Return of the King: Kyshri's Story - The quest to destroy the One Ring told through the eyes of a runaway Elf (part three of thirteen)

Here is a quick guide on how to distinguish languages:
"Common Tongue"
[Elvish]
[Elvish thought or telepathy]
{Dragon Tongue}

Happy reading!!!


Recap of Tale 2 . . .

Keelica sighed heavily as Aragorn left. [No one ever answers my questions . . . Legolas! Please come explain to me what is going on!]

He appeared from indoors. [Keelica! Any news of Gondor?]

[I have already spoken of that with Aragorn,] she snapped, [and he did not do me the honor of sharing what Rohan will do! Explain it, please!]

Legolas stepped out of the way of a few hurrying men and said, [All riders capable of battle will ride to Dunharrow and order themselves there. From that point they shall ride on to Gondor.]

Tale 3

[Now that plans have changed, where are we going next?]

[The Paths of the Dead,] Legolas answered absently as he examined the queen dragon's fire craw, fascinated that it expanded and contracted slightly with each drawn breath. [But you need not go along.]

[And what do you suggest I do? I cannot converse with Men and most of them fear me. They would have attempted to slay me already were you and your friends not maintaining your calm.]

Legolas glanced around. Indeed, the Men had given Keelica a wide berth wherever she happened to be and a simple shift of her wings sent many of them for their weapons. He sighed and reached out to give the thinly-scaled fire craw an experimental squeeze, forcing a bit of the dragon's breath from her. [I suppose you are correct.]

Keelica watched him with her near eye, then closed her mouth and built a store of fire in her craw, observing as he blinked and leaned away as the pouch swelled and turned a blood-red color. Finally giving in to his curiosity, he reached out and placed his hand near it. Feeling nothing, he rested his hand on the rough skin interspersed with tiny scales.

[. . . It is cool,] he noted, perplexed.

She swallowed the fire and then belched, spewing out a cloud of thick black smoke. The entire camp stopped its activity and one nearby man, startled and afraid, automatically strung and loosed an arrow at her. It bounced harmlessly off the scaled top of her right wing, snapping in half upon contact.

Legolas whirled, furious, and opened his mouth to berate the man for his needless attack, but was surprised to feel fangs slip into his collar and lift him from the earth. Keelica gracefully curled her neck, placing him on her back, and trotted silently from the camp.

[Please do not feel obligated to protect me,] she said after several minutes. [While it is a sweet sentiment, none of the race of Men can slay me. They have not the power nor the knowledge. My weaknesses are far fewer and harder to exploit than those of my offspring.]

[He should have been more respectful!] Legolas insisted. [You are hardly obliged to aid us, yet you are! Is his only repayment to fire arrows upon you for a mere belch?]

[I expected little else,] she answered. [Begging your pardon, by the way.]

[Most certainly,] he replied absently.

Suddenly, the Shadow Queen pushed powerfully against the earth, launching herself into the sky. Startled, he flung his arms as far around her neck as possible and held on as she ascended steeply toward the stars peeking through the dusk. She let out a sharp bark of laughter at his panic.

[You are safe with me, young Quendi!] she called back to him. [I am Queen of the Sky, you need fear nothing!]

He was much inclined to believe her as her wings pumped at the stagnant air around them and relaxed his grip on her, straightening as she levelled off and stilled her wings, gliding so near the stars that he felt he could reach up and pluck them from the sky. The feeling was so amazing that he wished Kyshri was there to share it with him.

Just as he finished the thought, Keelica arched her neck and then relaxed, giving a half-flap of her wings that lifted them higher into the clouds. He was abruptly enveloped in the warmth of a free soul--its familiarity told him instantly that the Shadow Queen had somehow granted his wish.

[Kyshri, look,] he whispered to the air. [Look at the stars. Do they not seem so near that they could be taken from the very sky itself?]

His answer was a sense of overwhelming awe and then serene contentment a moment later. He felt invisible arms slide over his shoulders and a head rest gently against his. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back slowly, relishing every second that passed. Kyshri had seemed not to be a particularly demonstrative sort of Elf--for a long time he had believed that his affection for her had gone practically unnoticed, considering that her only true response had been at Amon Hen, when she had gifted her phoenix pendant to him.

