beneath the snow and ice forever; or at least until some other soul had stumbled upon it many years from now – perhaps someone less wholesome than our Urlavia even. Maybe even a wandering tribe of orcs! Then the piece would be lost to you and beyond recovery.”

“Orcs?” exclaimed Elendis in surprise.

“Aye, orcs. You act as though the name surprises you.”

“But I have never heard of orcs wandering these lands before. To be sure they are not unknown in Eriador; but that was the old Eriador of the past. It has been many generations of men since such vile creatures roamed the lands.”

Ermegil fought down an impulsive guffaw that swelled up in his throat at the remark. ‘Such an innocent and sheltered life you must have led until now,’ he mused to himself in silence. ‘The girl needs to learn many life lessons and quickly if she hopes to live through the dark years ahead of her. How I do envy her naïve spirit, though.’ Then aloud he said to her, “Do not forget what I told you a few moments ago. The future of Rhudaur, and indeed all of Eriador shall be dark and grim for us all. Of course there are orcs in the Misty Mountains! That is why I marvel so that the leader of your company could have been so ill-informed so as to lead you all through the perilous paths of the mountains during such a time. The tribes of the Hillmen are at war here as well as wandering bands of orcs and other brigands of the highlands in search of unwary folk to prey upon.”

“Quite obviously we had no way of knowing about any of the perils you now speak of. Had the leaders of the company been privy to such facts we should never have set forth on such a path, I am sure.”

‘Your useless husband and his assistants may not have known,’ thought Ermegil to himself wryly, ‘but Urlavia surely must have known of them. Yet he kept that knowledge to himself, he being driven onwards by his greed.’ Yet the prince kept his thoughts secret, and instead rejoined aloud, “They should have been more inquisitive about regions unfamiliar to them ere they set out. Alas that they paid the ultimate price for their mistake! The Misties have become too perilous to wander about in.”

Elendis made no reply to this, but instead inquired of him how he came to be in possession of her locket and chain if Urlavia had been the one to take it in the first place. Did the prince in turn steal it from Urlavia?

“No, of course not,” he retorted firmly. “The very idea, girl! No, it was given me by none other than the thief himself as an initial payment for my permission to travel with me away from Dol Agwarth in four day’s time from today.”

“I take it that you agreed to this proposal of his?” she asked with a frown. The prince shrugged his shoulders with pursed lips.

“Why should I not?”

“So he shall be set free after all?” she asked him in a disgusted tone. “The same man who not only robbed me of my only remaining family heirloom and lied to me about it, but also the very man who taunted and put to shame his only nephew before the face of his friends and companions? This is to say nothing of his other crimes and shameful deeds thus far, not least is his betrayal of his former companions! He will be permitted to depart freely from here while we others remain and languish in our imprisonment?”

Ermegil held up his hand and shook his head.

“No indeed, my lady! Urlavia is not going anywhere, despite what he may now think or say. He has sworn an oath of fealty to lord Broggha before the face of multiple witnesses. How can he depart freely while under such constraints? He has made a verbal contract with Broggha and he will be required to abide by it or else suffer the consequences.”

“If so then how could he possibly come to believe that he should be permitted to depart at will?”

“He offered me your locket before he had sworn his oath to Broggha. Doubtless he reckoned on my influence to persuade Broggha to allow him to accompany me. I do not believe he had any idea that he would later be compelled to swear an oath of fealty to Broggha in exchange for his limited freedoms he has been granted while within the compound.”

“Did you initially agree to his proposal?” she asked him. He nodded his assent.

“I did. I admit that your locket intrigued me when he first showed it to me, and I wondered much as to where he acquired it; for the blue star-gem that is set inside it is an old symbol or token of fidelity used by the Dunedain of the old days. Having known something of him before now and the way he works I easily guessed he must have either fallen into good fortune by finding it somewhere along his travels or else thieved it. No Dunadan with a trace of honor would willingly part with such an item unless forced to do so under great need.”

“Then you were already acquainted with Urlavia before we were brought here?” she asked him with a raised eyebrow.

“I have traveled with him before, I admit” he replied slowly. “He has traded with me and performed other business with men that I used to know in Rhudaur. He is a horse trader, after all; and I am a man who is in need of fine mares. It is only natural that I should know of him.”

“Then he was on his way to see you again before we were captured?”

“No. This time our paths have crossed by accident; though I confess that the coincidence is quite extraordinary.”

He sighed quietly to himself now. The two of them were becoming sidetracked by such talk. Desiring to keep the matter of their prospective matrimony in the foreground the prince once again sought to brush aside the diversion of Urlavia that had arisen between them by asking her what she thought of his gift and proposal of marriage, but Elendis seemed determined to delay it.

“It is indeed a strange occurrence. For what reason, then,” she persisted, “did Urlavia desire to cross over the mountains if not to see you? Surely he must have spoken to you of it?”

“He did not; nor did I inquire.”

“You were not at all interested?”

“No. I have no interest in fools,” he answered flatly.

“But surely you must see why I seek to know why he was so insistent on driving us forward with such haste? Men have died as a result!”

“Men die every day, Elendis – if not by their own hand then often by the hand of the fools that lead them. It is beyond my control.”

“How can you be so indifferent to it all? Have you no heart? Or do all men’s hearts have such thick skin?”

Ermegil fought down a wrathful retort. ‘I might also ask ,’ he mused quickly to himself, ‘how could you, you hapless and frail little wench, possibly have survived in the world thus far while at the same time being so insipidly ignorant? I shall be hard pressed to educate you after we are wed.’

“Those who do not possess a streak of callous indifference,” he replied in a rising tone, “will not survive in the dark years ahead; and that includes you, my dear. You may count on that.”

Elendis reflected cautiously on that for a moment before replying in a softer voice.

“Such bold foreshadowing in your words, lord. It almost sounds like a threat.”

“Not a threat but merely a dire warning.”

“I might also advise you to take heed of your own council for your own good as well, for you are an ambitious man by nature it seems.”

Once again the conversation had begun to veer away from his original intent. Was she directing its course thus with deliberation? Was she attempting to provoke him into a wrathful retort or was she simply trying to delay the main purpose for his visitation? If so she possessed a degree of skill in this. Elendis was proving a difficult creature to make out and this unsettled the prince. He began to feel a trace of repulsion invade his feelings of restrained longing for the girl now. He wondered just how long it would take for him to ‘tame’ her and quash her innate sense of liberality and independence that suffused her strong spirit - which was, no doubt, instilled upon her by Mardon, her father, at an early age. He wanted their rhetoric to quickly regain a positive footing on their path to the proposed wedlock he had intended so he conjured up a grin and a brief chuckle at her last statement.

“Even at your tender age,” he returned, “you seem endowed with a fair share of good sense, Elendis! I shall be eager to see you when you reach the autumn of your allotted years upon this earth. You shall be wise like the Eldar!”

“I shall never be like the Eldar in that respect! I am a mere mortal and thus far below their station – as are you and every other member of our race, lord.” Then, seeing his brow narrow at her severe assessment, she added in a more friendly tone, “I fear it is our lot, my lord. The Valar so decreed it long ago – and so it goes.”

“I am sure you are right,” he said laconically. Talk of the Valar and the fate of mortals bored him. “Yet I fear that we have strayed from our current purpose here, my dear. But first, please; will you not be seated? I can see that you frequently shift your weight from one foot to the other as you stand there. I would hate for you to become light-headed and tumble once again to the floor.”

After another pause Elendis slowly sat herself down in the same chair that the prince had used earlier. There being nowhere else to sit, save the bed, Ermegil placed himself before her – indeed, almost crowding her to her discomfort – and squatted down with bent knees so as to be eye to eye with her. Then he looked directly into her eyes for several moments in silence before speaking again. As he did so Elendis forced herself to return his stare with the same serious countenance that he seemed to indulge in. To do anything else, to blink overmuch or to look away would betray the true vulnerability that she really felt now. There was no more putting the matter off; this she knew full well. He was about to require an answer from her and she must supply him with one, whatever the cost. She knew that her life would change dramatically regardless of her choice. Yet for better or worse she could not even hope to guess.

“Now, my dear girl,” he went on, his voice and demeanor now calm and almost passionate. “I think it would be prudent on your part to reflect upon all that you have gone through since you first entered the high and perilous paths of these mountains. You have encountered injury, death, betrayal, imprisonment, cold and hunger – perhaps even more than that.” She was about to interrupt him but he held up his hand and restrained her. “Nay, let me finish!...Your situation is perilous by now. I do not think that you even realize how bad it truly has become for you, Elendis. Do not think for an instant that you have been forgotten or overlooked by Broggha simply because he has been absent from your sight or because you have been allowed a small degree of preferential treatment by staying here in a comfortable bed and tended to by a maidservant. Perhaps you think yourself too trifling for a warlord such as Broggha to bother with? If so put the thought out of your head at once!”

“I have never claimed as much,” said Elendis, but he ignored the comment and ploughed onwards.

“The man has definite plans for you, of that I am certain. You are valuable to him, for he knows that you are of the Dunedain and most probably belong to a noble family somewhere in Rhudaur – a family that in all likelihood desires to get you back as quickly as possible. I do not think that he knows who your father is, nor have I told him, in case you were wondering as much. Possibly he would not know who he was even if I did tell him. But one thing he assuredly will not do is let you go from his grasp. You shall be used either as a pawn for his machinations against the king or else as bait to lure your father or some other important figure from court hither where they will be captured and put to the torture. Nay, the best you might possible hope for - if you and I are not joined in wedlock, - is to be held for ransom. In that case Broggha’s price for your release will be exorbitant. You might languish in his dungeons for months ere such a sum of gold can be gathered by your father to secure your release.”

“Ah!” said Elendis poignantly, “Now I see your intent more clearly. Your proposal of marriage comes in the guise of extortion; wed with you or face imprisonment!”

“Do not be obtuse, Elendis!” The prince snarled the command through gritted teeth. His anger was apparent now by the slight tremble in his lower lip and by a slight protrusion of a vein on his forehead. “Enough nonsense! I am being most sincere with you.” Then, seeing her look away from him, he hastily softened his tone again. “Call it not extortion, I beg you. Rather it is prudence coupled with genuine fret on my behalf for your future. If you remain here you have none; with me there is hope of joy and renewed vigor. I offer you safety and a safe harbor from the days that are to come – even love, if you will receive it.”

Again she turned her face aside. The tears that she had formerly banished from her eyes threatened to return now. Quickly she sought to envision her choices and what their outcomes may be for her. In her heart she knew what she must do in order to preserve her life but the thought of it filled her with dismay. To remain here in such a dismal place in some cold and dark dungeon would spell her ruin. Yet more likely Broggha would keep her close at hand where he could put her up for display to show off to his allies. What if her ransom could not be paid? What then? She might rake in a handsome purse for him if she were auctioned off to some villainous tribesman in a far off land as a slave or worse; more likely she would become a concubine to breed unwholesome children. How could she live under such conditions? She might escape and flee on foot but would she have the strength by then to endure such a flight? She would be pursued as a matter of course. Things might go ill indeed if she were then captured and returned to a man she would be forced to call ‘master’. No, it would not do. Elendis glanced briefly back at the prince, who was watching her closely, standing upright to attention with his hands clasped casually behind his back. He knew that her mind was in turmoil and he was waiting patiently for her reply. She turned round and took a few slow paces toward her bed where she had laid aside her treasured family locket and chain. Looking down upon it she realized that she had no choice in the matter. She swallowed hard and made a decision.

“I will wed with you, lord,” she said slowly with a quiver in her voice. She did not turn round to face him yet. “I will wed with you if that is your will.”

“I most humbly thank you, my lady,” he replied rather flatly. “You honor me with your choice.” He meant it to sound ingratiating but instead it seemed forced and contrived. But then Elendis turned to face him again. He saw that a tear trickled down each of her cheeks from her moist eyes and that her mood was stiffened now in a display of strength tinged with defiance.

“But I will not allow myself to be possessed! Not by you or any other man upon this Middle-earth. I want you to understand this now ere our troth be plighted. I shall call you my ‘lord’ but not my ‘master’. Too often have I seen the daughters of the Edain fall prey to despair and hopelessness born out of a sense of indentured servitude to their husbands. If I am to be your wife you must take me on in the spirit of partnership, not servitude.”

A smile slowly grew upon his face with these words. The smile widened more until Ermegil actually laughed presently. It was not a lengthy guffaw, and he sought to cut it short for fear of offending her overmuch, but in the end he had to cover his mouth with his hand to regain his previous demeanor. His jocularity was not welcomed by Elendis, who stiffened noticeably at his reaction and frowned. Nevertheless she held her ground and lifted her chin up slightly in a manner of reproof.

“You mock me now?” she quipped in irritation. Ermegil cleared his throat briefly as he still sought to wrestle with his facetiousness.

“Forgive me, my dear,” he replied, “but perhaps your ears have become deaf to your own words by now. Can you not hear what you are saying? You seek a ‘partnership’ with me? You refuse to be ‘possessed’? Those are your words, not mine. Oh come, child! How many winters have you seen come and go in your days thus far? Fifteen? Sixteen perhaps?”

She did not answer him. She felt slighted now and the fear she formerly felt for her future temporarily gave way to a stubborn waywardness that she did not conceal from him. He did not wait for her reply and quickly went on.
“You have achieved much in the last few weeks and ought to rightly be commended for your instincts of survival in such a harsh land. I assure you I continue to marvel at your determination. A lesser girl would have perished by now. But you are still very young, Elendis. You have only just come into your full womanhood. You cannot in reality expect to wed with a prince of Rhudaur and expect to act as my equal partner in my affairs!”

“A b astard prince, I believe,” she retorted degradingly. The comment wiped the mocking grin from his face. But he recovered quickly and offered her a short bow of acquiescence.

“As you say, my lady: a b astard by birth. Yet know this – my illegitimacy shall not last forever. Denethil, my father and unloved king, shall fall ere long. Mark my words, before this time next year a new king shall rule over Rhudaur, and thus my illegitimacy shall crumble away and mean nothing. This also I add: you need not fear any form of bondage from me, your future husband and faithful companion. I proclaim that once you behold with your own eyes my estate in the country, and its many lush gardens of yellow daffadown dillies and trumpet lillies of auburn; its charming view of the surrounding woodlands nigh the swift river Hoarwell whose rushing waters distant would lull even the Eldar to sleep ; where you shall be waited upon by your very own maidservant – Helgha if you will – and shall dine on fresh venison and drink sweet wine of your choosing! Trust me when I say to you that you shall have no wish to flee such an abode! I shall not bind you to me in chains. I will have no cause to do any such thing for you shall come to love me and my generous offer and might even willingly thank me for rescuing you from the clutches of the Hillmen of the Misty Mountains. I dare to hope for as much, anyway.”

Elendis was not a fool and she believed him very little. Such a picture he had just painted to her could hardly be more than a daydream. Even if Denethil was toppled from his throne and a new king took his place – most likely it would be Broggha – Ermegil could hardly be expected to be given such a comfortable and even luxurious setting where he could rest at his leisure. The realm would be torn asunder and even perhaps fall into civil strife. Yet she did not challenge his words now. Wherever the two of them would dwell it would be far better than remaining here in Dol Agwarth surrounded by folk that hated her. Yet despite all of this she still felt compelled to make her acceptance of him come with a proviso.
“We shall see, my lord. Yet I fear the matter is not quite finished yet. I will willingly accept your proposal but I dare to attach three conditions to our agreement of mutual wedlock.”

“A conditional wedlock?” he asked her with a raised eyebrow. “You speak in earnest, do you?” He saw by her look that she did. “The very idea! I am offering you an opportunity to regain your freedom! To refuse my offer would be to assure permanent residency in this miserable castle under conditions of endless imprisonment. Can you not understand this, Elendis? Do you wish to die here in chains?”

“In my turn,” she replied, “I might also declare that a true man of honor would offer his services to a lady in dire need free of any such preconditioned proposals that the lady might find undesirable! In spite of this blatant disregard of my wishes to the contrary I have already agreed to accept what you offer me. I do not think I am asking much by requiring a few trifling favors from you in return!”

The prince stared at her in near amazement for a few quiet moments before inhaling the stale air about him and letting it out in a noisome exhalation meant to display his frustration. He paced the floor over to where his small goblet of water had been placed upon the shelf and swallowed the remaining contents. Then he turned to face her without the trace of a grin upon his clean-shaven face.

“Very well,” he said resignedly. “Let me hear what these ‘preconditions’ of yours may be.”

“My first requirement,” she began but fell momentarily silent as she swallowed hard in an attempt to force the words from her mouth. “My first and foremost concern is that you immediately release Vilthavia from his imprisonment and provide him with an escort back over the mountains where lays his homeland. Having been reared in the wide plains of Rhovanion he is ill-suited to mountainous terrain such as this. He suffers greatly from the altitude sickness and I fear he will not last long as long as he remains incarcerated here.”

“Vilthavia?” asked Ermegil after thinking for a moment. “You mean the young boy with the long raven hair who is related to the ‘Vagabond’?”

“You know full well who he is, lord. Aye, that is him. His name is Vilthavia and he does not belong here anymore than do I. He came here by mistake and desires to return to his own lands in the east. Indeed his intent was to do so ere we were beset with calamities and misfortunes but Urlavia would not spare a single man to escort him back down the mountain path.”

“Yes, yes,” replied the prince, waving his hand with an aerially gesture. The memory of two weeks previous quickly flashed into his mind when he forced Vilthavia to watch the execution of his companions at the hands of the gathered crowd of cheering Hillmen. “Of course I remember him. He and I have met once, just after he was brought in. A brave lad he seemed, despite his constant weeping and carrying about. He begged me then and there to release him and allow him to flee into the woods that lay down in the valleys but, alas, I could not accommodate his plea. Is he a flame of yours, I wonder?”

Elendis knew that, despite his serious tone he was mocking not just Vilthavia but also herself and her concern for him. She felt offended at the prince’s sly jest and suddenly felt compelled to defend Vilthavia and play up his bravery.

“He is my particular friend; and he is brave, though your words imply otherwise. His heart is a stout one! He too has survived many perils thus far. Many men in their full maturity could not have come as far with so little as has Viltahvia. He saved my life in the avalanche by plucking me out of the snow drift I was buried in. I might have suffocated to death were it not for him!”

“Is that so?” asked the prince with feigned interest.

“Aye, it is so. He is a worthy companion and I do not wish to see him fall into darkness here in this wilderness.”

“I hear you; but I asked you if he was currently a love-interest of yours just now. What is your answer to that?”

Elendis paused again. Was she in love with Vilthavia? She knew she sorely missed him and his companionship by now and desired greatly to see him. But was that really love? She had asked herself this question before their freedom had been taken from them by Broggha and his spearmen – especially when they had very nearly frozen to death in the ice cave, but she never answered herself. In truth she did not think so – not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. He had certainly told her that he loved her amidst the trouble and turmoil of the journey, but she also knew that suddenly finding one’s life in danger has a way of befuddling the mind and forcing irrational emotions to burst forth from the floodgates of the heart and propel the individual in question to blurt out spontaneous ejaculations of love that did not really exist. Was this the case with Vilthavia then? She had never quite solved that riddle yet. Now there was no time to do so. In answer to his question Elendis merely shrugged her shoulders, saying that they had become close friends over the last few weeks but that was all.

