Tasana: Queen of Wargs - A Story
Best to let the threats exterminate one another. Best to run away from the fray; far, far away, and then hide. Besides, the young woman had neither sword nor shield to defend herself with, only a paltry collection of hunting arrows in her quiver and her healer's knife. Any ranger with half an ounce of sense or self-preservation would have stayed as far away as possible from giant wolves and perverted orcs, given her meager resources.
Yet the howls were getting stronger and the drums had stopped. Goblins; cries were few and far between. She found herself in a tree above the orcs; flight, aiming one of her preciously few arrows at their backs. She released and heard a sickening yet satisfying thunk as the thin wooden shaft penetrated a goblin's black armor, too high for a wound to the heart, yet it slowed the twisted creature enough for the wolves to make short work of it. The rest of the orcs would not be attacking anytime soon.
Tasana waited until all of the goblins and their pursuers had passed, then climbed out of the tree. Removing her arrow from the ravaged body, then tossing it aside in disgust when she saw it was broken; she noticed one of the huge wolf carcasses was still moving, despite numerous wounds and a curved orc scimitar driven deep into its side.
"Shhh... I'm not going to hurt you.... Lie still," she murmured softly, not quite sure why she was pulling out her medicine bag and canteen of boiled water. This was obviously a lord among Wargs, yet this dark, vicious warrior wolf with a king's bearing and a mortal wound reminded her of nothing more than the spring puppies gamboling on a warm summer day. Tasana yanked out the sword, then applied a medicated bandage to the wound, mildly surprised that she had not lost a hand to either wolf nor poisoned orc blade - yet.
When she had finished, the fifteen-year-old healer looked up to find herself and her charge encircled by Wargs, the gigantic wolves that served as the war- mounts of orcs, according to all the old stories she had heard from her father. They were all yellow-eyed and fierce looking, all warily sizing her up with various expressions of hostility, hope, and befuddlement. Then a large grizzled old matron of the pack pushed her way through the ring and dropped a fat white hare at Tasana's side. Then, after snapping at a growling youngster, the silvery Warg sat a few paces from the merchant's daughter turned woods-woman and the wolf's wounded mate.
Giving the wise old she wolf a half smile, Tasana cut a large chunk off the coney and offered it to the alpha male. He accepted the token with gusto, and his mate seemed to laugh and smile at the young healer as she fed him. At this unspoken signal, the rest of the wolves dispersed with barely a look back. Tasana fed the wolf lord until he went to sleep, then drank a small amount of water herself and picked off the last of the raw hare meat. She did not dare start a fire with the she-Warg watching her every move.
Tasana stood gingerly; keeping a concerned eye on the she wolf that watched her lazily. The alpha female stretched, loosing a yawn that revealed yellowed canines as wide about the base as Tasana's thumb. The wolf howled and a pair of her underlings; both carrying chunks of venison, approached her; fawning and whining as they greeted their pack mistress. She welcomed them warmly, and through some complex vocalization that Tasana did not fully understand, indicated that the hunters should stay with their wounded leader.
Then she looked straight toward the human healer with an expression of full comprehension and wry indifference. The old pack mistress knew exactly what worried Tasana, and did not really care about the impact of her power on the young woman. She seemed to dismiss the girl as easily as she had the other Wargs.
"Thank you, Wolf Mother. Care to join me?" Tasana curtsied before the Warg, who knocked the tall, lanky woods-woman off her feet with a disciplinary shove of her furry, well - muscled shoulder. So the nobility of the forest is at least as indecipherable as the nobles of the White City, Tasana thought to herself. She rolled over onto all fours, keeping her head below the alpha's grizzled gray muzzle. Tasana approached her without making eye contact; then made a whining noise and rubbed against the great she wolf's legs like a cat as the younger hunters had done.
The Warg was certainly dangerous, but she had seemed to accept Tasana, even about her wounded mate, until the human started to treat her as she would a lady of the city of her birth. At this wolf like behavior, the old Warg positively shook with glee. After she thoroughly licked her apprentice wolf's face; a process Tasana did not totally mind, despite breath that stunk of orc blood; the alpha female dashed toward the tree that held the woman's secret cache of clean water, dried food, and other equipment. Tasana could barely keep up with this seer who had unerringly led the human straight to her normal sleeping place.