Now she was the one revealing her feelings to him, even if she was not there in a physical form. He reached up and grasped the pendant through his tunic, hoping that when she was returned to him, she would remember this moment as he knew he always would.

Just as she had appeared she was gone; Keelica banked and made a gradual downward spiral. She alighted on the earth a short distance from the camp and walked stately among the tents of Men, ignoring them as they scrambled from her path, and then past where the horses stood calmly, hardly giving the queen dragon a glance as she settled at the edge of the forest.

Sliding from her back, Legolas curled up against her chest and allowed the twin heartbeats to lull him to sleep. [Kyshri . . .]

~*~

Keelica woke as the first rays of dawn brightened the eastern sky. Lifting her head carefully so as not to wake the piles of Men sleeping around her, she watched the horses leisurely wake themselves and begin to graze for their breakfast. Turning, she looked at the Men that slept on all sides. Like a child running to his parents when he has a nightmare, the entire camp had become strained at the howling of the hunting wolves nearby during the night. That as well as other `unnatural' noises drove them to her sides where they knew they would be safe.

Lowering her head, she nuzzled the young Sindarin Elf huddled against her chest plates. He woke with a soft snort of indignation, as though coming out of a good dream, and rubbed his eyes. [Is anything wrong?]

[Nothing is amiss,] she answered quietly. [It is dawn--I assumed you wished to set out.]

[Yes,] he replied. [Thank you.]

She gave him a fond lick with her ridged, forked tongue and then nudged his friends; the one of Men who did not fear her and the one of Aule's Children who thought her to be little more than a large Elven pet and therefore decided her to be perfectly tame. She did not find it necessary to correct him.

Looking next at the dark-haired twins, she gave each a tiny bump with her snout. They were awake instantly, seeming to think that there was some danger near them. Upon looking up at her, however, they retracted their wariness and took the rare luxury of a languid stretch.

Once they had risen, so did she, dropping the Men to the earth. They woke with a harsh start and scrambled to tear down the camp to continue. Keelica did a great deal of stretching, so much that her wings provided long shadows that startled those who worked. Walking away from the camp, she lifted herself to a tall crag that she could barely place all four feet upon. Her tail crooked oddly and her wings spread for balance, she gazed into the distance. Seeing nothing that would hinder their passing, she glided down to the small company as they set out.

They moved on toward the mountains, Keelica following the cantering horses at a loose jog. Her eyes were locked on the horizon, but at times it was quite clear that she was lending her attention to odd things that only she heard. At last they passed among the rocks and came to Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, where the Dark Door stood in ominous silence, the designs carved in its surface weathered almost to nothing.

Slowly, Aragorn passed through the gateway. The other horses balked at the fear emanating from it, so Keelica stepped over them and followed him in. Several Rangers managed to coax their horses after the dragon, but none were able to make it onto the Path.

The Door slammed shut, catching on the queen dragon's hips. There was an instant of silence and then a scream that went far beyond the range of Mens' ears ripped through the air. Legolas, Elladan, and Elrohir covered their ears to dull the piercing note, breaking into violent shakes once the noise died. Despite the ringing that dimmed their hearing, all three rushed forward to see to the condition of the dragon queen who was now trembling as well.

[Keelica! Keelica, how are you?!]

[I . . . I am . . . all right. Instruct the others to lead their mounts beneath me. I do not believe I can free myself easily.]

The word was passed along and the Rangers led their loyal horses under the pained dragon queen. Arod was last, being flighty and distrustful, but Legolas urged him through with a soft song and gathered a distance away from the Door with the others, who were turned to see how Keelica would free herself.

Had they not seen it with their own eyes, they would never have believed it could happen. Keelica twisted, lifting one rear foot to place it on the Door. She drew her tail beneath her, tucked it against her stomach to not get it caught in the stone, and gave the Door a shove. It opened, but quickly fell shut again. Keelica was already through and stood with her feet spread, her emerald eyes locked on the dark stone beneath them.