“Ah, I see,” said the prince. “Well, the boy seems to have strong feelings for you, I should say. He mentioned your name once, before he began his imprisonment but I had no knowledge of your fate at that time and thus had no information to impart to him. Yet I am sure he loves you greatly. How could he not concerning one so lovely and noble?”

“But what say you of this condition, lord?” she asked him in an attempt to veer away from such personal and invasive assessments of her form and feelings. “Will you arrange for the release of Vilthavia from this castle and provide him with an escort to safety?”

“My dear Elendis,” he replied reassuringly, “you may consider it done. I doubt that Broggha has any serious plans for the boy anyway, he being practically useless to him – just another mouth in the dungeon to feed. I shall see to it immediately. What is your next condition for me?”

“That is it?” she asked suspiciously. “You can arrange his release so soon and without complications?” Ermegil nodded his assent to this and indicated with a gesture that she should proclaim her next demand of him but Elendis wanted further reassurance from him and even asked for permission to accompany Vilthavia to the borders of this land to see for herself that he would be delivered into safety and not into some other unknown peril.

“That is quite impossible, Elendis,” he replied. “Unlike your young friend you are a valuable asset to Broggha, as I have already explained. He would never permit you to travel beyond the bounds of this compound even in my own company.”

“Not even if I am your wife?”

“No; not yet, at any rate. In time he will certainly allow it – nay, he will insist upon our departure after he has set his plans in motion against the king. But not until then.”

“But did you not already say that you were leaving this cursed place in a few day’s time with that rogue, Urlavia?”

“Aye, I shall depart for a short time – perhaps a fortnight at most. But I will return after that; indeed, I must! But do not press me on the matter any further. You have my word of honor that your little friend shall be released from his jail and escorted to safety.”

“An escort back up and over the mountains, you mean to say,” returned Elendis, stuffing words into his mouth.

“If the weather conditions allow for it, yes. But Broggha certainly will not risk the lives of his men in the high passes merely to accommodate the wishes of a young female prisoner, whatever her value to him. Yet rest assured he will be freed from his imprisonment and escorted to a place of safety – after our troth is plighted, you and I!”

“May I at the least be allowed to observe his departure? I ask not to set foot beyond the limitations already set for me but only to watch Vilthavia embark upon his freedom.”

Again the prince assured her that he would inquire about it to Broggha as soon as could be arranged. Knowing that it would be futile to push him further on the issue Elendis reluctantly acquiesced. But Ermegil suddenly seemed hard pressed for time and seemed eager to be gone, and he insisted on knowing what else she required of him.

“I desire to see him again so that I may relay this new turn of events to him in person; indeed, as soon as can be arranged. Vilthavia will almost certainly object to all of this, you may be assured. I know him well enough to predict his reaction to these tidings. He will refuse them and attempt to dissuade me from wedding with you because - ”

“ - because he loves you so?” said Ermegil mockingly as he finished her statement. He made a dismissive wave of his hand. “It is all part of growing up and into manhood. The boy must learn to shoulder such disappointments with fortitude and move on. There are many pretty girls in the world. He will learn to love again. You ought to assure him of it for his own good.”

“What I shall say to him will come from my own head and heart, not that of another,” she objected patiently.

“Indeed, my dear, you may tell him whatever you like. I will arrange for you and him to meet again, tis’ no problem. Perhaps this very evening.”

“In private?”

“Of course. What would you expect?” He said this with a slowly dissipating smile that transformed into a blank expression.

Elendis bowed her head slightly in gesture of silent gratitude. She eagerly looked forward to seeing Vilthavia again even if only to say goodbye to. Their reunion would be a joyful one, like the coming of a summer dawn after a night of storm. Yet it would not take long for the clouds of gloom to gather again once Vilthavia was informed of what was to come afterwards. She was sure there would be plenty of tears on both sides. It would be a bitter parting of the ways, as it would be unlikely that the two of them would ever meet again. She would soon return to the west and he the far east. The largest mountain chain in all of Middle-earth would divide them. She would have to remind, not only him but herself as well, that theirs had been two separate destinies that had been fortunate enough to have merged into one - if even for a short time. To be sure she knew that she would never forget him.

“And what of your final demand of me ere I leave you for a while?” asked the prince flatly as he began to move towards the exit. Elendis sought to stare down the prince with his solid cold gaze but found that she had to look away to the floor before unveiling her final thoughts on the matter to him. Her words stumbled over her tongue at the start before she found her traction.

“I wish that…I mean, I would hope that my lord will take into consideration my tender age after we are wed and consent to my wish that any prospects for children between us…that is to say, I would hope that we may agree to a forbearance of no less than two years before making the leap into parenthood together. I think it most improper and indeed unfair to bring a new baby into this world considering we all currently stand upon the brink of madness and impending war. We must be assured of a brighter future ere we risk the life of an innocent child…Do you not agree with this? My lord?”

Ermegil said nothing to this at first but merely stared dumbly at her from across the room. At length he grinned at her and even produced a laugh.

“Speak you of children so soon, my dear? Children, you say! Yet I am glad indeed to see that you are preparing for our future together already, that I must say! though I must confess that I dislike them considerably. Seldom have I encountered a child that was not noisome and unruly. But even so, they must be tolerated in their youth in order to secure a man’s legacy I suppose. But in this I can promise you nothing, Elendis, for although I have no desire at this point in my complicated life to bother with the thought of a child under my feet I would also make known to you of my insistence of a traditional marriage between you and I. I think you take my meaning in this, do you not?”

Elendis answered nothing to this. After a momentary silence between them she looked him square in the eye declaring that she could not agree to any possibility of wedlock between them unless all three of her demands were met. It was certainly a risky gamble for her to take and she knew it well. But something inside of her – perhaps her innate stubbornness inherited from her father – compelled her to push this man as far as she might in order to subconsciously stake her limitations to him so that he might begin to take her seriously at once. Right from the start she would show him that she could not so easily be manipulated like the meek and compliant Helgha could be.

“You disappoint me in this, Elendis,” he replied as he made a ‘tisk’, ‘tisk’ sound with his tongue to underscore his point. “I had hoped to see a more kindly gratitude from you to my offer. I propose to rescue you a second time, for have I not already done so once already upon the rooftops? – and all you can do is turn mule on me by hurling insults at me, maligning my character and finally issuing ultimatums and conditions upon me! I might say ‘fie upon you’, Elendis, daughter of Mardon, tis’ shameful conduct – but I will not do that. Nor will I return the insult by proclaiming, for instance, that Viltahvia’s future might as easily take a turn for the worse as opposed to the better should things turn sour between us. No, I will not say that either. It is uncivil discourse between a man and his betrothed. Nay, we are both Dunadan and will act according to our stations. Do you not agree?”

Any upper hand Elendis might have gained before in the matter now slowly faded away. She now knew that there was no longer any choice in the whole ordeal. She simply must wed with the prince in order to save, not only herself but the life of Vilthavia’s as well. Perhaps it might have been better not to mention Vilthavia at all. But she could not turn back now and doom them both to an evil darkness.

“You speak truly, my lord,” she rejoined with as much contriteness in her voice that she could muster for him. She forced a smile. “What shall be to come is beyond our control. I leave it to fate.”

“Then we are in agreement?”

“Yes – my first two favors being agreed to as discussed. I shall consent to be your wife, my lord.”

“Say rather,” he persisted, knowing he had conquered, “my ‘adoring and submissive wife’.”

She smiled with closed lips at this.

“As you wish it, my lord,” she answered him. He let that suffice for now.

“Very well then. My heart is not as warm as I had hoped before approaching you but the outcome pleases me at any rate. But now, pray you hang that golden necklace and locket round your neck in order to show me how much you appreciate my betrothal gift to you.”

This, at least, was something that she did not mind doing, for she was thrilled beyond words to reclaim it from oblivion. Elendis turned back to the bed where she had laid it aside and slowly placed it upon her neck. The silver star-crested medallion of old Arnor twinkled in the candle lit chamber.

“You are a lovely woman wearing so sparkling a treasure, my dear one,” he complimented her with seemingly genuine kindness. “I shall return hither ere the setting of the sun. You and I shall sup together, then – if you will, you shall be reunited with your young friend in order to let him down in your own gentle way. What say you to that?”

“It suits me well, lord.” She offered him a slight curtsy and bow even though it rankled with her. He left the chamber quickly after advising her to make good of her warm and cozy bed while she still had one to repose in. But Elendis felt the need to cast a glance out into the corridor ere she slept again but found that the door was locked from outside. Returning to her bed she fell quickly into a restless slumber that was troubled with dreams of an uncertain future. ~
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sun Feb 03, 2013 11:25 am

Hunthor listened mournfully to the footsteps of Urlavia trail steadily away as the latter made his exit from the dungeon. The former had not moved from his awkward position upon the cold floor of the dungeon where he sat upon his bare knees in his state of forced nakedness. His jailors remained nearby to intimidate their captive; to coerce his testimony from the pair of parched lips that as yet had not fully exposed the hidden intelligence that their owner wished to conceal from the world. Little value had been placed thus far upon the facts that the prisoner had revealed after his initial interrogation. He had survived the strangulation chair and in the process had revealed to his tormentors only that an invasion of lower Rhudaur was imminent and that the threat would come from the south - not the north. Speaking was painfully difficult for him after the ordeal he had undergone and at first, though he had heard the menacing voice of Broggha again pummel him with more questions, he could not answer. His throat grated his nerves with pain from the harshness of the cords, both from inside and out. As soon as his bonds had been removed he had risen sharply from his chair only to immediately fall to his knees, where he presently sat, coughing profusely.

Time eked slowly by. Perhaps it had even ceased all together now. For Hunthor it did not matter, for life as he had known it had come to an end. He was a prisoner now. If he were but an ordinary man such as the humble and indistinguishable Eriadoran Northman, or any number of mixed blooded folk whose numbers make up a sizable part of the population of Rhudaur, he could hope to be released or exchanged in time. But alas, he was of the Dunedain, and therefore reckoned too valuable to be released.

Hunthor busied himself with nursing the rope burns round his neck where the cords had been slowly tightened from behind to such a degree that he had nearly lost consciousness. It had been Urlavia who had turned the crank shaft that had nearly choked the life from him - albeit by force. But that mattered little now. Suddenly Hunthor heard the voice of Broggha beside him launch into a condemnation of the race of the Dunedain, but he paid little heed to it. Instead he focused his mind on his predicament; particularly on what Hendunar the evil half-cast had said earlier - they had his son Vilthavia in their custody and would not hesitate to bring the boy down into the dungeon so that he might witness his own father's torture. If the disloyal act of swearing fealty to Broggha and even becoming his own tormentor had not been enough to condemn Urlavia in the eyes of Hunthor his responsibility for delivering Vilthavia to the hands of such an enemy was more than enough. For this alone Hunthor swore to himself that he would see that Urlavia would somehow be severely punished if he himself could somehow contrive to escape the clutches of the Hillmen. If for some reason his son lost his life here in this remote castle he would make it his life's errand to track down his former brother-in-law and slay him with his own hands.

"What a lot you are, you Dunedain," said Broggha scornfully, looking down at the naked prisoner before him. "One must at least give you credit for survival. Many men in your plight would have succumbed to such an ordeal by now; but not you, eh? Like a bad habit or the lice that infest the hair of a thrall - you just will not go away! - and at that I marvel."

Hunthor leaned his head forward, allowing his long locks to tumble down and cover his face. An enormous wave of shame washed over him then. He felt a failure. The futility of his existence was as bare before his own inner eye as his bodily nakedness was to his captors. Nothing he had done since coming back into Eriador had succeeded. Indeed, his entire life seemed to be a fraught with countless miscalculations and wrong turns. Sensing the encroaching storm from the north that would surely one day overwhelm and destroy the three kingdoms of old Arnor he had purposed to inflict whatever hurts he could contrive to the enemy by offering his services to both Arthedain and Cardolan. His actions appeared to achieve some degree of success initially, for he had managed to secure promises of aid from two of the seven princes of Cardolan as well as cementing a pact of friendship between that realm and the tribesmen of the lower mountain valleys against the transgressions of Broggha and his powerful allies in Angmar. But he had little else to show for his time and toil thus far. Ultimately he had been caught up in an unexpected military clash between the tribesmen known as the Gaunts and the spearmen of Broggha, who possessed more than three times their number of fighting men. The result of the battle had been obvious - total defeat.

"It is just that you suffer now, Dunadan," continued Broggha, "so ruthless and even heinous have the policies of your kin been toward my own folk over the ages. As lambs to the slaughter have we been to the west thus far, but the tide is turning now. Whether you see it with your one remaining eye that is left to you or not - the plain folk of the highlands, we 'Hillmen' as you call us, have restored hope into the hearts of all those who have suffered for so long under the reign of terror that has been imposed upon them by the tyranny of the Dunedain kings. I speak primarily of Rhudaur now, of course, but ere many years come and go the same shall apply to the rest of old Arnor. Arthedain? Cardolan? Forces to be reckoned with in the past, admittedly so, but in the coming years? They too will fall. One by one they will be eliminated, just as we shall with Denethil's Rhudaur. If you cooperate with us now perhaps you shall live on to witness it for yourself and then you will believe. You shall say to yourself, 'Broggha spoke truly to me that miserable day I suffered so in his dungeons. I was a fool to resist him thus!' Therefore I tell you again that it is only just that you be made to suffer now as you do. I can see that you are steeped in shame presently, and that too, say I, is justice."

Hunthor was silent. He found no words to speak with. It almost seemed as if the brute standing before him now penetrated the guard over his heart and gleamed his innermost thought. Was it a mere trick of the mind or was that indeed his own genuine feeling regarding his fellow Dunedain? Was he beginning to see the real truth at last, like a blind man who has suddenly had his sight restored to him after so long? Perhaps he ought to be ashamed of his own people - of himself! Maybe Urlavia had been able to ascertain what he himself had not; that the west had committed unspeakable crimes throughout their history and were at last being held accountable by the powers of fate.

"You may think that I despise you, Dunadan," said Broggha in an almost conciliatory tone now, "yet I do not. Perhaps I ought to. Thou art a dog to me, truly, but even the most rabid of canines has its uses. Nay, by now I simply pity you. I know that you are not, of course, personally responsible for the crimes of your ancestors; but that alone will not prevent me from killing you here and now - if it suits my purpose. Yet I still hold out hope that you will somehow find your wisdom and decide to work with me in full cooperation. You may even be rehabilitated...If not you shall compel me to produce your son hither forthwith. You long for your son, I know it well. But is that the sort of reunion that you would embrace now - for the boy to see you as such?"

The mention of Vilthavia seemed to shake Hunthor from his painful lethargy, and he grunted like an animal before shaking his head in a gesture that clearly meant he did not desire such a thing.

"Are you indeed become a dog now, Dunadan?" mocked Broggha but without a trace of jocularity in his tone. "Do not show your teeth at me! Speak with words a man might use! Have you no sense of dignity left to you?"

"Speak not to me about dignity, Broggha," choked Hunthor from his low station upon the floor. His voice rasped painfuly as he spoke aloud and he grimmaced before going on. "What do you know of such a quality? Dignity is a cloak worn only by men tailored to it by nature. I look around here in this dark place and see only thieves and murderers. You hold yourself up now as a man destined for greatness because of the victories you have achieved over the tribes of your fellow Hillmen but it is only an illusion; the Gaunts were a people who had served you no ill-will ere you trampled over them by force and with little warning. These were a folk who might have bowed the knee to you in the end had you granted them but a little of the autonomy they begged from you in return for their sworn fealty. Yet your lust for unbridled power knows no bounds! You are like the ravenous beast whose appetite cannot be assuaged."

Broggha seemed ready to explode in anger at these words but checked himself. Instead he let out a loud sort of guffaw as one who has suddenly figured out a difficult riddle. Almost immediately Hunthor regretted what he had said. He privately chastised himself for allowing his anger to spill forth unchecked. He must do better in the future, he knew, if he wanted to prevent further tragedy.

"Ah! The Dunadan has found his voice at last! You have been toying with me, seemingly! I knew you must only be play-acting. Your employers in the west were wise when they took you on as their private little spy. Yet what has become of your wit now, eh? You are the one here sitting naked upon the floor of a dungeon in the middle of the mountains begging for mercy - not I! Yet you at least have achieved to waste more of my valuable time by bantering with me. Shame on me for engaging you! Thus I shall not tolerate any further empty rhetoric with such a snake! Tell me now, Dunadan, why you were hired to take up arms with the Gaunts against other tribes of Hillmen?"

"The Gaunt tribe came to us first. We did not seek them out."

"'We'? 'Us'? Who do you refer to by such terms? It is plain that you are part of a larger organization."

"I frequently offer my services to both of Rhudaur's neighbors...They dislike the reign of Denethil in Rhudaur as much as you. I know much of the lands of Eriador through long experience. It is only natural that my experience would be treasured by them."

"I do not care a pitance for your past experience! I want to know the identity of your patron at once!"

Another short span of empty silence followed. To the surprise of Hunthor his interrogator made a motion to his servant to give the prisoner a few small swallows of water from a little tin cup. He drank it entirely, savoring the cool liquid inside his parched throat.

"There, you see?" remarked Broggha. "I am not devoid of all sympathy towards you. Your throat is now moist and your tongue soothed. Therefore speak!"

At last Hunthor supplied the names of two men from the south realm of Cardolan. Their names were Calimendil and Iliandor. Broggha merely stared and said nothing at first, preferring to draw out the tension of the moment.
"I knot not the names. Who are they and what is their significance in all of this?"

"The former is a son of the king of that realm. The latter is one of the king's councilors."

"Who is the king of Cardolan?"

"Tarandil."

"And who is his queen?"

Hunthor turned his head slightly justy enough so that he could catch a shadowy glimpse of his interrogator. His empty eye socket blazed with a flash of pain as he tried to focus. Broggha stood close by rooted in place, his dark eyes cast downwards at the prisoner before him. It seemed to Hunthor then that he was nw being tested; a series of short and hurried questions was hurled at him in rapid succession, dobtless in an attempt to throw him off his guard.

"He has no queen. She died years ago," replied Hunthor.

"How many offspring has Tarandil sired?"

"Two."

"Aye! And what are their names, curse you!"

"Vorondil and...and Calimendil."

"Where lay the court of Tarandil?"

"His primary abode lieth in Tyrn Gorthad, though last I was in the realm his court resided at Dol Calantir, in the south nigh Tharbad."

"Why now in the south? For what reason has he left the northlands?"

Hunthor shrugged, adding, "I assure you I do not know."

Several more questions of the like followed; 'Where were the two brothers dwelling at present? How well was he, Hunthor, acquainted with either one of them? How long had he stayed on at the king's court? The replies were, 'Vorondil has his abode in the south nigh the Gwathló'. 'I have met Vorondil only once in passing. Of Calimendil I know nothing.' 'I did not stay at the king's court. I lodged at Tharbad.'

Broggha studied the profile of his prisoner in silence for a moment. Hunthor would not meet his eye but instead prefered to cast what vision was left to him upon the floor where he still sat shivering with cold. His interrogator waved away a servant who offered to readjust his lord's arm that still hung in a sling before posing another question
.
"How is it that you claim no acqaintance with the said Calimendil if, as you say, he is one of your benefactors?"

"I have never met the man, as I have told you...I entered his employ through his associate, Iliandor, who first approached me."

