As the afternoon sun warmed the little knoll in a clearing upstream from the Greenleaf Wood Guildhouse, Dirk rose and dressed in his black clothing: new breeches, strategically reinforced for the saddle and made from a lightweight but exceedingly strong fabric similar to that of the Mithril Cloaks, but much less opulent - his old leather breeches had become thin from riding and had been repaired a few too many times - and a handsomely-tailored linen shirt.
After dressing and eating a few bites of the bread and fruit he had brought from the Guildhouse stores, he once again lay on the pungent grass and continued his ruminations upon the last few weeks:
The Wise, such as were left at the beginning of the fourth age, had been invited to stay at King Thranduil's subterranean palace; and it was there that, one-by-one, the many eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Red Hammer told their tales, so that the events may be recorded and the Wise may attempt to learn from what had happened.
As Dirk sat on a stone bench outside of Thranduil's throne hall, he was glad that it had been decided that the Wise would meet here and not at the Mithril Knight Guildhouse. The halls of the Mirkwood elves were as familiar and comforting as any surroundings upon Middle-earth, for Dirk had visited there many times in his youth. Here he had received his training in language, history, and martial lore from many elves, including Legolas, Elrond's sons when they were visiting, and even Thranduil himself.
But there was another reason beyond its homely feeling that he was glad to sit before authority within that rock instead of beneath a Mithril Knight roof. He shuddered as he thought about the atonement for his actions that surely awaited him, once the more pressing matters of the battles had been settled; and that would surely only be handled within the sovereignty of the Mithril Knights.
"Sir Dirk of Esgaroth, Mithril Knight of Lore?" inquired a Sylvan warrior, in the livery of Thranduil's personal guard, to those gathered in the antechamber.
"Yes," Dirk stood.
"Please enter the throne chamber of Eryn Lasgalen and be seated before the council," the guard turned on his heel and Dirk followed.
Inside the room that Dirk had visited on many occasions, several seats had been arranged to either side of the central highly-carved wooden throne. A single chair sat in the middle of the room, facing the semicircle of high seats. It was to this chair that the guard beckoned Dirk.
"Sir Dirk," began Lord Elbren, who was seated at Thranduil's right hand, " you are summoned to this council to recount all that you have witnessed as it relates to the invasion of the Red Hammer, the recovery of the Sickle of Vanyar, and your travels during that time."
Dirk shifted uncomfortably at the last phrase. He had known that he would need to tell his full tale, but prior knowledge did not lessen his discomfort.
"Gathered here for this testimony are representatives of the many peoples of Middle-earth," continued Elbren as a Sylvan scribe recorded his words upon parchment at a small desk to Dirk's left, "King Thranduil and his son, Legolas, for the elves, King Thorin Stonehelm and his cousin Gimli, elf-friend, son of Glóin, for the dwarves, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland, for the hobbits (Merry had been visiting Rivendell with Legolas and Gimli when the call came and so was near enough to come and represent his people), and King Bard II, for men. Here also is Radagast the Brown, for he is the last of his order known to us within Middle-earth and had some dealings himself with the Red Hammer."
These were all seated nearest to the center. Elbren motioned to the seats furthest from Thranduil's throne away on Dirk's right.
"Also gathered here are some whom you have requested to hear your tale: Elrohir, Elrond's son, Lady Tempest, Mithril Knight of the Lidless Eye," she held her gaze upon Dirk and showed no reaction to the quiet murmur her title had caused, "and Drake of Esgaroth, proprietor of the Golden Dragon Inn."
These people Dirk had asked to attend for he felt it was important that they hear his tale. Elrohir had been witness to each of Dirk's trials as well as the council two years before of which Thranduil spoke. Tempest had witnessed glimpses of Dirk's true nature and he felt that she might be able to offer insight to the council, and maybe to the young knight himself. And finally there was his foster father, who was also present when Dirk was given his inheritance. The man had given Dirk a home and his love for eighteen years and he felt that it was right that he witness his youngest son's testimony and hear firsthand of his deeds.
One other Mithril Knight was to be summoned to Dirk's testimony on his behalf, but Lord Anorast had not yet returned from searching out the last vestiges of the Red Hammer. When Anorast's group split up to ensure that no Red Hammer survived their siege of Erebor, Esgaroth, and Dale, Dirk had not gone with Anorast's main detachment which hunted down the runners who went east. Rather, the young Knight went alone and took his toll out of the remnants that hid in the Lonely Mountain's vales. It was two weeks since Lord Anorast's prey had been sent running directly into a marching column of dwarves from the Iron Hills and was utterly decimated; and after that final skirmish he sent the rest of his troop back to the Guildhouse for reassignment. But he himself did not return with them, and was presumed to be scoruing the lands east of the Running River for any that might be hunkered in holes or hidden knolls or stands of trees.