She shimmied up the tree and brought down enough supplies to keep her and her patient comfortable for a few days at least: a warm woolen cloak and a heavier pair of worn and patched breeches like the threadbare hand-me-downs she was currently wearing that would keep her warm on cold nights without a fire. And a restocked medicine bag with plenty of the mint she had so dearly bargained for at the last market day the merchant's daughter had been to when she was back at home. There were things more important than peddler's prices on vegetables now, of course. Yet if she couldn't have a fire, Tasana at least knew how to mix a bit of the flavor into the water without one. That would help her stay awake and refreshed. She brought some of the old tatters of what had been her sleeping bag before an incident with a bear her first time alone in the South Woods for fresh bandages; grumbled over leaving her fire materials once more, then climbed down the tree with some of the dried berry cakes and an extra canteen of water in hand. Once again she followed this mysterious she wolf who fought orcs and knew her secrets.
* * *
The party had been long in the planning of festivities, tedious in the making of a guest list, and a bit of an annoyance in the constant visits of relatives, but it had all been worth it to see the look on good old Uncle Bilbo's face. It had hardly been a surprise party; it was impossible to hide all those pavilions being set up the Shire Commons; but not Bilbo, Bilbo's nephew, Frodo Baggins, nor Sam Gamgee, Frodo's best friend, had expected such a spectacular turnout for such a wonderful birthday party. The night was cool, but comfortable, fireworks sparkled and banged overhead, and even the presence of Bilbo's insufferable cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses, was ameliorated by that of Gandalf the Gray, the ancient wandering wizard who had gone with Frodo's uncle on his adventures so long ago.
At least half the population of the Shire was attending the party celebrating Bilbo's one hundred and eleventh birthday. It was hard for Frodo to believe his uncle; the only paternal figure he had ever known, was this old. He barely looked sixty, much less a hundred; as he stood atop a table to make the speech the crowd was heckling him for.
"Today is my hundred and eleventh birthday! I hope you all are enjoying yourselves as thoroughly as I am!" he shouted above whistles and joyous cheers.
"First of all, I wanted to tell you how immensely fond I am of you all. Eleventy-one years is too short a time to live among such wonderful people. I don't know half of you as well as I should like and I don't like half as you as well as you deserve." Most of the clapping stopped as the party guests ruminated over Bilbo's last statement, trying to decide if this was a complement.
"But unfortunately, my friends, I'm afraid my time with you has come to an end. Frodo shall come into his inheritance today. For I am leaving tonight. Immediately. Goodbye." With that, Bilbo slipped on the ring he had been toying with behind his back and disappeared utterly from view.
* * *
The next fortnight passed much in the same way as the end of that day. The alpha female stayed with Tasana and the alpha male most of the time; roving for short excursions from whence she never failed to return with some small game animal that filled up the bellies of both healer and healing patient, despite the mediocre size of such kills. The other wolves began to visit more frequently: at first in ones and twos, then as Tasana began to recognize individuals and their alpha started to recover enough strength to stay awake longer and eat more, the whole pack seemed to appear at once. There were a good twenty Wargs all told: some pure white, others silver like their seeress, still others grizzled brown, but most were dark jet like the wounded male. They slowly welcomed Tasana into their midst, grudgingly accepting her right to the pack's respect. Though the young healer breached their etiquette several times, her friendship with their lady seer seemed to smooth over the woods-woman's difficulties enough that she avoided any serious consequences with the pack, at least.
She was nowhere close to speaking the Warg tongue yet, but many of their expressions easily translated interspecies bounds. By the end of her time with the wolves, Tasana had learned that love and loyalty, tireless as the Wargs' run on a hunt, were shown to all the members of this pack. On the fifteenth day after she had foolishly run in the wrong direction during a battle, Tasana took the bandages off the wounds to find little more than a scar across the Warg's side. He got up to his feet, greeted his mate, and sounded a hunting howl. The rest of the pack picked it up, and with but a single glance in the healer's direction given by the she wolf; ran on light padded paws to the south. As the howls disappeared into the distance, Tasana heard a familiar voice calling from the north. "Tasi! Tasana Rivermerchant!"