"'Assocoiate', say you? What do you mean by that? Is this man royalty as well?"

Hunthor replied that the man was not, to which Broggha followed it up by wanting to know just what sort of function he served by joining himself to the young prince
.
"Iliandor, as I understand it," answered Hunthor after another raspy cough, "has been close with Calimendil since childhood, though he is several years older than the latter. He serves the prince as a sort of advisor and confidante.

"For what reason would the second son of the king have need for any such 'advisor'? He is unlikely to assend to to the crown unless, of course, some sort of mischief is in the works? Perhaps the two men secretly plot to do away with the elder brother after the death of the king?"

"I would highly doubt that."

"Truly? Why would you so - if, as you say, you do not know the man?"

Hunthor checked his tongue, for here he must tread with caution and not give this brute reason to suspect him of a falsehood.

"Tarandil has many spies, as you know. He would not be above planting his agents inside the residences of his two sons, I would think."

"Nay indeed," said Broggha curtly, "not unless Tarandil has become a dotard in his old age. All fathers in positions of authority ought to keep a close eye on their sons; it would be absurd not to do so."

"I know nothing of that," said Hunthor dismissively. More silence followed as Broggha eyed him carefully in the gloom of the chamber.

"You did not answer my question in regards to this - 'Iliandor' character. How does he serve the prince? Of what use is he and why did he employ you?"

"Iliandor councils the prince in regards to his own allotted province of the Metraith."

"The son of the king," interjected Broggha, "needs someone else to advise him on how to govern a little province in the farmlands of Cardolan? In what manner? The lad must be a fool. It is well for his father that the elder Vorondil stands to inherit the crown and not the younger boy. I hate the sound of him already."

Hunthor said nothing to this slander. Broggha ordered him to go on with his explanation.

"I swear to you that I have no clear idea how he serves the prince!" exclaimed Hunthor with a desperate choke. "I am not privy to such information. All I know is that he took me on as a sort of - scout."

"You insult me, curse your skin! A spy, you mean!" retorted Broggha hastily. "Call it for what it truly is! You were employed as a lowly spy sent here to spy upon me!"

"As you will it! A spy. Yet not to spy on you, but rather upon Tharbad. It is Tharbad whom Iliandor desired me to infiltrate!"

"Rubbish! Anyone may enter Tharbad at will. Even I have done so before."

"Not so these dark days. Tarandil has less control over the city than aforetimes. The men of the guilds have gained much power and they heavily influence the decisions of the magistrates. The sentries keep close watch on those who enter the city from abroad."

"For what reason were you sent there?" asked Broggha after pausing for thought.

"Primarily to investigate the guilds and where their allegiances lay. The task of keeping a watch upon Tharbad was given by the king to Calimendil. Therefore the prince needed an outsider to spend enough time in the city to conduct such a mission. Iliandor hired me for the task."

"And what did you discover while you were there?"

Hunthor felt a wave of uncontrolable shivering come over him. His state of forced nakedness was having its intended effect. He felt cold; a coldness that was beginning to intensify into numbness. His mind was racing and his thoughts disjointed and confused. He struggled desperately to cling to a state of vigilance in his testimony. For the most part he had been truthful thus far, though despite such a harrowing trial and the impending dire consequences that might very well await him in the end there was still a part of him that refused to surrender completely to such a villain as Broggha.

"I found...I found that the city of Tharbad has become divided." Hunthor heard his teeth chatter as he spoke. "There is great resentment against the king and...and his policies. Yet there are also those that fear the swelling power that the merchant guilds wield over the city."

Broggha frowned as he stroked his thick moustache in thought. He turned away from the prisoner at his feet and looked across at shadowy form of Hendunar, who had said nothing for some time now as he listened to the interrogation while submerged in the darkness of a remote corner. As the pair caught each others glance from afar Broggha nodded slightly as if to send some sort of private signal or affirmation to the half-caste. The latter said nothing but merely fell back into the invisible darkness.

Broggha turned back again to face him. Before he could speak Hunthor again begged to at least be given a blanket to cover up with, for he was 'cooperating with him fully'. Broggha gave him a deffinative 'No!" in reply and immediately demanded to know the names of two of the grand masters of any two guilds within the city walls of Tharbad. It was a question poised with the intent of tripping him up.

"I met only a few members while there," explained Hunthor with a stammer. He closed his one good eye as he leaned forward in misery, his hair falling down his face once more. "There was one - Brogard of Longhall, if I recall. He was a leader among the timber importers. There is also the Guild of the Greyflood, who is led by a certain Ulric Losgard of Minhiriath."

"Did you speak with these men?"

"I did not...I merely observed them and their business while I posed as a prospective client from Arthedain who was desireth of securing a private contract with the Greyflood guild."

"Then with whom did you speak?" asked Broggha impatiently.

"One of Losgard's apprentices...His name was Kendrik."

"Then you uncovered no secret plots or hidden agendas during your supposed tenure in Tharbad? No hostile intent by these guilds against the king?"

A pause here. Hunthor nodded slowly before replying that the Greyflood Guild had been in secret contact with the folk in Dunland to the south. They sought to increase their influence inside Tharbad so as to create a sort of autonomy for the city against the authority of the king, who bore little love for the place.

"You have not mentioned your connection with the Gaunt Hillmen," said Broggha. "What have they to do with any of this business?"

"As I said," answered Hunthor, "I was approached by one of them while in the city. They had heard of your wars against many of the other tribes of the highlands and feared they too would face your wrath. They merely wanted protection from you - that is all there is to tell about that."

Broggha breathed heavily and exhaled. He was becoming tired and frustrated by the interrogation and wanted to produce an emotional reaction from his prisoner in order to detect his degree of truthfulness.
"You have not been as forthright with me as you ought, Dunadan. Indeed, you have lied to me."

"I swear I have not!" exclaimed Hunthor, suddenly coming to life again. Broggha ignored him. Yet before either one of them could utter another word the sound of someone weeping softly was heard coming from the entranceway. It ceased then started again. Hunthor was roused anew and felt the hairs on his neck rise in anticipation.

"You have a visitor it seems," remarked Broggha with a mischievous grin.

Hunthor steadied his gaze to the far doorway and beheld a young boy with ragged clothing and long dark hair standing suddenly alone inside the chamber. He had not heard the boy approaching nor had he seen him enter. Then all at once he recognized him. The boy stopped crying and looked at him with a glance of deep sorrow before saying, "Father! Father what has happened?"

"Vilthavia!" he cried aloud both in horror and in reserved joy at the sight. "Vilthavia, my son! Do not come in here! Avert your eyes, boy! Look away!" Then turning back to Broggha who still stood nearby he said angrily, "You miserable villain!"
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Jun 05, 2013 3:34 pm

The present scene: inside Hunthor's lonely prison cell
When: approximately three days following his last interrogation in the dungeons of Dol Agwarth
Relevance: to reveal the inner-thoughts of a ruined man

"What was it that he said to me ere we were parted by that villain? My only son! What did he say? 'You have failed me, oh Father! You abandoned me to my fate! Why was it so? You must not resist these men, these men! They will ruin us, Father! Give them what they want, keep nothing from them! You make matters worse for all involved!'...I did not abandon him, nay. I did what I had to do his desperate pleading. I could not tell him then too young, much too young...the mountains were too great and terrible! Keep him well, woman! Keep him safe til I return one day to reclaim my own...Dearest Vilthavia, I cannot believe it! How come you so? And why? It is the fault of Urlavia, your uncle. He will live to rue the day him and his insatiable greed curse him! The true blame lieth at his door alone. He nearly killed me as well! Our kinship is no more to the end! The traitor goes with the enemy hence!...I am mutilated and mauled he liveth as a free man as ever! My fate is pitiable or is it not hopeless? Ought I to lay down and relinquish my life to Mandos and his eternal halls many of my forefathers did just that when their time came at last? I do not wish to do so. I desire life still. I want to live on if only for the sake of vengeance. We will meet again, Urlavia! We shall meet ere the end. I do not intend to look upon the halls of Mandos ere you must do so. Blood shall spill.

"Yet what of Vilthavia, for that matter? What sense of disillusionment gripped me then? He seemed so strange to behold, my son. What of it all? I cannot place it the confusing scene. How many years hath passed? When did I see him last? Five? Six years, perhaps? No more. I seem to remember his mother kissing his cheek; how she looked with those eyes of hers. Why did he leave her thus? Foolish boy! Could she not see him follow him? How did so young a boy fool so wise a woman? But that is vain now...he looked so different from what I recall now. Thinner, as a matter of course. His face. His face seemed long and gaunt somehow. But again...It was his voice that struck me. It did not seem as it ought to. Sounded thin distant like another's voice. A quality that bespoke of concealed anger. How strange. But again...

"What more can I reveal to them? I hath failed in my errands, 'tis plain. All efforts are in vain. Wasteful and what about this Broggha? He is mighty little more than a fool, in truth. Without Angmar he doth not exist. But he doth exist. Arthedain. Arthedain must acknowledge him soon else ruin will prevail. Tarandil cannot vie with Angmar unaided. If I could but send word in secret to Iliandor he could warn the prince and what then? What indeed! Vorondil will not shy away from a conflict of arms. Nay, vain to hope there. I am here. I am here I linger in this miserable darkness without hope of rescue. I am trapped. My mutilation thwarts further resistance to these evil folk. They are not all evil. I ought to consider that carefully. Deception is everywhere here. It is the women folk I ought to take thought of. Not the men I shall not trust any man who serves here under the authority of Broggha.

So many questions need answers and I am powerless. I wonder much and begin to suspect that I have been had by him - he and his...his servant. Iliandor. Perhaps Calimendil deceived me knowing that I would become ensnared in it all. I am a test case...How well did I know them? Not very much, 'tis true. The Gaunts were said to be stronger than that. They assured me they would be. I should have been slain I very nearly 'copped it', as they say. I cheated death. How many more chances will I get to stave it off? It would have been much easier, really. Not partial to serving as food for carion birds! That would surely be the way of it had I not survived that battle. My body consumed by ravenous creatures of the wild. So many others did just that, alas!...Would that Malvegil might have given me but a few spare moments of his time to make him see the impending peril of it! Can they hold out? Cardolan is our last chance even though they are not like Arthedain I must place my trust in the man. The other prince the brother is brash. Yet he too hates Denethil and would like to topple him from his throne. He and Broggha possess parallel ambitions, there is no doubt in my mind about it.

"I cannot lay here the bunk is uncomfortable for me. I must rise yet what of it? Where will I go here in this cell? Better to lay still and dream. And think. I might even sleep a while and forget for a span this my miserable plight...Nay, I cannot. I hath tried to sleep but my dreams begin to haunt me. I am chilled despite they granted me loose clothing at last. The bunk is old and smells like rotten weeds. Eh? What is that sound? Alas for my eyes! I cannot see a thing in here there is no light to see by. I languish in darkness in mind and body...Are there rats in here with me like a trapped rat! Ha! I would not doubt it. Yet I care not at all. What difference does it make? Such pests are my only worthy companions now, failure that I am! If it be rats, rather. Another petty torture tactic courtesy of Broggha? Perhaps they will gnaw out my other eye while I nod and leave me bereft of all sight, the creatures! Or perhaps I truly am going mad my own son sayeth so! Oh Vilthavia!

"But again...Vilthavia, why am I so troubled in mind with you? Your countenance, though distressed, seemed awry. Somehow you must escape from here this horrible place. The thought of you here laying in chains! He ought to be back in Rhovanion hunting the stag, chasing maidens, growing into manhood untroubled by this. It does not concern you!...Yet you kept your distance from me as you spoke in that dungeon. At spear point you rambled on as in a speech rehearsed. That spear bothered me more than thou. Aye, I suspected the presence of an imposter before me but how? How could it be so? No imposter could seem so authentic in such a guise yet do not forget the deceptions of the enemy! That evil-seeming half-caste Hendunar! If he is not sent from Angmar I am no Dunadan but a mere fool... What are they up to? Surely Broggha is their recruit or puppet or instrument of malice. Rhudaur will fall. I know it. I forebode dark days for all ahead. It is all too much for me better to crawl away and hide in darkness there is no hope.

"The pain in my eye so ruined hath lessened now yet not completely. The red-hot iron poker in his hand that so terrified me that contemptible evil man! Aye, I feared the pain of it very much as I am no deity immune to fear. I am only a mortal man. Did I cry out in the pain of it I believe so. I believe I did but who would not? But again Hunthor, I am a mere mortal...Will I ever forget that cursed dungeon? I shall see it in dreams I doubt not. I told them what they wanted to no avail. It was torture for torture's sake alone. These folk are vile, vile and beyond...beyond all comprehension! I fear to gaze at my own reflection as it shall put my mind in turmoil. I must look wretched so thin and frail. I could not wield a blade now if I had to. I weaken every day here...They perhaps intend to starve me to death. The thought of food begins to torment me. When was my last morsel I ate? How?....Ah, but wait! I remember now! It was his eyes! Vilthavia, my son. Despite the gloomy dark I could see him looking at me yet not really. Nay, not really! He seemed to look through me like a window not at me. What were the color of his eyes so large? Were they brown? Were they brown yet it cannot be! Vilthavia I recall hath grey eyes. Or were they blue? Certainly not brown. How pitiful a father I have been not to remember it! Why did he a boy of thirteen not fear the spear point at his breast? Again I return to I suspect a fraud. A counterfeit imposter in the guise of my son? Could it be so? If so I hath much cause to worry. An illusion of sorts? Why for what reason? If it be thus it is a powerful sorcery indeed! Such a thing has not seen in this world in many an age! Not since the days of Sauron I shudder to think of it. But Sauron is no more a part of this world. Could Hendunar conjure up so perfect a deception upon me? Vilthavia, my son, I spoke to thee!...I would weep but for the lack of it! Oh Nienna! Lend me your tears!...

"Wake up! I feel the need of sleep I do not desire it, though. I should not lay down for sleeping again. I am so very weary. Think! What doth it all foretell? What manner of evil hath fallen upon the...upon Angmar? Alas for my folly! Would that I might have discovered it in time! It shall be for others to discover the truth of it. I am nearly spent here. My body will not hold up. Even should I escape I will perish in the wild so easily. Their plan no doubt. If I flee I die. I must not give in to the longing for the release of death. Why not simply produce the boy to increase my woe? Why not bring him before me? Why bother to deceive me thus? Is he gone? Do they have him? Vilthavia, my son! Where art thou? But nay, Urlavia already revealed his presence here in the very castle! Go not into the fire my son they are at a loss perhaps? Broggha the...spear...a release from pain a while...to meet you again I swear it...the answers unknown...I love thee too........"

~~

"Where am I? Ach! I can see nothing but blackness! Get out get up!"


Sleep had snatched him away then, though he barely realizes this as he opens his eye with a confused start. Hunthor is seized by a panic for loss of sight in his dark cell and instinctively leaps from his dirty bunk that he cannot see and begins to walk in erratic circles, though this too he scarcely realizes in his mania. Without control or self-restraint he begins to scream, both in anger and fear. He utters no recognizable words, nothing that is cognizable. He only thinks to scream and holler aloud at first as he at last finds a wall to lean upon. He feels he is surely falling into madness. Then, after a pause in the utter dark of his cell, he desperately begins to find his voice.

"Let me out! Let me out! I am Hunthor, son of Harondir! I am Hunthor, Dunadan of the West! Let the guards come forth, curse it! I am Hunthor, son of Harondir! I demand light! Do you hear! Bring me light! I am not an beast of the night, curse all of you!"

He has become winded immediately following his rant and leans heavily against the wall breathing heavily in the dark. There is no answer to his cries save a faint echo of his own hoarse voice. It occurs to him then that he is wasting his breath by carrying on with his outbursts. He is quite alone. After he has at last collected his wits and calmed himself somewhat Hunthor decides it best to relocate his bunk in the dark so he can relieve his bare feet, for they did not bother to supply him with shoes of any kind, of their contact with the cold stone floor. Having completed this task after considerable effort he sits himself down on the bunk and props his head back against the wall. Diverse thoughts of an erratic nature begin to gnaw at him in the darkness.

"I can see nothing. Nothing at all. To be blind deprived of all sight were I to lose my remaining eye! Would it be so bad? To never see the sight of dead men their blood staining the green battlefield. Never having to see men dismembered. No more to...to what? I know not....they will not leave me here indefinitely, surely. Broggha will make use of me to some further evil I know not...He hath defeated me broken me down in the end. Am I ashamed? Why need I be so? I am but one mortal man against many. But do not obsess on it, Hunthor.

"What manner of venison did they give it tasted like a smoked ash pit yet how I would welcome it! I thirst the dewy white wine of Rhovanion! Nay, they will not starve me out of life. To what purpose?...The thought of that vagabond roaming free I will take an eye for an eye! I remember the day we first met he and his slovenly attire. I never liked him and for good reason! He virtually ignored Vilthavia so much the better, I say. I was remiss that man and should have kept my eye trained on him for suspicions harbored in my heart. It is too late now. He triumphed I failed...

"How long here this solitary confinement of mine? Three days? Perhaps four? Would that I had remained there Cardolan, land of red hills. How it remindeth me of the east! Rhovanion the Grand!...I desire to look upon the sea blue rolling waters of Ulmo. To hear the gulls cry their song in mine ears!...I would that I had been a mariner! Would that I had lived in the past those noble ancestors of mine! Should I perish here in these terrible mountains which of them will I meet in His halls? I should like to serve Aldarion in his mighty vessel far from home what home? Ha! I am doomed to wander wander on on a quest that ultimately is doomed. How I do dwell on that word doomed. Yet I must first secure my son's safety ere I die...

"How long have they kept him here these lonely cold walls here? This is no place for a boy...I cannot believe that Dunedain once dwelt here. Did Elendil his engineers build it? What sort of Dunadan to place a torture dungeon here? Those days were joyful not evil. What do I know of it really? Vilthavia where have they bestowed thee my son? If they have mistreated you in any way...No. Nay they have no cause for it. Now that I have looked upon thee again how well I recall the days we together went out on the plains! Father and son. The hunt was not for thee I know it. The manner your mother looked upon me those angry eyes of hers I might have guessed. But again...I feel myself nodding...Yet I cannot tell if my eyes nay my eye is closed...


Hunthor is about to lay down again, surrendering himself to the waves of sleep that beckon him, when he suddenly feels his conscience prod him inwardly. It is unwise to sleep now he decides to himself as he wearily sits up again on his bunk. He is not sure, indeed far from it, but he seems to think that he has heard something from outside his cell, perhaps further down the hallway. Despite his fatigue he forced himself to rally his strength and remain awake so that he may concentrate. He cannot place the noise he heard in his state of dozing but he tells himself that it sounded like stone grating on stone, though perhaps not very near. Or was that the introduction to another nonsensical dream he had been slipping into? Dreams and reality often blur into one another here in this miserable remote castle.

The noise! There it is again!

Now fully roused from his former drowsy condition Hunthor is certain of it. There is no mistake. Someone is present in the hallway outside his little black prison cell. It cannot be the sound of one of the guards. Whomever it may be they seem to be striving at great lengths to remain quiet as they draw nearer. Should he feel hope at the thought that his solitary incarceration might end soon or ought he to dread it? The alternative might very well be worse. But no, it could not be much worse, Hunthor decides to himself. To remain in here for another week, perhaps, deprived of all sight? What could be worse than that?