A cloud of black smoke began to trickle from her nostrils. She suddenly pivoted, swinging her head around with a snarl to connect with the rock. The Door shuddered from the impact and several smaller stones fell off the overhanging cliffs, bouncing harmlessly off the dragon's scales. She hissed in rage and slashed at the rock with her talons. Pairs of foot-deep gouges appeared, their depth fueled by her anger. She finally gave the rock another bash with her head. Chunks fell from the Door until holes could be seen through to the other side.

Then, the structure of the Door compromised, it collapsed with a crash and sent a quake through the earth. Dust was stirred in a great cloud, obliterating even Keelica's form. When it finally settled the dragon queen still stood, having not moved from where she was, now a pale gold-silver. She gave a snort and the dust in her nose erupted in a small puff.

She shook, spraying the dust off in a new fog. Moving past the group gaping at her, she murmured, [That was too rash, however . . . I must find water. I must bathe . . .] She moved deeper into the cavern, stopping sharply once and looking side to side, her green eyes seeming to float in the darkness.

[Keelica?] Legolas inquired quietly. [What is it you hear?]

[Whispers of the Dead, young Quendi,] she replied softly, turning her head to gaze back at him, her eyes appearing even more eerily detached from her. [Only the whispers of the Dead.]

There was a rustle as her leathery wings unfolded part way and a blast of cold air swept through, eliminating the light of the torches. The dragon's eyes were still visible, but reflected not off her scales or her golden forelock. [Then we shall press on without light. I still have my sight, if you will trust it.]

It took no consideration. Aragorn insisted on continuing and the others were eager to leave the blackness. Keelica led them, stopping often to count the group to herself as each one passed. She gave Gimli, who always lagged at the end of the company, an encouraging nudge before retaking her place as the leader.

Coming to open land once again, the band mounted and made their way on. Keelica looked up often, searching for something she could not find. Becoming frustrated, she pushed from the earth and circled, finally alighting on a worn-flat pillar of stone and gazing around with interest. Then, for no perceptible reason, she belted out a roar that shook the ground beneath the horses' hooves.

[The Dead have heard your cry, Lord Aragorn!] she shouted. [They come to meet you! We must reach the Stone of Erech!]

Leaping from the stone column, she glided on silent wings into the darkening town, landing easily in the square and shrieking as a demon would. [Remain in your dwellings, mortals, or the Dead shall find you!] She breathed several puffs of flame into the air to be sure that even the most curious were frightened and then returned to the company still coming down the hill.

[Was that really so necessary?] Legolas asked, watching her circle so low that one of her gold talons bumped his head as she passed over him. [Are you trying to frighten them to death?]

[I am trying to protect them,] she answered. [If the Dead were to get hold of them, they would have no escape. Not even Aragorn could save them.]

The Mirkwood prince was stunned. [. . . How do you know this?]

[I am not named the Shadow Queen simply because I am colored the same as the night sky. My Lord Iluvatar also commanded me to herd the souls of the Dead here on Arda to the Halls of Mandos for their judgement. Of course, I am far too strong for them to be able to affect me, but I have seen what the Dead can do when they choose to do it.]

It was not very encouraging.

They passed through other villages and reached the Stone of Erech at almost the stroke of midnight. As Aragorn spoke to the invisible army, Keelica landed just to the side and walked among the specters, whose presence turned her legs grey to the eyes of others. She peered at them, seeming to examine them as critically as one might a hog that was being sold at market.

[Keelica?] Legolas asked as camp was set around the Stone. [What are you doing to them?]

[Nothing. Why?]

[You are looking them over as though you wish to consume them.]

[I am searching their souls. If they seek freedom through redemption of their cowardess, then they shall be forgiven. Yet if they merely seek freedom without any understanding, then they shall remain cursed as they are. I shall not sully the Halls of Mandos with such baneful schemes.]

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I didn't realize until I'd already written it that there was actually no true `door' into the mountain. But since I generally don't like to rewrite things--in my experience with fanfics, the first writing is almost always the best--I left it that way. Call me lazy . . .

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