"Shut up, Jakinson, unless you want every orc, dragon, and wolf within twenty leagues to hear you." Tasana said, calculating her emergence from the trees for the most surprise. Her father's apprentice looked very shocked indeed as she vaulted onto the back of his horse wearing his old threadbare breeches.
"That's - that's the third time you've run away from home, Tasana. Your father won't be pleased if he sees you like this." Jak's face was turning white, but Tasana was willing to bet her dowry twice over that her father's possible wrath was much more of a cause of this young bean counter's blanched complexion than all the combined forces of the Blasted Lands of the east.
"Then we'll stop by my cache. I have an old dress about there someplace. But first, I have a gift from a friend here I need to pick up."
The scimitar lie in the center of the clearing, not far from where Tasana had pulled it loose from the lordly Warg's wound. The light streaming down through the forest canopy reflected peculiarly in her leaf green eyes as she picked up the poisoned orc blade and sealed her fate. She had become the queen of those who shall have no royalty in that instant: a lady among those who do not tolerate nobility. The Queen of Wargs was born, though she would not recognize her power for years yet to come. As if in a dream, Tasana raised the sword above her head. "I know this, the wolves, and this land. On these I swear, with the South Woods as my witness, I shall not be sold into marriage. No matter my father's wish nor another man's will; this choice shall be my own."
Her voice rose in power, and the sunlight glinting off the curved blade somehow made her look more like a warrior princess in exile than a runaway daughter of a merchant attempting to escape her upcoming marriage.
Jak only shook his head and rode with her to the tree cache, insisting that he should be the one to climb up and get the dress, and then made her change behind a clump of bushes. She rode home sidesaddle; slightly afraid she would fall off the hypersensitive beast of burden that reminded her vaguely of Jakinson Biles.
* * *
Gandalf was waiting for Frodo when the younger man returned home. "Is it secret?"he asked desperately. "Is it safe?"
"Of course, Gandalf." Frodo assured him, removing the envelope from a trunk that contained Frodo's main keepsake from the missing Bilbo, who had not returned to the Shire since his uncanny disappearance at the party nearly a decade ago. He handed it to the old wizard, whom to Frodo's complete surprise threw it in the fireplace. Frodo was even more at a loss when he saw the burning letters appear on the plain gold band.
"As I thought," the gray bearded wizard whispered. "You're in grave danger, Frodo. The Shire is no longer safe as long as we have this. Nothing is safe anymore. You must leave." He started at a noise from outside the window.
"You'd best pack all you need. We must head to Rivendale. The Elves may yet be able to protect this. I will ride ahead and meet you at the inn in Bree. If you cannot find me, don't dither there; your pursuers will track down you down all too quickly otherwise. Just get this to Rivendale," A reminiscent smile flickered briefly across the old wizard's hawk-like features. "As I recall, you always wanted an adventure as a boy. Your adventure starts on the morrow, Frodo Baggins."
A funny thing about adventures: as a child listening to Uncle Bilbo's stories, Frodo had always wanted to go on one with his uncle and closest friends at his side, with Gandalf leading the way. But now that it was actually happening, Frodo was not so sure he was ready to leave home and go on an adventure anymore.
* * *
Tasana froze as she heard the riders approach from the south, crouching uncomfortably on her hands and one knee next to the alpha female in the underbrush. Although her left leg was cramping, the woman did not dare to move until the mounted party had passed off into a thicker part of the South Woods. Cursing her unusual height that prevented the healer from using a more relaxed position, Tasana stood, shaking leaves from her dark, shoulder-length hair. "They may call themselves rangers, but those soldiers make nearly as much noise as a bunch of orcs."
Her companion laughed. "Fortunately for us the humans do make so much noise. Our two peoples have never gotten along."