Then he detects a light!

Light at last! He sees a faint glimmer of some anonymous yellowish light seeping through the crack, a very thin crack by and by, at the base of his prison door. He had almost forgotten where his door was located in the darkness. Without further hesitation he gets off his bunk and shuffles quietly across the floor in his bare feet and halts when he puts his body against the old stone door. There is a small rectangular aperture in the door so that the wardens of the old jails long ago could slide open the slit in order to see the prisoner located inside. Hunthor can feel, rather than see, the little stone frontice piece in the spy slit with his finger and manages to pry it open about an inch with his finger in order to see through. His attempt to do so causes him to scrape one of his fingernails on the surface of the little stone barrier which, naturally, produces a brief scratchy noise easily audible from down the hallway by whomever is approaching.

Hunthor can at last glimpse his first sight of life outside his cell since his incarceration. Being immersed in constant darkness for so long even the little candle-like torch held by the anonymous stranger in the hallway makes him squint his one eye at the glimmer of it. Then at last Hunthor is able to view the newcomer. The latter is a dark-haired man with ragged facial growth nearly as uncomely as his own, indicating that he too has been away from civilization for some time. The yellow glimmer of the candle he is holding shows the man's face to be fair of form, much like his own, he thinks inwardly, though without the marked lines of extreme stress and anxiety. His accoutrements consist of little more than a pull-over tunic atop a ruddy colored shirt and a pair of dark and baggy pants that look as if they have patches of smeared blood over the left leg. Yet, unlike himself, this man posseses footwear in the form of laceless slippers. The man seems mired in a moment of uncertainty as he turns to face Hunthor's prison door before deciding to cautiously approach. Unable to contain himself in this moment of tension Hunthor attempts to speak to the man in a soft but hoarse voice through the little opening.

"Pray you, sir, come hither to my door. I beg you to speak with me!"

The man halts immediately before the door and holds the candle up close to the orifice to see the identity of the prisoner within the cell. What he sees within the dark chamber seems to create little impact on him; there is no sign of surprise on the man's face, no outward indication that he is taken aback by the wretched physical condition of the prisoner on the other side of the door. There is a period of awkward silence between the two men as each examines the other; Hunthor with a look of a pleading animal that has been physically beaten and anticipates the blow from the hunter, the new-comer with a stolid and somewhat impassive expression, almost one of apathy even. Though he can see little more than the eyes and bridge of the nose through the slot Hunthor knows instinctively that the face gazing back at him is that of a fellow Dunadan. He cannot explain it even to himself how he knows this to be certain. He simply does and he is astounded by it. He decides to make an attempt to speak to him in Adûnaic, the old tongue of the Dunedain that those folk use amongst themselves.

"As you can see I am in need - dire need!"

"What do you need?" asks the man calmly, but in the common tongue of the west, not in the Adûnaic. His voice is low and gruff as one who struggles with an illness.

Hunthor begins to open his mouth then closes it as he pauses in expectation. He decides to step a few paces backward so that the man may see him the easier in his full form.

"Need thou even ask such a question? Look at me!"

The man says nothing at first then seems to sigh as if he is disappointed with something.

"Aye, you are bereft of one eye and look like one who is half-starved and in want of drink, yet what of it? You are a prisoner here confined in a cell of the enemy. It is a natural condition to be in with one who is in your predicament. It is what they want. You are at their mercy, alas."

"Pray, who art thou? How have thee come unbidden to my very door here in this - this den of hell?"

"Unbidden say you? Not exactly so, as I heard your cries of wrath all the way down the corridor that connects to the stairs leading down here. It is fortunate that I was near at hand."

"But thou art a Dunadan! How have thee come here to so remote a place as this old keep high in the mountains?"

"That is a long tale, Hunthor, son of Harondir. Time is an ally that evades me at the present. I should not even be down here. If I am discovered down in the jails, such as they are, it would mean my immediate death, or at the least a return to my former state of prisoner like yourself."

"Thou knowest my name, I see."

"You screamed it aloud like a haughty knave. How could I not?"

For the first time Hunthor redirects his gaze momentarily away from the stranger in order to collect his wits. It quickly becomes apparent to him that this man must be sworn to Broggha, for how else is he free to walk about at will. He decides to say as much to the man and allows his disapproval to show.

"Tis' true I am sworn to Broggha," he replies flatly, "but what of it? I did what I had to do. Yet an oath to a madman, a megalomaniac, has no merit. I do not hold myself to the oaths I swore to him. I am free to break them at my will."

"He is sure to realize that as well."

"Of course he does. He is not a fool. Why should he trust me to honor them? As you have wisely stated," this with a touch of sarcasm in his tone, "I am of the Dunadan and therefore a natural enemy of him and his swelling legions of Hillmen that already treat him as some sort of legendary hero who has returned out of the shadows to liberate them from us; we few Dunedain who oppress them so."

"Listen," says Hunthor before pausing in mid sentence. He wants to inquire as to the man's name and identity but is not sure how to pose the question for fear of offending him. The man sees this and makes the decision to volunteer it, though rather reluctantly.

"My name? You wish to know my name, I am guessing. Which one ought I to give? Suffice it to say that my name is Vidui for now."

"'Vidui'?" says Hunthor, as if familiar with the name. "That is no name for thee, I am sure. Thou hath adopted a name commonly used in the eastlands! That I do find strange."

"Perhaps so but never mind it. Yet I now must confess that it is I who hath been desireth of speech with you - even before I heard you cry out a while ago."

"With me, say you? How dost thou know me? for I know thee not."

Vidui ignores his question as if he did not even hear it. He goes on quickly in a hushed voice.

"It is plain to see that you have spent a good deal of time in Eriador, for the manner of your vernacular betrays you. You speak like the men of Malvegil's court in Arthedain; formal and high-browed; not like the common men of the region who sweat and toil under the sun in the fields so that the lords of his court may sup in luxury upon chairs adorned in gold." Seeing that Hunthor makes no reaction to his statement other than push the tangled lock of hair back that had fallen over his face. Vidui prods him once more, adding, "You ought to tailor your speech more in accordance to the lower men of Eriador, such as these baseborn Hillmen, if you seek to acquire any measure of freedom in this place. The folk here do not like the people of Arthedain."

"So be it," replies Hunthor passively. He comes closer still to the little window in the door so that his nose and eye are as close as they may be to him. He is shaking now as if he is expecting the discourse to steer off in a more positive direction. "But look here, Vidui! Can you not assist me in my plight? I must get away from here!"

"Aye, and I must also! You think that you are the only prisoner here that wants to flee?"

"But I do not ask for aid for my own sake. My errand is urgent!"

"As is mine. You have no idea..."

"Nay, listen to me, Vidui! There is a boy here, a young boy of perhaps ten and three summers that is being held prisoner here - somewhere in this keep! He is my son. I fear that they will torture him in order to get to me. Dost thou understand?"

A moment of quiet hangs in the air between them before Vidui offers him a reply.

"You are speaking of Vilthavia? He is yours then?"

Amazement washes over the tortured face of Hunthor at his words. A renewed sense of restrained joy overcomes him causing him to emit a brief but crooked smile; a smile that Vidui does not return.

"You know my son? You have seen him here then?"

"Aye, I do know him. I know him well. He was one of my companions among the company who traversed these vast mountains. He is a valiant boy."

"Incredible! Your words instill such a wonder in my heart that...that I cannot express."

"Vilthavia himself is a wonder," replies Vidui in a serious tone. "He has endured many trials of strength and endurance that many older men could not have. But he did not do so without taking hurt to himself. It was I who took him under my tutorage and succored him while in the wild when no one else would do so. Especially not his villainous uncle who upbraided him on more than one occasion. It was fortunate for your son that I was there for him, else he may have become lost in the wilderness."

Hunthor shut his eye at these words in an attempt to hold back his emotions. He was about to speak but Vidui did so before him.

"Your son should never have come with us on that journey. His body is not yet come into manhood and might have done much better for himself to remain back in Rhovanion with his mother. His mother is your wife, no?"

Hunthor shakes his head to imply that she is not.

"Whatever the case the boy should not have come; indeed, he sought to permission to return back down the eastern side of the mountains when he grew ill from the lofty elevation but was denied an escort by his uncle, who was in haste to push onward. He and I quarreled over the decision."

"Urlavia, curse you!" mutters Hunthor almost under his breath. But Vidui hears his curse and echoes it with one of his own.

"Aye, it is Urlavia who is chiefly to blame for your son's plight, I fear. Indeed, you yourself very nearly perished by way of strangulation at his hands, did you not?"

Hunthor can say nothing at this revelation at first, so consumed as he is with surprise.

"How dost thou know that? How could thee have..."

It suddenly dawns on him then, as if roused from sleep by cold water on his head.

"I remember now. Thou it was who entered the dungeon accompanied by one of the guards while I was being tortured! It must have been thee!"

"Keep your voice low, I warn you!" Vidui turns briefly to make sure they are still alone before going on again. They are. "Aye, I was there. I am a witness to what you underwent there; I witnessed Urlavia operate the strangulation device on you, though admittedly under threat of torture himself if he did not comply with their orders."

"Why were you there?" asks Hunthor, ignoring Vidui's last few words. Then he realizes that the reason for Vidui's presence then is of small concern at the present and instead inquires as to the whereabouts of Vilthavia.

"I know not, alas. I have tried to look about for him as I could in the last couple days but to no avail. Perhaps they have him stowed away to later use in order to coerce further testimony from you at a later time. That is what I fear, to be honest."

"I hath already revealed to them all I can. There is little more I can tell them now."

With those words Vidui's demeanor undergoes a slight but definite alteration. He comes close to the small window so that they are nearly eye to eye. The flickering candle in his hand dances with its meager light causing the shadows on his face to underscore the seriousness of his countenance.

"But now you strike near the reason I have sought for you down here, Hunthor, son of Harondir. I must needs know what sort of information you revealed to Broggha back in the dungeon.
"How long hath I been incarcerated in here?"

"But now you strike at the heart of the reason I have sought for your prison for the last four days, Hunthor."

"Four days, say you?" Interrupts Hunthor sharply. "How long have I been in here?"

"I know not. At least that long, maybe longer still. But listen to me, Hunthor! I want to know exactly what you told Broggha and his half-caste ally back in the dungeon. What manner of secrets did he wrest from your guarded tongue regarding the impending invasion of Rhudaur? Do not lie to me - there is no need for it, as I suspect you and I are mostly fighting for the same cause."

Hunthor suddenly feels the excitement and hope of this unexpected encounter with this man quickly dissipate. Instead a sense of cautious reserve overcomes him as he wonders how much he ought to trust this stranger with information that he thinks better to remain inviolate inside his own head. Despite his longing to trust this man, this harbinger of freedom, for surely he would not take such risks as to tresspass in an area of the castle that he was forbidden to go by Broggha himself, he still feels it prudent to conceal as much as he can regarding his reasons for his meddling in the affairs of the Hillmen of the mountains.

"You must realize," says Hunthor haltingly, "that the physical torture I endured under these wretched men was a sore trial for me. Long I held out, refusing to divulge the true nature of my presence in these lawless regions. Yet eventually they put me through a trial so great that many greater men than I would have succumbed to. I refer not necessarily to the eye that they tore out of its very socket but rather to the threat of the torture and possible execution of my son!"

"You need not explain that much to me," Vidui explains with genuine compassion in his voice. "Vilthavia is dear to me as well! I would do all that I could to shield him from harm; indeed, I did just that throughout our trial in the high passes and in doing so earned his friendship, which I honor. Yet all the same it is one thing to threaten to torture an innocent youth such as Vilthavia before the face of his own father, especially if the intended victim is not present - yet it is not proof that the action will be carried out in the end."

"Ah! But that is exactly what they did! Do you not understand, Vidui? They brought Vilthavia into the dungeon before me as I sat dejectedly upon the floor nearly spent in both mind and body. He was there! He, Vilthavia my son! Broggha held the speartip to his breast while Vilthavia begged me cooperate with them. You must have seen him as well! You were there!"

A look of puzzlement and uncertainty shows briefly on the face of Vidui through the aperture.

"I was there, tis' true, but I did not see Vilthavia. There was only you and Broggha and his servant."

"Nay! My son was there too, alas! How could thee not have seen him? He stood perhaps coin's toss in front of me! He wailed and implored me to..."

Hunthor suddenly halts in mid sentence, slowly realizing that something was truly amiss about his encounter with his son back in the dungeon. How could Vidui, whom he had seen with his own eye standing removed from the scene, not have beheld Vilthavia in the chamber as he himself did? But then it occurs to him that his silent suspicion he had about the possibility of an illusionary vision of his son, a phantom form not only appearing genuine but speaking with his son's recognizable voice, must certainly be correct! He slowly pulls his long hair backwards over his head in dramatic fashion as he gradually comes to terms with the truth: he had not seen or spoken to his son at all! Vilthavia had not been present in the chamber with them. He had been tricked. He had seen only a ghost; an apparition in the guise of his beloved Vilthavia!

"Heavens! Varda be praised!" Says Hunthor as a wave of relief overwhelms him. He has to support himself against the wall of his cell to prevent him falling to the floor in exasperated joy. "He was not there! Vilthavia was never present in the room!"

"Aye, as I have already stated! But you waste my time, Hunthor! I cannot tarry here any longer lest I am spotted by the guards. Broggha is sure to have me spied upon during my first few days of freedom, if freedom it may be called!"

"Nay, thou misunderstands me. I saw him there in the dungeon before me, yet not so as well. It was a phantom, Vidui! It was a phantom form of my son. It must be so!"

"Perhaps," admits Vidui with lingering doubt in his voice, "it might be as you say. Indeed I hope so, for the sake of Vilthavia. But You must talk to me. You must divulge your testimony to Broggha to me here and now! Soon I must flee!"

Hunthor starts at his words, renewed fear and desperation returning to him as he sees that Vidui means not to release him.

"But what about me? Can you not release me from this prison?"

"Of course I cannot! I have no access to these cells." Then, seeing the look of outrage on Hunthor's face through the slot he alters his tone in hopes of reconciling their mutual purpose. "But I will do what I can to persuade Broggha to release you as soon as may be. I shall assure him that you are a broken man by now and that he need not have any fear of your escaping here. But you must first tell me what you said to him regarding the intended invasion of Rhudaur! I shall not lift a finger to secure your release until you do so, Hunthor!"

Hunthor bristles at the man's attempt to extort sensitive information out of him in such a way. He makes no attempt to hide his displeasure on his weary face. He seriously doubts Vidui's importance to Broggha and his ability to persuade Broggha to release him. He does not even know this fellow or his true intentions and begins to wonder if he is just another one of Broggha's spies sent down here to uncover more hidden knowledge from his guarded tongue. A taste of bitter hostility fills his mouth and he turns abruptly away from the little window.

"I regret having to speak to you in such a way, my fellow kinsman," Vidui remarks with lament, "but my need is urgent!"

"It seems my fate to languish under constant interrogation, from one foe to the next, seemingly!"

"I am not your foe!"

"Tell me who you truly are then! I will say nothing until thy true identity is revealed to me."

Vidui sighs in frustration. He turns around once more to assure himself that the is no sign of life, no sound of trespass back in the adjoining hallway where all is dark. He then curses Hunthor in hushed anger before acquiescing.

"I am no stranger to these lands. I spent my boyhood and much of my early adulthood in Rhudaur. I am a highly sought-after man who is wanted by the enemy - the same enemy that threatens you and the folk whom have employed you in this doomed errand of yours. I have been in exile for several years but have at last returned to my homeland where I seek to wreak what damage I may to the king of Rhudaur and his reprehensible rule over the people of his realm. That ought to suffice for now."


"It does not suffice. What is thy name in truth? Pray do not lie to me, for I too can detect a falsehood."

Vidui hesitates, then draws near the window once more so that he may exhibit the honesty in his eyes to this fellow Dunadan; a Dunadan who he thinks might prove useful to him in a time to come as a temporary ally, but who is still, as a matter of fact, a formal adversary to him. He has decided that Hunthor, though he has not stated as much, is a Dunadan in the employ of Arthedain; a kingdom seldom friendly with, if not outright hostile to, his own native Rhudaur. In the coming years he knows there will be open war between them, especially if Broggha is left to fill the power vacuum after Denethil is removed from his throne by force. But he, Vidui, still clings to the hope that, with the aid of prince Vorondil of Cardolan, he may himself be able to reclaim the throne of Rhudaur. It is a claim that he feels is, without doubt, his natural right to make, for was he not the rightful heir of Faracil his father, who was murdered by his younger brother Denethil in the year 1321?

"I will not withhold it from you any longer," says Vidui dignified way. "for I have no desire to offend you in such a way. My true name is Odhil, youngest and only surviving son of Faracil, who in turn was the son of king Orondil of Rhudaur who is now long dead. Denethil therefore is my uncle."

He lets this extraordinary declaration of truth hang in the air while neither of them speak for several moments. Hunthor casts his glance downwards for a brief spell as if combing through the wide halls of his memory, seeking to recall what he knows of the history of Rhudaur and its past rulers, many of whom Hunthor has always regarded as manipulative and petty - scarcely worthy of the title of 'king'. Then he looks back up at the eyes that are staring back at him and thinks that the flickering candlelight makes Vidui's face look more like some roguish cutthroat out of Tharbad than an heir to a kingship. But he conceals such thoughts from him.

"I have no justification in casting doubt on thy claim, Odhil. I am not steeped in the lore of thy native realm as are you." He doubts that this claimant to the kingship before him now believes this but he presses on regardless, adding, "but if so than I am humbled that such a one as thee hath gone to so much trouble and taken on so much risk to seek me, a mere anonymous and unimportant servant to my own crown and court."

"You have yet to openly proclaim to which crown you presently serve, though I feel I could guess at it. No doubt, judging by your mixed lineage, your employment with them is one of a mercenary nature...I mean no offense by it, I assure you."

"I am no mercenary soldier; and further still I am more than one quarter Dunedain by blood, which is more than can be said for more than half the men that serve in the Ruhdauran court. Yet all that I do and have done for the last four years I do for the sake of all the folk of Eriador who wish not to dwell in a land threatened by oppression and servitude, where evil shall lurk not just in the woods of the wild or the rocky highlands in the north where few men go but rather inside their most intimate thoughts and dreams where darkness will slowly grow and swell like an evening tide upon the shores of the sea, urging men on to acts of violence and treachery. If our enemy prevails in this oncoming conflict, a contest that no one west of the Misty Mountains shall be able to avoid once the dam is breeched, it will mean the end of all Arnor, not just one realm or another. Neither thee or I, Odhil, nor the kings we serve under will be able to tread the dark waters that will swallow us all, for the current shall be too swift. All Eriador will be lost and shall not be found again by men of honor - not unless some distant time in the future yields a new line of kings that is hidden from us here in the present."

"A noble prognostication, no doubt," replies Odhil, "and one that I have no cause to dispute. I am by no means old, not even by the standards of the Dunedain; nor do I possess the worldly experience of a great lord, or...even one such as thou," this seems to be a sly rhetorical dig at Hunthor, who does not fail to recognize the sarcasm in it but makes no reaction, "yet neither am I some unfledged adolescent fresh from the classroom of my master. I am well aware of the stakes that come with this great struggle. Nor must you think that Broggha and the Witch King in the north are unaware of it."