"Finally, I Lord Elbren Galadrim, Mithril Knight Guildmaster, represent our order in these proceedings."
Elbren sat and King Thranduil spoke, "Sir Dirk, it has been nearly two years since you sat exactly where you sit now and received the blade that hangs now at your hip and heard your true heritage. That day, you sat before many of the same people who are assembled here now. But I see a different man before me, not only in appearance, but in spirit as well. I am glad that you have survived the trials that followed the receipt of your inheritance, but I also mourn for the loss of innocence that was the young boy who used to stow away with wine deliveries in order to explore my wood." Elrohir, Legolas, and Drake smiled widely at the memories that the King's comments elicited.
Thranduil continued, "However, to my eyes it appears that wisdom now lives where innocence has vacated. I admit that I am surprised to see such wisdom so soon, for when you left these halls with Neleg Amlug, the Eye of Ancalagon, and the Mantle of Angmar, the three-part legacy your birth father left to you, you were a rash and foolhardy boy. And you nearly succeeded in doing what we had all feared. But a fortunate stroke by an unlooked-for opponent saved you, and Middle-earth, from a terrible doom."
At these words, Dirk winced visibly and reached to cover the stump of his left index finger with his right hand. Phantom pain seared where the finger had once been, and the jagged scar across his throat felt as though it were fresh-cut.
"But those transgressions are past and have been repented. Likewise, the amulet and the mantle are destroyed. The purpose of this gathering is to hear about your dealings with the Red Hammer and our travels to the north during that struggle. We ask that you take your time and try to remember the remotest detail. From time to time, we may ask questions to help clarify a point. But know that we have surmised enough about your actions to deem that you have committed no crime upon the people of Middle-earth; and you are not on trial. So there is no need to feel defensive."
It was as though the King had read Dirk's mind, for he was beginning to feel as though he was being judged even though he had not uttered a word. He took several deep breaths and forced himself to master his senses and his reflexes. He seemed to relax visibly.
"Please begin your tale above Rauros falls, and your part in the battles that happened there."
Dirk remained silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He attempted clear his throat, but as always, to no avail. His voice sounded like the grating of granite boulders upon one another under tremendous pressure.
He told what he remembered of the battle upon the shores of Nen Hithoel. When he came to the part where he stood upon the Seat of Hearing and beseeched the retreating Tempest to return, the Lady Knight spoke.
"Sir Dirk, sorry to interrupt," she said, "but could you please explain how it is you speak the language of Sauron's orcs?"
"Oh, yes, you see I'm not sure where I learned it." Abashed, Dirk fumbled for the words.
It was Elrohir, the only one there who was also present at Dirk's trial for his actions during that dark time, that answered for him, "Over a year ago, Dirk came to possess a Ring of Power, or a very close facsimile thereof. It destroyed itself when the hobbit, Juwel, (Meriadoc sat up in his chair) cut the ring from Dirk's hand and therefore we were unable verify its origin. However," the tall elf continued, "during the months that he wore the ring, he traveled to many dark places that shall go unnamed and acquired knowledge, among other things, that he carries still."
Along with some of the others, Tempest became wide-eyed at the mention of the Ring. She had guessed this fact about Dirk before, but was startled to hear it confirmed openly.
"Did you, 'acquire' anything else during that time that you can not explain?" said Gimli wryly.
"Yes," again it was Elrohir and not Dirk that that answered. "Dirk, please show them your back."
With the help of the guard, Dirk disrobed to the waist and turned his back on the council.
"Ancalagon the Black," stated Elbren flatly. Though many others, including Tempest, recognized the tattooed serpent spread across Dirk's shoulder blades, the Guildmaster was the only one present who had seen the father of Winged Dragons in the flesh, in the currents of time created by the Giliath Londe murals.
"Thank you, Dirk," said Thranduil, "this, too we will ponder along with everything else we learn here. Please dress and continue your story."
Dirk put his things back on and continued his tale. He recounted his actions at Helm's Deep, Orthanc, and travels to Lothlórien. He did however keep the details of his vision quest during his initiation as a Knight to himself, and no one pressed him further on the matter. He continued, describing his short travels with Arwen_Sol, his first Knight in Training, and their parting of ways. Though no one asked questions, Dirk felt a pang of guilt in describing his sending Arwen_Sol back to the Lórien Guildhouse with her quest unfulfilled.
From there he told of the ambush that had resulted in broken ribs, a deep flesh wound to the thigh and the injury of Endlómë, including the period where he seemed to lose consciousness, only to awake after apparently slaughtering the seemingly overwhelming enemy.