With the light of the flickering taper that he holds he sees Hunthor's look of surprise through the opening of the aperture at his mention of the Witch King.

"Aye, I know the that name well enough by now. I am no ignorant young knave, for I have been in the lands of Angmar in the past, though admittedly only a small part; yet even that was enough for me to see that it is an unwholesome place to be in. There can be little good that comes out of that land....But see here, man! I must not linger here any longer. I have placed not just myself in peril but you as well by coming down here. Yet ere I depart I must know what it was that you told Broggha while under his interrogation. Speak swiftly!"

"Your worries are without warrant," says Hunthor with an air of calmed reassurance, an emotion he does not genuinely feel. "I spoke nothing whatsoever regarding Rhudaur, for indeed I know little of what goes on there. I spoke only of the going's on in the lands south of the the Angle and especially along the mountains where the peaceable tribes of the Guant Hillmen dwell."

Here Hunthor nearly stumbles by revealing that he had come recently from the heathlands of central Cardolan where the prince Calimendil, younger of the two sons of the king, makes his dwelling near the trading village known as Metraith. He cannot decide why he feels it prudent not to divulge the fact of his employment with that prince to this stranger whom he has just met but something inside him prevents him doing so. Perhaps it was the mentioning of Vorondil, Calimendil's ambitious brother, that worries him, for he knows that the two sons of Tarandil have different interests and opinions in regards to the future of not only Rhudaur but their own realm of Cardolan as well. He instead pretends to admit working for the agents of king Malvegil in Arthedain.

"What business does Malvegil have in the south," querries Odhil, "that he would need to send a spy such as yourself there? Where exactly did you go in Cardolan?"

"I remained mostly in Tharbad, as I needed to infiltrate the guilds there to ascertain the level of influence they have on the magistrates of that city as well as their connection to the men down in Dunland."

"Then you held no parley with either of the two sons of Tarandil?"

Hunthor tries to assure him that he did not but Odhil seems unsure of it and tells Hunthor to come closer to him through the little window so that he can look into his eye. This being done Odhil holds the little flickering taper up so that the light may shone full upon Hunthor's face through the slot. But then Odhil freezes in his motion at the sound of a far off noise back up the stairway he had come down. The last thing Hunthor sees before the light is immediately extinguished and he is once again plunged back into the darkness of oblivion is the mouth of Odhil uttering a silent curse. For a second or two he hears Odhil shuffle away.

All then is dark and quiet.
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Aug 23, 2013 1:16 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY

"Do not forget, my dear girl," says prince Ermegil to the young lady Elendis, "that there may be other eyes and ears other than that of the boy Vilthavia that may be privy to anything you say to him during your reunion. Broggha has many agents under his employ by now, though you may not know it. The remoteness of this old castle in the mountains will not be any safeguard to you should either of you unwisely decide to embark upon some secret scheme to escape together. In such a circumstance you would both be hunted down and dragged back perforce by your hair to the dungeons to languish as long as he wills it so."

The prince is escorting her down a dark and winding corridor of stairs that leads to a small open courtyard as he utters this warning to the lady. Elendis, who is privately unnerved at his words, pauses in her step to turn and look into his face, which is emerged in shadow beside her. She conjures up a dispossessing frown as she confronts him.

"Your caution to me is unnecessary, my lord. Have I not already proclaimed that I am willing to wed myself to you? What sort of treachery do you suspect me of already? I have given you my word and that ought to be enough from one Dunadan to another. I will not renege on such an oath."

"The lady Elendis is indeed a young woman of honor and courage, of that I have no doubt," says the prince as if speaking of her merits to another, "that is why, among other reasons, she is loved by many. But she is also steeped in youth and therefore vulnerable to persuasion from others whose motives are more venal than her own. It would be a torment to my heart to see her fall under the selfish influence of one who does not prize her own safety as much as do I."

"Oh pray, please do not speak in such a manner with me, lord; as if I am absent while you speak of me to another! It belies a haughtiness that is unbecoming of a prince of Rhudaur. I am here now before you. Show me at least a little of the respect that you might afford a wife of many years."

Even through the darkness of the stairwell she can feel, rather than see his resentment at her reproof. It was a mistake to check him as such, this she quickly realizes. It is no secret that the man has a fierce temper when he is roused. She immediately decides to add a reassuring codicil to her rebuke just in case.

"Forgive me and my words, my lord, but I only wish it to be known to you that you need have no fear of me seeking flight from here and the pledge I have made to you already. Even if Vilthavia begs me to enter into a conspiracy with him, as I suspect he might, I will not lend ear to it; that is, of course, considering the agreement you have made with me I regards to his release is still honored by you."

Another mistake! She knows that she should not call his reciprocal pledge to her into question. They had already labored for some time over the deal he had offered her; namely that she would agree to wed with him on condition that he secure the release and freedom for Vilthavia. There was no need for her to cast doubt upon his word to her and she knows it. She has a sudden intake of breath as she awaits a reprisal of wrath from him but is surprised when he seems to let it pass unchallenged.

"I shall not break my oath to you, Elendis. You may be assured that Vilthavia shall be forced to endure this place no longer after Broggha departs for a spell the day after tomorrow. I will see to it myself that he is safely escorted away from the castle in the small hours before the dawn on the appointed day. He will be free again to go whither he will. But know also that I am placing myself in great risk by doing this. I doubt not that he has some plan for him at some further juncture, though what it might be I cannot say."

Elendis feels a surge of relief at his reassurance even though she knows it is premature. But what choice is there, she thinks, other than to place her trust in this man who shall one day in the not so far off future become her husband? It is, perhaps, Vilthavia's best chance at freedom from further captivity in this miserable place. She even feels a pang of envy for him at the thought of his leaving the castle for good. She desperately wished to go with him but knew it was quite hopeless; hopeless and very foolish, for if they were apprehended together in the wild by Broggha's hunters it would surely mean the end of Vilthavia. He would surely be charged as being the instigator of their secret escape and deemed to be a constant risk for flight. It would be the dungeon for him. Indeed they might not ever release him in such a case. She knew she could never bear the thought of such a thing. All of these things flash quickly through her mind at that moment as she looks upon her lord's shadowy face while in the tunnel. She offers him no further reply and turns to proceed out of the bottom of the stairwell, eager to lay eyes upon her dear friend once more.

Within minutes they arrive at a high archway which opens out onto another outdoor grey-stoned courtyard. Passing underneath the archway she immediately feels the bite of a cold late autum wind crash into her as they proceed onwards. The sight of towering mountain peaks on the horizon quickly comes into view in the distance; it is a sight she has come to loathe by now. Everywhere she looks there are green and white mountains. Elendis notices that the courtyard is a large one replete with six parallel rows of stone benches; three facing three more in the center of the open-air yard that are shadowed by two very old, very large deciduous trees that were obviously planted in their respective places long ago behind the benches in order to shield the occupants of the benches from the rays of the sun. Now, however, due to long years of neglect and a cold environment both trees have withered considerably, each being little more than large leafless trunks with splaying branches that droop downwards above the rows of benches.

The courtyard is not without its occupants this afternoon. Elendis had surmised that she and Vilthavia would be quite alone as they made their final farewells to one another but it was not so. She knew that the ensuing encounter would likely prove to be an emotional one for them both. She feared she would very possibly break down in tears once the reality of their ultimate separation settled in upon them with all of the sadness and gloom that was the inseparable companion of all final good-byes. She had no desire to be stared down by a strange folk whom she ultimately considered her enemies. They might even openly mock them! As she begins to tread the cold stones beneath her feet she gently voices her disappointment to the prince at the presence of strangers in the courtyard where she expected to find no one.

"What can I do about it, my dear girl?" he replies stiffly while raising up the rear collar of his woolen vest to keep the wind off of his neck. "I am a mere guest here in this keep as you are yourself. I could not possibly ask these folk to clear off just so that you and the boy can wallow in your melancholy sympathies in private. They are Broggha's folk and may loiter about wherever they so desire, I fear. This is a time of rest for many of them, for ere many more days pass they will again find themselves amidst the chaos of battle once again. Very likely some of these men will be dead a week from now. Therefore I advise you to make the most of this rare luxury I have managed to obtain for you today."

She offers him no further complaint and immediately begins to sweep her gaze across the length of the courtyard for the presence of Vilthavia. The thought of seeing him again after their separation is a cause for both joy and sorrow. Memories of their harrowing ordeal together in the mountains, only a little more than a fortnight ago, flash through her mind as she proceeds forward. Though two years her junior as reckoned by the years of the calendar she knows that Vilthavia possesses a heart and wit far superior to other boys his age, a fact he displayed aptly enough more than once since their first meeting. She feels in her heart that he will survive the trials that may await him after his release the day after tomorrow. But she also knows that he is an emotional boy prone to sudden fits of morbid antipathy whenever matters take a turn for the worse. Furthermore he is susceptible to the indulgence of high romanticism when it comes to his relationship with, not only herself, but also, she suspects, with all pretty girls that happen to cross his path. Indeed, had he not already proposed that they should unite in mutual wedlock while having nearly froze to death back in the wilderness cave together? It was a brash act by him and doubtless a noble one as well, yet ultimately little more than a remote and fanciful daydream by two young lovers who foresaw the approach of their own death drawing near at the time. There could be little between them to base such a matrimony on; of this she knew full well, even if he had not; indeed probably still did not even now. But oh! How grateful she was to him now for all that he had done for her! She had told herself many times over the course of her time as a prisoner here that it had been Vilthavia - a boy of thirteen - who had saved her from self-destruction when the older stronger men in the company could not.

Truly the prince Ermegil had also preserved her life as well when he rescued her from the lofty ledge where she had intended to stamp a final period on her woeful life once and for all - this she could not deny. Yet he had done so not out of love for her but rather out of a desire to further his own agenda by pressuring her to wed with him now. Vilthavia had saved her out of real love for her; of this she had no doubt whatsoever. He might have easily have fled that miserable icy cave to the prospect of his own freedom. Again, there was no need for him to come to her side and grasp her hand at the impending approach of the avalanche that rumbled down the mountainous slopes and enveloped them all. Nay! It was an act of pure selflessness that drove him to come to her side that terrible moment ere they were buried deep beneath the snow. How many grown men of greater stature than he would have done the same for her then?

Nearly overcome with emotion at her busy thoughts Elendis suddenly turns aside and goes over to the stone railing that fences in the courtyard from the empty wild below its heights. She grasps onto it with both hands as she allows the intermittent mountain breeze to toss her yellow locks about her face as she looks out across the highlands to the west where lies Rhudaur, her homeland. The wind is stiff and biting this afternoon which causes her fasten up to her chin the buttons of the fur coat that had been given to her by the prince only a short time ago. The tears have already begun to well up in her eyes at what Vilthavia's reaction to her unlooked for marriage to the prince will have on him.
She hears Ermegil turn aside as well and speak aloud her name as he begins to come up behind her but she pays him no heed. She is lost in her emotions.

"I pray that you are not thinking of again taking the dear's leap off another ledge, my lady," remarks the prince with a poor attempt at an ill-timed jocularity, "I cannot vouch for the quickness of my feet if I am required to leap down first in order to catch you!"

He immediately regrets the remark as Elendis turns round suddenly with a wicked look of savagery. For an instant or two only the prince sees what can only be taken as raw hatred in the eyes of his future bride who looks about to leap at his throat. But her display of rage passes quickly and is replaced with a reflection of one whose dignity has been slighted most cruelly. All the same her brief display is enough to alarm the prince and his consideration of her, though not too greatly. But his old sense of callous indifference gets the better of him then and he decides to become frosty with her.

"Wean yourself from this melancholia of yours, Elendis! I will not have my wife wallowing in despair and self-pity. I have sworn to protect you and provide a better life for you far removed from this accursed place. The times ahead are dark for both of us but we will survive it and in the end bask in the light of joy and victory. In this you must trust me and be patient!”

“Can you not understand, my lord?” she cries, anger and despair getting the better of her, “I care nothing for your wars and victories! Whether you yourself emerge as the victor in all of this madness or Broggha and his allies, it matters not! I shall be among the many losers whatever may betide thereafter! My life in its entirety thus far has been, at best, like a mother who has only one child left to her following the death of her previous offspring, and, at worst, like the mother who perishes while giving birth to a stillborn. Ever since I left the quietude of Wilderland things have gone awry. My husband is dead! My friends are lost and scattered! Both my families on either side of the mountains are removed beyond my reach!(*) They will not aid me now for they know not whither I am! Now I am little more than a withered leaf; a dead leaf being carried on a fell wind to wherever it pleases to set me down.”

“Say no more, Elendis! I have no wish to hear this talk any longer.”

She seems not to hear him in her fey mood and goes on.

“Or perhaps I am like the mariner that has been cast adrift by his crew for a crime that he did not commit, doomed to drift on an endless sea of darkness that goes nowhere. Oh woe that I ever left my father’s household those many five years ago! Alas that I volunteered to stand in my sister’s stead! My father’s scheme for familial preservation has failed, for I know not where he or my sister may be anymore. Perhaps it may be that I shall never see them again! They too may be slain by now. Who can say? If they too be dead then I envy them for it. Aye, lord! Do not look so aghast! I would envy them for the peace they would have in their deaths! I myself longed for the boon of death, that eternal soundless slumber, but was too cravenly to achieve it!”

“Enough of this talk, lady! Peace! See how you have attracted the attention of strangers with your ramblings?”

She ignores him and carries on with her lament, paying no attention whatever to the few loiterers that have stopped in their chatter to witness the scene between the prince and Elendis.

“My tears are the only consolation left to me now! I weep for the injustice I have suffered! I weep for what might have been had I remained with my father! I weep for the life that I might have had and that which is now taken from me. Oh! Would that you might have cast me off of that high ledge to my doom! Even now I would be forever at rest in the bosom of some earthly grave! The wars of men and the contests of kings would never again trouble me so! What made you do such a wicked thing, lord? It was a despicable act, to save me thus against my will!”

“Peace, woman! I warn you! Stay that tongue of yours!”

Amidst her increasing anguish she defies him by drawing nearer and looking him directly in the eye, though she knows he can be perilous.

“It is just like a man to rob a woman of her freedom! What kind of a prince are you to do such a thing? Such a selfish creature, to trap me into such a wedlock, so that I cannot refuse lest the life of another be forfeit by my refusal! You bring shame upon the Dunedain by your actions! How I do loathe you at this moment, prince Ermegil!”

It is too much for him. He simply cannot endure her rebuke before the face of onlookers. She has pushed him too far with this, which she instantly realizes, though too late. Before she can gasp aloud she feels the weight of his heavy hand across her cheek in one quick violent motion; then she is on her knees upon the cold floor of the stone terrace. She pushes back the long columns of her golden hair that has fallen down over her eyes as she nurses her swollen lip. She can taste the bitter salty trail of blood that has dribbled down her chin as she begins to cry; softly at first, as if trying to hold back her tears, but quickly relents and allows them to flood down her cheeks.

“You are a prickly wench, Elendis, to chastise me as such!” hisses Ermegil, his voice serpent-like in contained wrath. “I warned you, did I not? As fair as a summer rose you are, no doubt, but I cannot endure your thorns! You will learn how to obey me and behave like a proper Dunadan wife or our agreement will be void and I shall leave you at the mercy of the slave traders! Do you hear what I say, lady? Answer me!”

Elendis marks his cruel words to her but does not look up. Instead she begins to wipe away the tears that nearly blind her amid her grief. Several moments seem to pass without either the prince or herself bothering to make a move. She is vaguely aware of murmuring voices in the near distance but she takes little notice of them. She suddenly feels a shiver up her spine; not a cold chill but rather a warm one, as if a glow of sunshine has pierced the thick canopy of gray clouds in order to shine upon her alone. She feels a new presence nearby. Elendis slowly turns her head to look at the newcomer. At first she does not recognize him through her tears, then slowly it dawns on her. Standing there only a few yards away is a young man she knows; a young man she loves. But his face is dumb-stricken with horror as he looks first upon her then over at the prince who has not moved but is standing like an evil guardian over a heap of treasure. At last he speaks to her, his voice quite shaky with mingled joy and sorrow.

“Elendis? Elendis! Elendis!”

Vilthavia delays no longer and immediately rushes past the prince to his beloved’s side to enfold her in his brace, their faces meeting, touching, where their tears blend into one another…


(*) This remark is in reference to Mardon, her father, and Calimé, her sister, who dwell still in Rhudaur, and her family by marriage to her late husband, Wildaria, all of whom dwell still in the Anduin vales.
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:14 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY (cont...)

She approaches the old cobblestone railing of the open courtyard and looks far out beyond the lonely hills and heights of the higlands. She is gazing westwards where the wonders of old Rhudaur, her homeland, beckon to her in a.sort of silent greeting. Or is it more of a taunt than a welcome? She can almost hear the voices of the western winds whispering in her ear. "Come home, Elendis! You have tarried overlong. Your father and sister are waiting for you! Why do you delay?" It seems so cruel and unjust. She is close but she cannot get there, alas. It, Rhudaur, is the place she yearns for in her heart, the only land she longs to see by now - but it is beyond her reach.

She is a prisoner still.

She can do little else but look out upon the distant borderlands where she once lived, where she once played - where she once died; or so it felt to her when she turned her back on the house of her family and departed for the lands to the east. She and her escort climbed over the great Misty Mountains and at last into the Anduin valley where a man whom she had never met awaited her arrival in order to wed with her. Surely a part of her had died that fateful day. If it all felt like such a long time ago it was because it was. It was six years; six long years of her life had come and gone since her initial departure. Would that she could take it all back! Would that she might have refused her father's wishes for her to become the wife of a foreign man unknown to her. How different her life might have been had she declined his request and remained with him and her sister.

But, alas, she did not decline him.

Elendis is pondering over her folly, that single insipid act of immature foolishness of hers that led her to her present woeful fate. She had known joy back then, back in Rhudaur. Now there was only pain. To be sure it was a self-inflicted wound, this she realizes well enough by now. How many times since her capture had she cursed herself for it? She knows that she cannot keep herself from weeping anew at the thought of it and she makes no attempt to restrain them, these fresh tears that are her only solace now. They slowly begin to roll down her wind-burned cheeks before dropping at last to the cold stone beneath her feet.

All of these remonstrance utterings and inward reflections pass through her mind very quickly, within the span of a few brief moments in time. She feels the presence of Vilthavia behind her once again and she slowly turns to acknowledge him. The prince, her future husband, has gone now, leaving them both free to commence in peace their reunification. He had not hit her as hard as he might have but his wrath at her harsh words of him had been stoked to full flame. She knows how dangerous the prince can be when his temper is aroused and she now feels a sense of regret for her ill-timed choice of words to him. Her face is still tingling from the impact of his open palm upon it but the blood from her nose has ceased.

Elendis gently taps the side of her nostril, the one that bore the brunt of the blow, and knows that it is not broken, but only bruised. Vilthavia watches this and immediately draws close to her to render her his assistance but she shakes her head in polite refusal, assuring him that she will be alright. After the prince Ermegil, her betrothed, had stormed off she asked Vilthavia to let her be for a short span so as to regain her composure. He did not understand, and likely still does not, why she would push him away after so long a separation between them. It wounded him and she knows it.

"I shall be fine now, Vilthavia. My nose is not broken and I have quite recovered myself. Forgive me, please, I meant not to hurt you."

She regrets that his first sight of her was one under such troubled circumstances, and she especially laments that he has learned, not from her but rather from the mouth of the prince, that she has entered into an agreement of matrimony with this man who has just wronged her cruelly. No doubt that was his secret intention all along; to reveal to the boy Vilthavia that he, Ermegil, has won the hand of Elendis in the end, that he alone shall possess her and call her his wife. He had just effectively spoiled their long anticipated reunion and seemed pleased at doing so. It was an act of spite and nothing else. She had wanted to break the ill news to Vilthavia herself and in her own gentle way. She could see the mix of emotions in her young friend's eyes as he gazed upon her now. He was hurt and confused, that was plain to see. She restrained herself no longer and without further delay she stepped forward and threw herself into his arms and embraced him as one who has at last found something they had sought for so long.

Vilthavia's reaction is subdued at first. His arms hang limp for the first few moments of her embrace before finally giving way to the natural reflex of reciprocal greeting. He returns her embrace with a shudder of anticipation of what is to come. He dreads to hear what she will say to him next, for the parting words of that 'prince' - that 'monster' who dared strike his precious Elendis in plain sight of onlookers is beginning to weigh on him. But then his trepidation gives way to the physical joy he feels at finally having Elendis in his arms once more. How long had they been separated now? Two weeks? Three? it felt longer than that. The very idea of ‘time’, as he had known it all his life, seemed to have little meaning here in this remote castle in the mountains. He had had no word of her ultimate fate after their capture. He could not even be sure that she still lived until now; anything was possible in this wretched place, this new domain of Broggha, the Strong. These were a miserable treacherous folk, he thinks, and utterly unworthy of even the slightest degree of trust. How he had feared for her! Now she was here in his very arms, locked in his embrace. He would not allow her to escape him again.

He clung to her now as if his life depended on her existence. He folds his arms around her and refuses to let her out of his grip lest he lose her all over again. He then kisses her on the side of her head and feels her long blonde locks across his cheek. Again he kisses her, then again. Once more he repeats the act of affection, all the while her disheveled hair obscuring his sight of the world around them. There were no words between them at present, for there was no need of them. Speech would only sully the magical moment. To his mind they could read one another's very thoughts without speaking; he loved her and she, in turn, loved him. The experience of true love, this remarkable phenomenon that he had only heard about from others before now, seems to overwhelm him. To think that only a few months ago he had never even known the existence of this special creature in his arms! What a miserable lonely life he had had before they had met on that cold and lonely mountain pass. He had not spoken in jest that day back in the abandoned snow cave when he had asked her for her hand in wedlock. He meant it then and he meant it now.

If only they could contrive of a way for them both to escape from this place and flee into the mountainous wild together! With the colder weather approaching fast their chances of surviving the heights of the Misties were very slim. Doubtless they would either starve or freeze to death. They could also fall prey to marauding wolves while they slept. Or perhaps they might even be recaptured by Broggha’s spearmen again and returned perforce to their former state of imprisonment. But then again, he thinks with the barest spark of hope, maybe not. Perhaps the Valar would be watching down on them just this once! Maybe the Gods of the West would take pity on them both and thus shield them in a divine shadowy surveillance that only a manifestly good God could provide for a mere mortal of Middle-earth. Such things have occasionally occurred throughout the world’s long history; he knows this well enough. He tries to convince himself that it could happen again. He clutches his Elendis firmly and sends up a hasty prayer to the Valar who watch the world from the heavens above. “Please!” he says silently to the Gods that he does not know, “I beg you! We are desperate! Please help us! I will do anything you ask of me!””

Vilthavia suddenly tastes the saltiness of his own tears in his mouth. He did not wish to weep but how can he prevent it now? He remembers something. The stinging rebuttal uttered by the man called 'Ermegil' suddenly rang anew in his mind's ear. What did he say ere he left us? Had he heard him correctly? Did he refer to Elendis as his 'betrothed'? Had that villain actually spoken such poisonous words? How so? It was impossible! The Elendis he knew, the Elendis he had shared many perils with, the Elendis that he loved would never dream of marrying such a loathsome man!

Yet somewhere in the back of his mind he knows, in truth, that he has not mistaken him. He sought now to deny the reality of it to himself by trying to pretend that he had misinterpreted what the man had said. Perhaps when he uttered the words, "...behave as a proper Dunadan wife," he was referring to another girl; or maybe the idea of wedlock was something that he proposed to her. Maybe she rejected him and he is merely being persistent!

His subconsciousness is laughing at him now - mocking him even. No, there was no mistaking the man's words to her. It was folly to believe otherwise. "You are a fool!" his inner voice says to him, "There is evil work afoot and you are too late! You have lost her all over again, but this time she will not return to you."

He slowly releases his hold on her and seeks to meet her eye. It is not surprising to him somehow that she makes no attempt to hold him close. Both know that a comprehensive explanation is forthcoming. Their eyes meet through mutual tears. The wind has blown her hair across her eyes and she is forced to comb it aside with her slender fingers - much the same way as he is forced to do now, as his dark locks have grown long as well during his time in the wild.

"What is happening here, Elendis? What did that man mean to say just now? What did he mean by the word 'wife'? I don't understand it."

Elendis lets her eyes wander across his face from ear to ear for a moment before exhaling a deep sigh. It is not a representation of an act of spontaneous joy; this he sees all too well. She makes a feeble attempt to speak but is forced to look away. Fear has begun to creep up his back now - even dread, for he is beginning to realize that the game is nearly up. He feels his lips begin to tremble as he awaits her answer, though it seems plain enough what she will say.
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 11:00 am

CHAPTER TWENTY (conclusion)

It takes but a single look, a solitary glance into her eyes for him to see the dreadful truth in what he has guessed by way of Ermegil's parting rhetoric to her. A rush of horror washes over him then like a cold wave out of Belegaer. He has lost her. He, Vilthavia, has lost his only love to his enemy. The prince couldn't be satisfied with merely separating the two of them forever by sending them off into servitude in opposite directions, or imprisoning them both indeffinately; the miserable villain has gone further than that by sentencing, not only Elendis, but Vilthavia as well to a lifetime of misery and regret by forcing her into an unwanted wedlock with him. It is but the latest of a string of unhappy happenstances for the young Vilthavia; though this newest evil by the prince smacks of a most personal and injurious nature. Vilthavia longed then in his heart for the day when he will come of age and at last become a man. This very moment as he stares in unabashed disbelief at Elendis before him he swears that he will one day be the bane of this man, this b astard prince from Rhudaur. One day he, Vilthavia, will be the instrument of his torment, his eternal agony - his ultimate demise.

"Why have you done this, Elendis? Why would you choose to go away with this vile man and make my life a complete ruin? He's threatened you in some way, hasn't he! Aye, I can see it in your eyes. He has either threatened you into a wedlock with him or else he has deceived you into placing your trust in him!"

Elendis regains her composure to a slight degree and forces herself to meet her young friend's eyes before replying. He is too near the mark, too close to the bone in his surmises that she thinks to slow him down by divulging the good news she has for him without further ado.

"Wait a moment, Vilthavia! I must tell you something! I bring you joyful tidings: you are to be set free! You will not remain here for much longer! I have learned that they are to release you from this bondage and will set you free again!"

She anticipates a look of shock or at least a request from Vilthavia to repeat her joyful tidings in order to confirm the truth in them, but she receives no such reaction from him. He merely shakes his head slowly in solemnity while repeating his demand for an explanation of her future matrimony to the prince.

"I...I confess that there has been some talk of that between us," she begins to say shakily, "but that is not what is important now. Dear friend! Did you not hear me? You are going home, Vilthavia! Just as you have dreamt of for many months now! You shall be provided an escort out of the mountains where you will be safe. He has assured me of this! This is a cause for joy, not of sorrow."

"'He'? Who do speak of? Ermegil the b astard? Don't be absurd, Elendis! What kind of talk is that? I don't know what you have heard or who planted such nonsense into your head but you must wake up from your dream at once! This is life and death!"

"Nay Vilthavia," she implores him earnestly, "I speak the truth! In two day's time you shall be escorted down the high passes and delivered unto...unto wherever it is you wish to go."

"And what of yourself, Elendis? What do you intend to do after I have left? Will you stay on here in this nightmarish abode surrounded with folk who hate you? And mark me, Elendis, You are full-blooded Dunadan! If these foul folk hate me they certainly hate you far more, you may believe that! You remain in danger as long as you stay here.'

"I will not stay here either. I will be leaving as well."

"Leaving?" asks Vilthavia with deep suspicion. "Where will you go? Away somewhere with this so-called prince Ermegil? You really believe he will wed with you and remove you to a place of greater safety, Elendis? What nonsense you speak of!"

Elendis feels another chill run over her which causes her to wrap her thick woolen shawl closer about her. A significant part of her yearns to bow her head down in shame and acknowledge the truth in his words. But she is too proud, too determined to yield to the temptation. All the same she doesn't really believe that Ermegil would deceive her in his ultimate plans for them both. He bears no love toward Broggha and would just as easily like to see him and his swelling power checked, as it will surely prove a danger to his own ambitions of usurping his father from the throne of Rhudaur later on.

"Vilthavia," she explains as patiently as she can, "you and I both are going to leave this place soon - do you hear me? We shall both escape our enemies and we will both know what it means to be free and warm again! You will have clothing and proper shoes again! And plenty to eat! You simply must believe me in this. I know it to be true!"

"I will not believe it."

"You must! There is no other way for it!"

"I do not know what you have told this wicked prince, or he you, but I beseech you now to abandon everything and come with me!"

"No," she says through closed eyes that betray her growing frustration. "No, Vilthavia, you mustn't talk of that."

"How can I not, Elendis? Have I not dreamt of our escape from here for weeks on end? Haven't you also shared such a dream? That thought alone has preserved me from ending my own life!"

"Please say no more of that, I beg you, Vilthavia!" she pleads to him with a choke in her voice.

He ignores her plea by pressing his case further still. He draws near her and takes her hands into his own. Feeling how cold her slender fingers are he places them upon his own breast which is, to her surprise, quite warm.

"Listen to me, my dear girl." He hesitates for an instant as he realizes how strange it sounds to his own ears to address her in this fashion, as she is two years his senior. He shrugs it away silently and leaps forth in his rhetoric, saying, "I think it is possible to escape from this castle. Indeed, I know that it's possible! I have been thinking about it for days now. Of course I had no means to predict our sudden reunion when I began to reflect on my plan - yet with you at my side now I have even more cause for hope, as you seem to have a wide access to many of the storerooms where rations are kept than do I."

"Stop it, Vilthavia! Cease this talk at once!"

This last protestation by her was issued with too great a noise, which prompts both of them to cast a wayward eye in the direction of a pair of loitering local men (or brigands, as they seem to appear to the two young lovers). The men are merely passing through by way of the open courtyard but slow down in their stride as they behold the two of them. One of the men appears about to speak to them but changes his mind when the pair quickly remove themselves to a position against a far stone bulwark that looks out across a stony valley to the north. Their privacy temporarily restored Vilthavia is the first to break the silence.

"I want you to hear me carefully now, Elendis," says Vilthavia as he clasps her hands securely into his own. "There is a way out of here. You and I both can manage it, I think - though I admit it does pose a sense of danger in it. Yet I am willing to risk everything for a chance of freedom with you. Indeed! I would rather die trying to escape than live out one more day in this horrible lonely castle among these despicable men! We owe it to ourselves. Will you at least listen to my idea?"

"Your youth betrays you, Vilthavia," says Elendis with deep concern in her voice. "You talk of things that are beyond your scope and vision."

"Do not preach to me, I beg of you Elendis! You are not my mother!"

"No indeed! I am your friend. It is the duty of a true friend to rebuke another's folly! There is no real plausible method of escape from such a place. Do you know who built this castle, Vilthavia? The Numenoreans did! The craftsmen and engineers of Elendil constructed this castle in the early years of their exile from Ellenore; or Numenor as you may have heard of it." He had not heard of it, really, but he immediately concealed his ignorance by proclaiming that he had. She ignored his interruption, adding, "it was made thousands of years ago. You have to understand that they were made to be escape-proof! I do not know what plan of escape you have concocted in your imagination but I beseech you now to forget them at once and listen still what I have to tell you."

"Maybe so but it is old and decrepit now," he explained, referring once more to the castle. He made a dismissive gesture with a jerk of his head towards a crumbling wall above their heads, saying, "just look at those walls there, for example. It looks as if it will fall any day now."

"It does not matter, Vilthavia! Unless you plan on talking your way through the front gates on your way out you can just as well forget about any secret exit from here. You must heed my advice and accept that which you cannot alter! You and I will both take our leave from this place: but we must do so individually and upon separate paths. There is no other way!.. I'm sorry."

He stares into her grey eyes with an intensity so strong that Elendis finds it difficult to endure. He comes up even closer to her so that their noses are a few inches apace. His eyes run over her face to and fro, from the corners of her lips to her brow and finally to her eyes, which are twitching with a mixture of emotions that he finds surprisingly hard to read. He had been sure that he knew read her many countenances during their travels together. He had dreamt of her many times since first stumbling into the lives of Broggha and his Hillmen and had been longing for the opportunity to be reunited with this amazing feminine creature he was sure he had fallen in love with by now. Yet this girl standing before him had changed considerably; quite unlike himself, he thought miserably. To his mind he had not altered in his affection for her since their separation. He knows in his heart that the same cannot be said of her; not anymore.

"I can't believe this is happening," says Vilthavia quietly, almost to himself. "I feel as if I am paralyzed in a nightmare so black and horrible that I will sicken and die if somebody does not wake me up soon."

He releases her from his gaze at last and turns to stare out over the railing of the balcony into the valley. He descries by chance far off in a an exposed area amid a rocky dell a lake of modest size. He had not noticed before. Many trees obstruct his view of it from his vantage point on the balcony but an isolated shaft of sunlight at that moment temporarily pierces a hole in the thick cloud-cover above to shine its lonely rays down across that remote valley long enough to glimmer and sparkle upon the surface of the water.

"Vilthavia," she begins to say with another stifled sob but she checks herself. She has told herself many times in expectation of this moment that she must not break down before him. She pushes her hair back away from her face again and makes to face him directly but Vilthavia does not turn to look at her. He continues to stare far outward to where the little lake sends off brief flashes of glinting white for a few brief moments before again subsiding to the gray gloom as the clouds reclaim the sun from the cold mountains leaving the lands lonely and insulated from the heavens.

"Vilthavia, you make too much of me by far," she begins anew and with a fresher tone. "What I told you before as we were suffering so cruelly out in the wild; those speeches we made to each other in our desperation when our hold upon our own sanity was put to the trial - those feelings that were born out of hopelessness and fear for our lives - those were mere deceptions. Surely you must know that. You think that you love me but in truth it is not so; not in the way you think it is now. You must shake off these...phantasmal aspirations placed in your head by raw fear."

"Then you are claiming that you do not love me?"

Vilthavia asks the question in a calm almost stoic manner, much like a weary butcher might ask his patron which cut of meat they prefer. He can almost guess what her reply will be but decides to wait for her to answer him, almost as if he were desiring to torture himself deliberately. Elendis, in her turn, feels the weight of the necessity of her reply to this direct question. She lets it hang in the air for a moment. Her own heart is in no condition now to analyze itself in order to ascertain how she feels towards this rather remarkable and sincere boy who has already begun to be a young man with all of the unfortunate circumstances he has lived through. She is looking at him most keenly as he stares blankly out across the valley. His appearance has undergone a grave transformation, that much she knows is certain. Besides being dressed in over-sized clothing hardly more than dirty rags, dilapidated footwear that barely conceals his bruised and calloused feet and a full head of dark hair that is now exceedingly long and as wild as some wayworn beast of the wild, she knows that her young friend has not lost any of his grit determination to survive that he displayed several weeks ago during the worst of their mutual calamities. She owed him her life and she was well aware of it. Indeed, he had risked his life to save her in the avalanche. He had preserved her from destruction and as a measure of her thanks she had tried to bring it on herself by her own hand. What if she had leapt to her death from that high ledge? It was a selfish attempt, and this fact alone was enough to convince her that she was beneath him; unworthy of his affection. Perhaps she deserved to be with Ermegil, deserved to be miserable and alone.

"I love you, yes..." she replied at last. "I love you like the brother I never had. I would that you might think of me as the sister that you never had. The filial bond of affection between siblings is ever the more stronger and more true than that of two lovers whose companionship is often fleeting at best. You will come to agree with me in this in time, Vilthavia. Please trust me."

Vilthavia hears her words and is stung to the core buy them. He is not about to weep, however, for his tears will not come to him for solace now. He would not have their final interview together, and indeed he felt it would certainly be their last reunion, become a pathetic display of childish tears. Instead he is still gazing out above the canopy of the many thousands of tall timbers studded with whiteness to the little lake. He has visual daydreams now of himself by the banks of that body of water wading along its little shoreline letting the cold water turn his feet numb with cold. Having lost all the longing for for life he imagines himself walking slowly out into the deep water, the bitter cold biting his skin like the thousand points of many knives. He does not let this prevent him in his intent to gain the dark peacefulness that he yearns for, though. He sees himself walking, walking and walking slowly forward until his head is submerged completely. He opens his mouth and swallows up the water until he chokes and gasps. Then there is peace at last.

"I have never wanted a sister," he says flatly in return to Elendis after a long pause, though he does not turn to look at her. "You should get back to your betrothed now. You and I have made our peace, it seems, and there is nothing left to discuss." Then, at last turning his head to look into her eyes, he adds, "I bid you the full grace of the Valar on your future with the prince. No doubt you will make a good wife for him."

Elendis feels a stab of cold guilt prod into her like a cow-poke. A fleeting moment of panicked indecision threatens to overwhelm her and she very nearly quails in the end and comes close to giving in to her longing to renege on her vow to the prince in favor of running off with Vilthavia; though to what avail it would serve either of them was uncertain. Very likely they would be caught and returned to a more severe manner of captivity than before. Broggha might lose all patience with her and the prince and simply turn her over to the slave merchants, and Vilthavia? Who could say? He would probably be left to rot away in some dungeon. Her brief thoughts are cut off by Vilthavia who moves away from the railing and looks around him for a sign of a willing escort back to his holding cell.

"Then you will accept this decision?' she asks him quickly, coming closer to him.

"Yes, I believe so," he replies woodenly. He looks into her eyes once more. "I will take my freedom and will thank you for it."

"Where shall you go? Have you thought about it?"

"Have I thought of anything else these dark days!"

"The prince Ermegil has assured me of your safety, Vilthavia." She reaches out to him to pull him close but he hesitates. "Trust me in this, my dear friend. My brother!"

This filial appellation does nothing more than increase the pain he feels at this final unlooked for parting of the ways with his beloved, for he knows it is a counterfeit. Nevertheless he is unable to resist her and he yields to her invitation for a final intimacy by returning her embrace. Surprisingly it is Elendis who is unwilling to allow the moment to pass and she instead increases her hold on Vilthavia and begins to weep silently. She no longer cares if he notices it or not. She is about to pull away when she notices in the distance another stray shaft of renegade sunlight piercing through the clouds above. It begins to slowly grow as it moves in their general direction. She tells herself that it is an auger sent by the Valar. If the shaft of light somehow finds its way to their location and basks them in its warming light than she will take it for a sign of hope. She waits for it while still locked in his arms.