When Dirk told the council of his time with, and training he received from, the shade of Eöl, it was Elrohir who cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, mellon, but when did you acquire the glavorn armor?" asked Elrond's son. The entire council craned their necks to get a better view of the vambraces and hauberk Dirk wore. Even Elrohir, Radagast, and Legolas were to young (or came to Middle-earth too late) to have ever seen these treasures before they were lost in the downfall of Gondolin. The Dwarves were awed by rare metal and equally rare metallurgy. The young mortal felt himself shrink before the gaze of the elder races and suddenly felt an intense desire to disappear.
"It is the Mithril Knights' tradition to allow a Knight in Training to equip him- or herself for travel and battle in the armory of whichever guildhouse from which the initiate's first quest is to embark," answered Elbren.
"But," asked Legolas, "Is it not forbidden for them to choose relic objects such as these until they are initiated."
"You are correct," continued Elbren, "but after deliberating the matter with several trusted senior Knights," the guildmaster inclined his head almost imperceptibly towards Tempest, "it was determined that such items as these would not allow themselves to be utilized by just anyone." He paused, gazing out the window unseeingly for a moment, "No, we decided that the Dark Elf's armor could only be bourne by those whose destiny it was to do so, and no other. We allowed Dirk to keep the pieces on a loan basis until his initiation, at which time they were gifted to him."
"I see," said Elrohir. "Thank you for indulging me. I thought the connection between various black arms you carry, along with the reappearance of at least a part of Eöl's spirit to guide you, seemed significant; and therefore so too was this acquisition. Please continue, Sir Dirk."
It was for this part of his testimony that Dirk had wanted Anorast's presence; for during a brief respite between battles, Dirk had learned that the old elf also possessed at least one piece of Eöl's smithcraft, but had run out of time befire he could tell the Elf Lord about his armor.
Dirk continued, telling of his travels to the north and his encounters with the orc-tribes he found there. But no one interrogated him about any of that part of his story. Instead, at many points, they nodded their heads as if he had confirmed things they had already learned elsewhere, perhaps guessed. Not even his use of the title, Zaugoth, "Black Master," to gain entry into the orc encampment was questioned.
It wasn't until he told them of his encounter with the Knights of the Silmaril were any in-depth inquiries made.
"You did not interrogate them?" asked Tempest.
"Did they say anything of their reasons for being there?" asked Radagast.
"No, I made assumptions based upon the evidence I had seen and decided to send them away as quickly as possible. I thought that if I entered into parlay with them, or even allowed them speak at all, that I could lose my hold over the orcs and would no longer be able to disband the army that had gathered there."
"Do we know which direction they went?" asked Bard.
"We could not tell," Elbren said, "Our scouts said that there was such a trampling of thousands of feet that it was impossible to find the Silmaril Knights' trail at all."
"And what of the orc-army?" asked Thranduil.
"There was evidence that upwards of two thousand died in inter-tribe fighting and the rest scattered in every direction."
"Sir Dirk, I believe it was after this time that you crossed over the Hithaeglir and re-joined with Lord Anorast?" asked Bard.
"Yes, my Lord, I found them on the night before they attacked the siege towers at the gates of Erebor and Dale."
"I think then, that we have gathered all that we need from you, Sir Dirk, thank you," said Thranduil, "You are dismissed."
As Dirk rose, he noticed that the others did also and, with a glance to the tall windows hewn into the living rock, saw that it was after sundown; he had testified before the council for over six hours. He surmised that his was the last testimony for the day.
As everyone was milling about and murmuring, slowly making there way to the doors, several people shook Dirk's hand, including Drake, who had been silent but attentive during the entire proceeding.
"Thank you son," he checked the tears that welled in his blue eyes, "I always knew that there was more to you than the naughty boy I raised at the Dragon. But even when I was here two years ago when they gave you that sword, and Glorfindel spoke to you about great deeds with terrible tragedy and all, I never thought it would be so tough for you."
Then the burly barman embraced his foster son.
When Drake had stalked out of the room, Dirk was left nearly alone. It took several seconds for him to notice that Tempest and Elbren were still in their seats.
"Sir Dirk," began Elbren, "Please feel free to stretch your legs and clean up if you like; however I need to see you in the chamber the Thranduil has graciously allowed me to use for a little private supper. I am leaving in the morning for Edoras with the Knights in Training and there is one other matter which we need to discuss. Tempest, I'd like you to join, as well, please."
The lady Knight nodded in ascent to the Guildmaster who strode purposefully from the room. For a moment, Tempest looked as though she was going to speak, but then only clasped Dirk's shoulders firmly and locked eyes with him. She didn't need to speak for Dirk to know that she was communicating to him her understanding and support. In the space of a heartbeat, she broke her gaze and her grasp and stalked from them room.
Minutes or perhaps hours later, Dirk could not tell, he too left the hall.
Last edited by SmaugsBane
on Sun Sep 30, 2007 9:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.