The sunlight fades quickly away before it can reach them. If it was an omen it was a dark one.

When she at last releases him from her arms she draws the yellow curtains of her hair from her eyes to look at Vilthavia once more. She knows that it will be the last time she will ever see him alone and without the unwelcome company of the prince or some other escort. He return her look. The wind blows his hair across his eyes but he makes no motion to push it away from his brow. He is not smiling, nor does he frown. His face is of stone, devoid of emotion, yet he does not look away. It is too much for her and she has to turn aside then for fear of releasing her tears anew.

"I will see you once more before you leave," she says with an effort. "The day after tomorrow we will come for you in your cell and collect you. Then you shall be free, Vilthavia! Give you joy of it!"

He manages to conjure up a brief and forced smile - one that fades as quickly as it was born. He bids her a final farewell and simply turns his back on her as he slowly makes his way in the opposite direction towards the other end of the courtyard. Elendis watches him for a spell than immediately runs back through the archway where she halts in the shadows of the tunnel and bursts into an uncontrollable sob that only was heard then by the invisible shadows of dead men who are callous to the misery of the living.
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Jul 03, 2014 4:41 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


Vilthavia shivered with cold. He had been deposited back into his jail and cried himself to sleep, wallowing in self-pity. Such interminable suffrage! At length he awoke with a gasp and realized his throat was becoming parched with thirst. How long had it been since he had had water? One day? Perhaps two? No one had come to him to offer him any relief for what seemed the longest time. Were they intent on letting him die the slow death? Did not Elendis assure him of his intended release from this prison during their last reunion? Perhaps she had been deceived by them? The prince had lied to her. Yes, it must be so! There could be no other explanation for their cruel neglect of him. He sat up slowly in the deep dark of his cell and coughed repeatedly. His throat was dry and his voice hoarse and painful.

Once again thoughts of ending his own life began to gnaw at him. Of what worth was his pathetic life now? If he was truly going to be freed and allowed to walk away on his own accord, as she had promised him, he would choose a path that would take him to the lake he had seen in the distance out on the courtyard and there drown himself. It would be so much easier that way. The mountains were too vast and wild to survive for long on his own and perishing in the wild would be a certainty anyway. The thought of it all was unendurable then. Better to cast himself back into the unconsciousness of slumber and await his fate that way than to remain awake in the dark and brood about Elendis, water and death. He tugged at his ragged tunic and the old coat that had been grudgingly given him earlier by the guards and wrapped them as tightly round him as he could without tearing them. It was hard to tell which was more unendurable, the want of water or the unrelenting cold.

Vilthavia felt himself fall into a sort of trance then, as if he were floating on the wind! It seemed to him that he had been transformed into the shape on an eagle and he glided through the air and beheld from an aerial height a country farm in a green field alongside a tall wooded stream that swarmed with willow-flies and wildflowers. Two young girls, one being younger than the other by at least two or three years and considerably more fair to look upon, ran a foot race against the other towards the little river with a high embankment. They both wore long yellow garments with flowered patterns as decorations on them which caused them to blend in with the flowers they ran through in the field. As he hovered above them both he recognized the younger of the pair to be Elendis at an earlier age; of this there could be no doubt for he recognized her speech and mannerisms. The elder girl he did not know, though his subconscious identified her as Calimë, Elendis' sister whom he had never met. Unlike her sister, if indeed this truly be her, Calimë possessed a head of short hair that was dark with curls that she allowed to flow free in the wind. Vilthavia the Eagle circled low about their heads while both girls called up to him by name in wonder and excitement. Having scrambled down the embankment neither one could find a crossing or place to ford the river and beseeched him by name to render them his aid.

He then found himself in a predicament as to which of the two sisters to assist across the river first, as both seemed intent on being chosen before the other. He delayed in his choice as he flew there above their heads which seemed to aggravate Elendis considerably and she chided him for his indecision. Calimë, however, fell silent as if she recognized the conflict raging within him. For this reason he swooped down past Elendis and carried the elder sister across the river in his talons before setting her down gently on the turf beyond. He immediately retraced his flight path back across the river to help Elendis in the same fashion but lo! Upon approaching her she suddenly seized a stone that lay upon the embankment and cast it angrily into the sky at Eagle-Vilthavia. It struck him with great force in one of his wings causing him to falter in mid-flight. It was a painful wound, both for the physical nature of it as well as the emotional turmoil it caused him, for he had felt strangely drawn towards her from the beginning. Why had she thrown the rock at him? What difference did it make who went over the river first, as both would inevitably be rescued in the end anyway! He saw himself recoil from her presence then and sought to regain the opposite side of the stream again where Calimë awaited him but his wound was too great. He was falling and falling. There could be no preventing his smiting the rocks of the stream and ultimately his earthly demise.

Someone was calling him. A harsh voice from a distance called for him, though not by name. "Boy! Where are you boy, you miserable brat! It's time!" It came from outside the stone door of his own cell, though he was not aware of that fact, as he was being held hostage by his cruel sub conscience, caught in the steely grasp of his nocturnal reverie. Still he slept on, cold and alone in his jail, but the voice that he had unknowingly heard in his ear caused his dreams to shift and change dramatically.

Cruel men dressed in dull chain vests and metal nose-guarded metal helms were stalking through a wooded highland. It all unfolded before his closed eyes through a fog of time that seemed somehow remote. There could be no doubt that he was witnessing events that transpired long ago. Even amid the anxieties of a troubled slumber the dream presented itself keenly in his mind's eye. Long would he recall that foul fantasy in later years. Never before had he heard the name of Angmar ere he set foot outside his native lands in the east, where lay his childhood home, and even now knew it only as some vague distant land in the north where foreign folk lived uneasily amid a menacing shadow that few understood. Yet somehow there was no doubt as to where these foreign folk had come from.

These men conjectured in his mind were not disposed towards kindness; nor were they soldiers of war marching to face off against some mutually acknowledged foe. They were assassins; hired killers eager to fulfill their mission and collect their bounty. Somehow he, Vilthavia, knew this to be true. These malicious men had marched many fruitless miles in search of their prey and because of this were ill disposed to grant mercy for any who might interfere with their errand. Having searched fruitlessly amid the cold and windy plains of the land among the scattered villages of poor folk they had turned their attention to the evergreen highlands of that land. The darkness of nightfall would not hinder them. They were not unwilling to go on after dark for they had a pair of ravenous hounds in their employ that could hunt and seek out the most hidden treasure, whatsoever - or whomever it may be.

Vilthavia groaned, though no one was present to hear it. The dream was beginning to grow fearful to him and he seemed to see himself somewhere out amid the barren stones and thick evergreen hillside that served to conceal him from his pursuers; the hunters of the enemy. They were looking for him; of that there was no doubt. Then he saw an underground tunnel of sorts as the dream began to change. It was a means to escape his hunters! He knew he must follow it wherever it may lead, and he did just that. His spirits rose higher as he went on and on through utter darkness with only walls of carved stone on either side of him. An old dwarf tunnel perhaps? It was impossible to tell. He went onwards after listening behind him. To his dismay the walls seemed to narrow with less space between them. Another dozen paces on and he was sure of it. Alas! The walls were slowly narrowing. He had wagered and lost. The tunnel would soon pinch off any escape with the walls growing ever more near one another. The sound of distant voices and dogs barking. It was over. He was trapped. The dream would not, however, release its hold on him. He wanted to awake but could not. Even in his sleep he was aware that he was still dreaming. Or was he awake and hallucinating? Wake up! I beg of you!

"Wake up, you! Get on your feet, little one, and present yourself!"

He was wrenched free from his black dreams so suddenly by this new unwelcome voice that Vilthavia instinctively recoiled while still on the floor by curling into himself with his hands over his eyes. A yellow light flooded into his prison cell from the opened stone door. A man was talking to someone in a foreign tongue just outside the entranceway. He peered timidly out from between his closed fingers on his face and saw the lower legs and black boots of a figure standing immediately before him. The man spoke again to him with his gruff accented voice in the common tongue ordering him to rise up and face him.

"He's a sluggish one, this lad is," he remarked to another. "Beginning to look half-starved, aint' he? There now, young fella! Get your wits together and stand up! Hell and death, boy! Get up and rejoin the world of the living, blast you! Or do you prefer the company of the rats? Eh?"

As he forced himself to uncurl his limbs and attempt to sit up straight he heard another voice more submissive voice opine, "Nah, no rats down here, I would, think, sir. Too cold and not enough carnage for them to feed on. They don't eat stone! Castle's been abandoned a long time, ya know."

The first more authoritative voice told the former one to 'shut-up' and hand him his wine skin. This was done at once and before he knew it Vilthavia beheld a large gloved holding it in front of his face for him to take.

"Drink this, young rogue! You are thirsty, I expect. Go on! Take it! You're going to die in here if you don't get some fluids into your shriveled carcass soon! Why the guards haven't...," he paused suddenly, letting his remark hang in the air as he at last knelt down to eye level with the prisoner upon the floor. Vilthavia tried to look into the man's face but between the deep shadows of the chamber and the flood of light directly behind the man he looked more like a black featureless silhouette in front of a blazing sun far in the distance. The stranger reached out and put his gloved hand upon his face as if examining it for defects. Next he seized Vilthavia's parched lips and pulled them open in order to look at his teeth.

"His lips are about as dry as the barren Haradwaith!" This was said to yet a third anonymous figure from behind the man. His examiner stood up again and strode over to the newcomer, his back to the prisoner. Judging by the tone in his voice the former was not pleased. He spoke again, saying to the other, "He's not good, ya know. He will be unlikely to last three nights out there in his condition. Broggha and his fog-headed thugs will find themselves in desperate want of aid if they don't learn to adhere to the rules we all agreed upon! Nay lord, I shan't give you more than five shillings for him like this! Look at him for yourself, he's just - hey there, curse you, little rogue! I told you to drink that water and by God I meant it! Now drink!"

Vilthavia knew he was speaking to him, for though he held the water skin in his hand and was indeed exceedingly thirsty he had been too plagued with confusion and wonder to take a drink. Raising the leather vessel to his parched lips he took several deep draughts of the beverage within. It was plain water but it was to him more divine than wine!

"Don't stop on our account, boy!" said the foreigner, turning back to him. "Drink every last drop of it if you'd like. You're going to need it where we're a-goin!"

"Hey! He's a good lad, altogether!" said another quickly, so as to interrupt the former speaker most deliberately. "Few children his tender age could have endured so many harrowing trials as he, I assure you!" The third individual at last stepped into the chamber, past Vilthavia's interlocutor, so as to confront the prisoner directly with an announcement. The nasal-like voice was a familiar one to him and, looking wearily up to ascertain his identity, so was the form that owned that particular voice. Despite his weakened physical state the sight of him made him involuntarily rise to his feet and clench his lifted fists in disgust.

"Now, what have we here, eh?" asked the Prince Ermegil in mock astonishment. "Is that how you greet your deliverer? With scowls and fisticuffs?" Vilthavia was young but no fool. He was not at all pacified by the prince's conciliatory tone. He decided in a fit of instant defiance not to back away at this man's slow approach, and instead hold his ground where he stood. Ermegil furrowed his brow with a mischievous grin at seeing this.

"Threaten me not with those perilous knuckles of yours, young ruffian!" he said sarcastically. "One cannot help but admire such spirit, I do say! You shall make a splendid king's page or squire one day, lad. Perhaps I shall take you into my own personal service when I am called upon to rule the lands!"

Vilthavia wrinkled his own brow at this notion and challenged him with reciprocal mockery, saying, "The day that the people of Rhudaur suffer a villain like you to be their ruler, Ermegil, shall be the day that b-astardy becomes a boon!"

The prince was sensitive to the extreme whenever his status of illegitimacy was raised, and as he absorbed this remark Vilthavia felt a slight pang of satisfaction for wounding his foe as he discerned the effect his insult had on the man. Ermegil was no longer smiling as he came forward and the pair locked eyes upon one another in the gloom of the cell; the prince looking down at him from on high over his crooked nose while Vilthavia looked up at this hated person with outward chin and bloodshot eyes that shot invisible darts of venom. Ermegil at length recovered from this and forced a brief flicker of a smile before beginning his own threatening rejoiner.

"Well spoken! How long have you been rehearsing that witticism? Constructed and tailored, no doubt, for my own detriment, I am sure. I can arrange for these accommodations to become something of a more permanent station most easily if you'd like. Tis' said that the great minds of the world work their wonders best when submerged in darkness. Looking upon you now, boy, I am reminded why I have never chosen to sire any children.” Then, in an aside more to himself than to anyone in particular, he muttered, “What she may see in this boy I cannot tell!”

“What say you, then?” asked the other man. “I shall pay you five Rhudauran shillings for him but no more! He has grown scrawny and thin in his captivity here. I cannot foresee his being of…”
Ermegil turned at once to the man and motioned for him to remain silent with a shake of his head. At last Vilthavia was able to make out the man’s physical features as the latter stepped closer to the torchlight. He had certainly never beheld the fellow before and he was reasonably sure he was not a Hillmen of the western tribes. Rather he resembled to his mind some manner of woodsmen that he had known from the vast Greenwood forest in the east in close proximity to his old homeland. He was not tall by any standards, though he was broad in the shoulders and thick-haired upon his exposed limbs. The man’s face, which he could only see in profile for the moment, was exceedingly hairy – more so than even the Hillmen of the mountains, while also being rather fleshy and pale even in the dim lighting of the cell. He had a somewhat stooped posture as he stood exchanging muffled words with the prince, who in turn stood a whole head taller than he. Vilthavia also noticed that as he gesticulated randomly with hand gestures as he spoke his right hand was short two fingers, one being the man’s thumb – a most inconvenient appendage to lose for anyone – as well as the finger one commonly uses for pointing. In short Vilthavia thought he possessed a most unwelcome air of ruthlessness to his demeanor – a discerning calculation on his part that would unfortunately fall woefully short of the man’s true character, as Vilthavia would learn in the weeks ahead.

“What are you saying over there?” cried Vilthavia aloud to them, for he began to grow painfully suspicious of their secret talk together. “What about my freedom, Ermegil? You made a pact with Elendis! You promised her my freedom in return for her hand in wedlock! I know this to be so!”

“Stop up that mouth, boy,” spat out the turnkey servant who had led the men hither. He was still holding one of the flaming brands in his hand and he held it menacingly close to the prisoner with these words. “You’ll learn to respect the prince’s authority or I’ll make a torch out of those filthy rags upon your back!”

“Mind the light, curse you!” This from the burly three-fingered fellow to the turn-key. “Don’t you speak to the prisoner again unless I say so!”

The unpleasant lad looked back at his lord as one abashed and replied nothing. He meekly replied before holding the light back in their direction. Ermegil said a few more inaudible words to the foreigner again before motioning to Vilthavia to come forward.

“You are quite right, my young rogue! I have indeed arranged to see that you are properly released from our care here.” Again he motioned for Vilthavia to step forward and cross the threshold of the cell door. He complied rather meekly and in a moment he was out; after spending many unjust days penned up in darkness he was finally out of his accursed cell! Freedom seemed within his grasp now – assuming the treacherous villain would remain loyal to his promise to Elendis. “I have not properly introduced you to my associate here. I now present - Guider. It is all you need know of him at present, save this: you shall, on the morrow, join him and his mountaineers on their exit from the highlands. He and his retinue shall be your guides, for without one you would perish in the wild within a single day. There, you see! I am as good as my word!”

“What is all of this about five shillings of payment?” queried Vilthavia earnestly as he was escorted down the hallway.

“Their fee for their services, of course!” replied the prince. “Nothing comes without a price in this world, little rogue!”

“I will be granted one last opportunity to make my farewells to…”

“To my betrothed, you mean to say?” jabbed Ermegil, not without a trace of the glee of triumph in his demeanor. “You shall see one another once more ere you depart in the morning. And that will be the end of things between you both, I fear to say.”

There was little else to say indeed. It was an abhorrent world he was about to enter into, he thought miserably. He wanted desperately to believe that at the least he would be turning eastwards again in the general direction of his home, where no doubt his mother had long since abandoned hope of her only son’s voluntary return. Perhaps she assumed he had either rediscovered his absent father and had chosen instead a life with him in the west, or else had died in the attempt. Did she mourn him? He wanted to believe it was so, but he could no longer be certain of anything in this life.
Tomorrow after dawn he would be forced to relent in his struggle for Elendis, his beloved, and endure their final separation, for the world was too vast for them to place any hope in the remote possibility of any miraculous reunions in the dreary future. He felt as low as the deepest dungeon then and he had to force back the tears once more as his two unwelcome guides led him down corridors and stairwells of stone. Again the thought of the distant cold lake he had seen from the distance up on the balcony while in the company of Elendis returned to haunt his mind, and he longed in his bleeding heart to make an end of himself in its icy depths.
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Aug 07, 2014 12:58 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

part one – Fate of the Vagabond

Incredulity spread across the bearded face of the horse-trader from Rhovanion as he looked in undisguised shock at the prince. Since birth he had always born the name of 'Urlavia', but that was before coming to Dol Agwarth, Broggha's mountainous abode. Among its entire population of some four-hundred living souls in the early years of the fourteenth century of Middle-earth not a single one knew him as such. The afore-mentioned usurper-lord had christened him with the unflattering moniker of 'Vagabond' and decreed that he should be identified by that name only so long as he remained in the service of Himself and his Hillmen, which might last the duration of his mortal life. He had prostrated himself on the floor before Broggha a mere fortnight previous and swore his eternal fealty to him as a surety of his life. Since then not a day had passed that he did not bitterly rue that brash decision. He was trapped. There was nothing that could be done. Even now, as he stood in the presence of Prince Ermegil, the guarantor of his former allegiance, he beseeched him to contrive a means for him to escape from his oath to Broggha. He had sought out the prince in the hour before dawn and disturbed him from his sleep in order to beg this one final favor.

"It will not do," replied Ermegil woodenly, after rising angrily from his bed. "You must henceforth remain his vassal. Nay, better to entreat a cock to crow at midnight then to ask him to release you from your oath - an oath you made of your own accord, mind you! None were there to force you into such a foolish declaration."

"Tis' not true! He forced me into it!" lied Urlavia pleadingly. "If I had not done so my life would have been forfeit. Why would I volunteer for such a thing, I ask you?"

"You are a fool and always have been. How often must I remind you of that?"

"So you will do nothing for me, then?” Urlavia ignored the insult and pleaded with him. In his despondency he pointed his finger accusingly at him as he went on, saying, “You had sworn to me that you would take me along with you when you departed this accursed castle in exchange for that golden necklace I gave you; the one I took off of the dead body of the Northman whom I found in the snow-heap! You gave me your word of honor on it!”

“Do not shout at me, ‘Vagabond!’ or I shall further heighten your woes with a word to Broggha to have you assigned as an assistant to his son, Rhugga – a man who loves you not! Then you should learn the real meaning of misery!”

Urlavia answered nothing at first and instead stared slack-jawed at the man whom had just turned his back on him – seemingly for good. The prince, who had not yet fully roused himself from slumber, whose long hair was as disheveled as a wild patch of brambles, walked casually over to a wooden chest that contained his personal belongings and produced from it a small rolled up parchment and a quill and small ink jar with a closed stopped in its mouth. He set it down on a table and placed himself into a wooden chair. Unrolling the parchment and dipping his quill into the ink he began to scrawl a few words on it.

“Are you writing me an exit pass from this frozen keep,” at last asked Urlavia sarcastically, “or composing an epitaph for my gravestone after I am slain in my sleep one night by these lowly people here after you have gone?”

There seemed to be no reply forthcoming for several moments as Ermegil scribbled away. At length he ceased in his composition, set down the quill and turned round to face his unwanted guest with the scroll in his hand. Urlavia sensed then a slight thawing of the prince’s mood as they looked into one another’s eyes; the former man exhausted by days of anxiety over his pledge of fealty to a powerful renegade Hillman inflicted with megalomania, the latter underwhelmed by this annoying insect that simply would not go away. It seemed the more he swat at him the more insistent he was of serving as a source of irritation for him. In truth he was mildly amused and even pleased with the idea that Urlavia was bound to Broggha by his oath and thus would be forced to remain behind after he himself had departed. To be sure, he had formally assured Urlavia of his intention of bringing him along when the time came to leave, but that arrangement would be impossible now, and for that he was glad.

“Take this,” he said laconically extending his hand towards him that held the rolled scroll. “Go on, take it and read it. It is not long. But be quick about it!”

Urlavia frowned heavily at this. He was a poor reader of the written word at best and both men knew it. If the gesture was supposed to be an attempt at humor Urlavia was not laughing. Ermegil opened his mouth in a wordless gesticulation that suggested he had remembered just then that Urlavia was well-nigh illiterate.

“Forgive me, I beg,” he said sharply, “I had forgotten that you were not well-schooled in – ah, but forget it. I will read it for you.”

He unrolled the parchment and read aloud its contents as follows: “I, Ermegil, rightful prince of Rhudaur, son and enemy of King Denethil, my father; loyal and obedient servant to the lord Broggha, do hereby swear to sign over all my belongings both of the present and in the future, including all monetary fees given to me by the good graces of the Hillmen of the tribes of Broggha to Urlavia of Rhovanion. I, Ermegil, have sworn to uphold this declaration by cementing my seal upon it.”

Urlavia looked puzzled in the extreme at what he had just heard. Then his expression altered to one of scornful mockery as he guffawed at the prince’s phony beneficence.

“What is that to me, ‘thou prince in exile’? What am I supposed to do with something like that, eh? I want nothing more from you than to honor your original agreement with me! I do not wish to remain here a single day longer than yourself! You think to bribe me by bequeathing your worthless possessions to me instead of securing my release?”

“Curse you! Did you not hear me? I cannot do that! Your vow to Broggha is sacred to him! There can be no release from such an oath once it is sworn! This is the best I can do for you, I fear.” Then, in a more soothing tone he went on, “Do not take this letter lightly, Urlavia! I am in the service of Broggha which means that I am also paid by him and his allies to the north. I believe I do not need to tell you who that is, I am sure.”

He referred here to Angmar. Urlavia did indeed know full well what he meant. There was no need for elaboration on that point.

“How much do they pay you?” asked Urlavia eagerly. Ermegil replied that he received no less than fifty gold sovereigns four times a year. It was a staggeringly high amount and Urlavia immediately felt that old familiar feeling of greed, the lust for wealth briefly make a reappearance in his heart at the thought of it. It was more money than he could hope to see in his lifetime. He felt suspicious of the man and wondered how far he could trust this b-astard prince from a forlorn land. His conclusion was simple.

“I will take the necklace back instead,” he said, shaking his head to decline the prince’s offer. “Yes, you know exactly what I mean, lord Ermegil! The necklace I gave you for payment of my secure release from here. I want it back.”

The prince shook his head with a smile on his face that indicated the request was an absurd one.

“I already gave it to Elendis as a betrothal gift. We are to be wed soon, did you not know? I cannot, nor will I ask it back of her. On that issue there will be no compromise.”

He knew then that all was lost. Urlavia knew that further entreaties to the prince on his own behalf would be vain. By swearing fealty to Broggha before witnesses he had inadvertently doomed himself to indentured servitude; a service that would grant the lord of the Hillmen the power to use him in any manner he saw fit. He could not free himself from Broggha’s hold on him now without breaking the oath, which would almost certainly mean his death as a reward. He turned away then so that the pain on his face could not be discerned by his interlocutor, whom he had grown to despise over time. Much like his nephew Vilthavia and all the other members of the original mountaineering company who still lived (and of these there were few) Urlavia began to taste the bitter regret of ever setting foot into the passes of the Misty Mountains.

“Look here, Urlavia,” continued Ermegil in his softer tone, “I advise you to accept my offer. This letter is all the recompense I can provide you with now. Furthermore, I will speak to Broggha personally. It is not how I wished events to unfold, but well – there it is! It cannot be helped, so take it! I assure you it is quite legit and will be honored. You will be Broggha’s servant, tis’ true, but you will be a wealthy one! Please him and things will go well for you; he may even send you upon errands into the wild where you will find chances to cut and run for it. And take heed of this final council I now give you free of charge: a time will come, no doubt, of your chance to escape from him and his reach, which shall only grow longer with each passing year – of that I have no doubt. There will be opportunities to come when his guard will be down amply enough for you to flee this abode, or wherever you may be when his attention is removed from you, for he will not remain here indefinitely. This is only a temporary stop for him. Ere much longer Arthedain will hear of this place, which was built by their own ancestors, and how it is being used by an occupant who is their natural enemy. All you need do at present is bide your time until the spring of the year next. Yes, you must needs endure the winter here, and it may be hard, I admit, but you will persevere, I doubt not.”

“Such sound wisdom from a scoundrel-prince,” said Urlavia in a defeatist manner. “I shall remain here and endure famine and cold while you are far away with your young bride in some Rhudauran farmhouse. I spit on such justice!”

He did just that. He spat near the feet of Ermegil, who had stood up once more and approached Urlavia as he spoke reassuring words to him. He offered the prince one final glare of hostility before seizing the rolled-up parchment from his hand in one quick motion. Then the man who was now officially known as ‘Vagabond’ turned on his heel and stormed out of the bedchamber in a rage...
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:39 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

part two - The Flight of Hunthor

I.

The previous hour of his life had been the most compelling one that had ever befallen him. Once again he had eluded certain death. He seemed to have acquired a knack for doing so. The fall alone would have killed a lesser man. It should have - indeed would have certainly been the end of him had he plunged from such a height during the summer months. He would have dashed himself upon the solid rocks of the mountain ledge and his body broken, his spirit already on its way to that designated waiting place in the Halls of Mandos where the spirits of the Edain go after death. Yet it was now in the last quarter-season of autumn and the terrain already covered with enough snow for a wild rabbit to burrow itself beneath the flakes in order to hide from predators that would devour it.

The cushion of the snowbanks was the one thing that had preserved his life. He had not known before his accidental stumble and fall that there might have been anything below him that would prevent his imminent death. It was death that he had resigned himself to in the moments before his free-fall, for he had told himself that it was preferable to that hellish destination he had ultimately been consigned to by his jailers who were his enemies. They had crushed him at the last. He had suffered cruelly through numerous tortures at their hands since his capture, both physically and mentally, suffered the slower agonies of unremitting thirst, hunger and solitary confinement in utter darkness. They had come so very close to breaking him down with their repeated interrogations! What more was left? What else could he tell them that he had not already revealed? The answer to that was simple in his mind: nothing. There was nothing else to confess to unless he were to fabricate deliberate falsehoods just to quench their hunger for more and more knowledge in regards to their enemies, of which they accused him of being one of their spies. When they came for him in his dark jail the last time they made boast of what they were going to do with him. They made no secret that he was to be sent north; far into the cold northern arms of the Misty Mountains where lay the realms of Angmar and Gundabad.

Hunthor the Dunadan lay on his back, the icy chill of the snow and the mountain mists slowly benumbing him. His eyes were closed tightly upon his sudden impact with the ledge beneath the cliff he had fallen from for he had not even seen it when he felt his downward descent through bottomless air come most suddenly to an immediate halt. The impact was exceedingly painful but not as severe as he had anticipated it. But why had his fall been so short? Surely the canyon far below must lay two hundred feet beneath him! He could not have fallen through the air more than a few seconds. His first thought was a natural one: 'I am now dead. I have left the world. O joy to be free at last!' Yet it was not so. The reality of his predicament gradually began to gain a foothold in his still cognizant mind as he lay face-upwards in the snow.

With hesitation he began to open his eyes, blinking successively as he felt the cold droplets of ice upon his lids already attempting to freeze up. All around him was fog and he could see little; no doubt the poor visibility had been the chief culprit to his accident. He turned his head back and forth in order to alleviate the difficulty. More snow fell over his eyes because of this and he instinctively raised up an arm to wipe away the white obstruction concealing his vision. This alone was painful and he wondered if his arm was broken. In any case his sight had at last returned to him, or at least to his one remaining eye, for his left one was gone forever, it being most cruelly burned out of its socket by his tormentors in the early days of his captivity in the dungeons of Broggha, the Strong. There was snow in his mouth as well and he spit it out, realizing then that it was stained with red. His mouth stung him and he finally began to feel the sharp pain from inside. Feeling inside his oral cavity he at once discovered the source of the blood: he had nearly bitten off the end of his tongue at some point during the impact of his fall. By way of his fingertips he could even feel for himself the deep incision his teeth had made upon the surface of his tongue.

All around him was snow. It was immediate and undeniable, if nothing else because of the cold. It was finally dawning upon him that he had not perished but had somehow, miraculously survived his fall over the cliff edge high above! But what about his companion? Where was he? He had not been alone during his escape, for one of his fellow prisoners had managed to survive as well. They had both attempted to scale the heights of a wooded hillside in order to evade their pursuers and both had slipped and fallen amid their haste to hide. Yet now he seemed to be alone. Perhaps poor Frumgard had not been as fortunate and had continued to tumble down the slope to his death? Alas for them both!

In an attempt to block out the pain in his arm and mouth (for moving was still painful) and also to calm himself he began to replay what had happened to him just a while ago. His thoughts were still mired in wonder and confusion and everything seemed to move very slowly around him. He was still looking upwards to the sky and high above him he could see through the mists the silhouette of a lone winged creature of the air making concentric circles not far from where he now lay. ‘A carrion bird!’ he thought to himself; ‘A vulture awaiting his evening meal. He has seen me, of course. He has but to wait awhile and he shall swoop down to begin his feast.’ Then with a bitter taste of irony in his mouth that mingled with that of the blood he managed to smile! He grinned, laughed aloud, and coughed harshly. He spat out more blood, then let himself relax as his mind drifted backwards in time to the fateful events of the last few hours. ‘I will think for a moment or two,’ he thought to himself, ‘then I shall sleep. Yes – my final mortal slumber. Of this, at least, I am due. I have earned that much.’

He recalled little of the last days of his captivity inside his dark cell. Try though he might his mind was blank. His ailing memory begins at the point where his barred door was swung open wide upon creaking hinges and a flood of torchlight washed through his stone chamber. Masculine voices took over then. They were the usual harsh and gruff voices of Broggha’s spearmen. He recoiled by way of instinct at their intrusion as he lay naked upon the floor. A bundle of clothing struck him in the head. Too weak to dress himself (or was it merely pretense on his part?) they clothed him roughly with their own hands. He was relieved of his nakedness at last, yet the miracle lay in the shoes. They gave him shoes! Shoes for his bloody feet! Footwear for a dying man!

Corridors of ancient stone. Down a flight of winding stairs lit only by the flickering light of their flickering torch. Onwards they walked in the gloom, a progression he saw little of. Mostly he looked at the floor as he went on, gazing in wonder down at his cushioned feet. The guards spoke in whispers to one another but he could not make out their dialects. His mind had yet to free itself of the fog it was in after his long spell in the darkness; for this he was glad as it freed him of the fear that he might have felt otherwise.

Then he remembers being led out of doors and into a courtyard. The presence of many prisoners (apparently he had been the final one to join the assembly), the barking command of Broggha’s officers as they herded them together, the fresh scent of mountain air from on high. Those were the principle distractions that fed the fuel of inertia that set his head in order then. But it was the very air itself – the feel of wind on his unweathered face that had brought him a renewal of mental clarity. How long had it been since he had been caressed by the breezes of heaven? Better than food and water it was at that moment!

The next thing he remembers is that they, the assembly of prisoners, were marched through the open gate in single file. Their hands had all been bound with ropes behind their backs just before their exit through the rear of the old castle. Why the rear gate, though? He heard more than one of his fellow prisoners (all of whom were various Hillmen from the defeated tribes of the western foothills) mention this point to their neighbor. There was a rough path leading away from the castle towards the east that had recently been cleared of snow. They were to follow this; that was what the guards ordered them to do. This meant they were heading deeper into the mountains. Why was that? Any thought they had then of their prospective release had been quashed forthwith – at least to his own mind.

The forced march through wild terrain; they had left one misery behind only to embrace a new one. The mystery of the unexpected gift of clothing and especially of shoes was now revealed to them. How long would they be forced to endure it? Visions of snowfields with tall blades of wild grass jutting up through knee-high drifts, wafting clouds of gray that hung nearly close enough at times to reach up and touch; currents of wind blowing through treetops, the sound of lofty branches in ancient evergreens groaning under the strain of their swaying – all were part of the new dream they were being led into against their will. To occupy his mind while he walked he counted the tally of his fellow prisoners again. Excluding himself there were no less than five and ten in total, he making up the very rear of the line, excepting a pair of spearmen who urged them on from behind. He knew then, judging by their haggard appearance, that all had been tortured at some point during their incarceration. Some were missing fingers on their hands while others had been branded with fire on their foreheads. One man there was that was bereft of an eye, much like himself.

Despite the creeping sense of foreboding that was beginning to gnaw at him by then he could not deny the feeling of relief to be free from that miserable castle! His last remaining source of worry before he turned his back on it forever was that of Vilthavia, his only son! Was he free by now? Where was he, the poor child? He prayed to Manwë then that Urlavia, his traitorous brother-in-law, had succeeded in delivering the boy from his captivity as he promised he would.

He knew that it had been around this point that his feet had begun to freeze again. His body shivered and his teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. The terrain, which had leveled off as they followed a barely distinguishable trail, had begun to descend once more, making their footing ever the more treacherous. More than one of the prisoners had to be helped to their feet again by an angry spearman after they had tripped and fallen to the ground. They began to grow afraid then and hurled questions at their captors, most of whom refused to acknowledge them. Those few who did were abrupt with their answers: “Tell us where you are taking us!” “Silence!” “Might they at least have the use of their hands again?” “No, absolutely not!” “We are too weary to go on!” “Continue or die, scum!” “If we know how much longer we must march we may endure it the easier!” “Almost there! Keep going!”

A brief pause to catch their breath and they were away once more. At length the sloping path they had been following ended at the top of a steep gorge. Downwards along its rugged heights a flight of wooden stairs had been erected so as to allow access for the traveler to proceed down along the wall of the defile in relative safety. This they traversed for an undetermined length of time until the stairs came to an end at a span of ground that seemed to level off. It was here, along the rim of the cliff, that they all saw the bridge. A bridge indeed! Spanning the breadth of the chasm they beheld what appeared to be a dangling rope bridge that could afford a stout-hearted mountaineer a navigable passage across the gorge to the opposite side, which could not be less than two-hundred feet from one end to the other. This then, as it seemed to all, was the place of their ultimate destination. They had come to the end of their mountainous trail. What lay on the other side, though? That seemed to be the main question that needed answered.

There was no barricade of any kind to prevent the unwary from falling over the edge into nothingness and Hunthor recalls stepping forward to steal a glimpse downwards. The depth of the canyon could only be guessed at but he knew it was exceedingly deep. Snatches of greenery and shrub bushes along the rock further down the wall could be seen but the remote bottom could not. What was more was that he noticed that the depths of the abyss had become clouded over with that infamous ever-present foggy mist that gives the Misty Mountains their namesake. Very thick it was as he beheld it hanging in the air far below; indeed so much so that it obscured all view of the bottom of that fathomless ravine. How far down was it? Impossible to say, yet a fall from this height would spell certain death. That much was obvious.

A pair of hands gripped his shoulders from behind and thrust him forwards one more pace. How it had surprised and horrified him then! In a blink of an eye he thought he was over the edge! But no! He heard unrestrained laughter. They were laughing at him! Amusement at his own expense! A wave of chills went up his spine as he teetered on the brink of personal disaster. Only a few inches of firm earth beneath his feet separated him from the void. They mocked him then in the common tongue.

“Ha, ha! You nearly became a flightless bird in the winter air just now! Ha!” That had amused them all then – most exceedingly so. “You should see your face now, O Dunadan!” said one of the guards to him. Then from another, “I’ve never seen a Dunadan go so pale! As white as driven snow, he is! Where are your wings, Dunadan? Where have you hidden them? You cannot fly without wings, you idiot! Let us see them! Someone untie his hands so that he may imitate the eagles! You there, Fribald, my man! Cut away his bonds. Very good! Aye, that’s right. Go on, now! Flap your wings, Dunadan!”

The shame of it. The living shame of the moment at hand! How well he recalled that pitiful experience. Even now, at this very moment as he lay there in the snow in reflection, as free as the birds above, he had been forced to mimic at the point of their spears the flight of a bird. How well he recalls the humiliation of it. If he were not presently incapacitated as such he would weep at the memory. Almost against his own will he continues to recollect the humiliation, which took place, unbelievably so, only a little while ago. He is free of them now. But he continues to think back.

“Go on, Dunadan!” they had howled at him. “That’s right! Flap those wings! Ha!”

He was ordered to place his fists under the pits of each arm and perform the mimicry of a winged bird! This, however, was not enough for them, for their merriment seemed to serve as a sort of warmth that preserved them from the biting cold. One man in particular was nearly doubled over with laughter.

“That is very well and good!” cried one of the guards amid his jocularity. “Let all the prisoners do the same! Untie their hands one and all, for tis’ time. They shall need their hands to cross the bridge at any rate.” After the passing of a few brief moments all the prisoners were free of their bonds. The foreman of the guards went on, adding, “An entire flock of stupid flightless birds is better than one alone! Let all of these pitiful birds flap their wings at once! Go on, curse you all, you rabble! Flap those wings, you rot! Faster! You cannot hope to fly unless you flap your wings! Very good! Now let us hear you utter the cry, ‘Glory to Broggha! Glory to Broggha, lord of lords!”

Thus, upon a forgettable mountain cliff somewhere in the wilds of the central Misty Mountains, did a crowd of earth-bound men perform the office of children at play by pretending, quite against their own will, to be birds in mid-flight by flapping their pitiful arms in the manner of wings while others more wicked at heart looked on in gleeful joy. If they had not already been broken down in spirit and constitution at the hands of their cruel captors during their long duration in Broggha’s dungeons they certainly were by then. Despite the temerity of those moments Hunthor could not help but notice that two of his closest neighbors at the time were beginning to weep. O Varda Elentári, grant us the strength to endure such darkness!

The laughter died away as the guards wearied of the performance. Two of the guards stepped forward and, lending their weapons to their fellows who would remain behind, began to make their way slowly across the slack bridge. Hunthor recalled taking notice that the bridge was only wide enough for a single file march across its length. On the opposite side of the abyss they could descry more hills with patches of wooded areas upon their summits. Once the pair of guards had at last reached the far end of the chasm they looked back across at their fellows and waved them across...
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Celebrimbor32
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