"I'm not that bad, am I?" the human cocked her head with playful pride. "At least I don't scare off all the game within half a day's run."
Her mother had taught her to move quietly in the forests as a girl, and five years of sneaking away to the wolves to run amongst them had improved Tasana's sylvan skills immensely. The gangly, rebellious adolescent daughter of Tamithor Rivermerchant was now one of the foxiest trackers south of Bree, easily able to avoid the Steward's rangers, much less her father's happless apprentice.
"You do not howl before the hunters have moved into position, at least, little healer," the old she-Warg sniffed after the drifting scent of horse sweat. "Those cause fear in all they pass, with good reason."
"Not all humans mean evil for Wargs," the woods-woman stretched and shook off the wolf's understated fears and her own off with the last of the cramp, and then tucked her short black hair back behind her ears, once again aware of the significance of its color. "If the Dunedain, for instance, knew you fought orcs, they would -"
"My mate met the Dunedain when he was young, little healer," the wolf called Mithilira cut her off. "They were no better than these soldiers, save the northern men are slightly quieter in the woods."
The black alpha Warg had had to kill or be killed since he escaped the orc -dominated northern packs. Since then he had fought his former captors with vengeful fury. The wolf lord held little respect for other bipedal species as well, untrusting of anything that moved on two legs save Tasana. His mate shared his opinions for the most part, seeing how the great Wargs had been driven from the northeast and were being butchered in the south. There had been bad blood between wolves and men for far too long.
"I'm aiming to change that," Tasana said quietly, purposefully. She may not wear her hair in the tiny, complicated rows of Dunedain braids as her mother had, but Tasana was well aware of her double heritage from both the prosperous, hardworking, and often-warlike community of Gondor's main city of Minas Tirth, the city of her birth, and the more distant, near legendary Andor, where her mother's clan lived. The Dunedain were the real rangers, not just soldiers of the Steward who rode out of the city whenever they were spoiling for a fight, but gypsy wanderers who befriended the elves and lived in harmony with their northern forests.
They were either the true kings of humanity or the worst group of thieves and cutthroats to stalk Middle Earth, depending upon whom one asked. The latter type of people, including her father when he was in a resentful mood, often compared Tasana to her mother, blaming the maid's wanton wanderings upon her Dunedain legacy. Tasana, personally, was glad for the freedom her mother's woodland training had provided her with, and was eager to meet her northern relations and help them prove their honor to Gondor society.
But first she would attempt to help the Wargs make peace with humanity, and it would be more likely for the lost King of Gondor to return than Tasana to be able to bridge the years of hatred and mistrust between men and wolves. "Perhaps, at least, we can teach these southern 'rangers' to hunt more quietly."
* * *
There always seemed to be a large number of unusual visitors at the inn of the Prancing Pony. Despite its small size, the town of Bree was surprisingly important on the northern trade routes. Anyone traveling to or from the Shire stopped in Bree, and the Pony was the only inn in town. The ranger clans also came there to trade for cloth, weapons, and other supplies in the town; the merchants of Bree were the only ones who trusted the Dunedain enough to let the thieving rouges in their shop.
Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of the Pony, never trusted such folk as a rule, but as long as the rangers kept to themselves and did not bother any of his customers; money was money. Payments in the form of hides and leather wasn't all that unusual, and Butterbur was often too absentminded or in a hurry to ask what unfortunate soul the Dunedain had held up for most likely ill-gotten gold that a few of the northern trackers paid him with. It was good Gondor coin, imprinted with the seal of the Seventh Tower and easy to spend. Considering the times, Butterbur did not ask too many questions, but Dunedain paid up front.
The creak of the opening door and the sound of wet feet coming in from the rain caused Butterbur to look up from the bar. Four soggy, barefoot forms whose heads just barely cleared the top of the bar approached Butterbur with wide eyes and raised hackles.
"What can I do for you, little masters?" He asked in his brightest voice, hoping to put them at ease. Hobbits generally did not travel much, and these poor ragged souls had had awful weather for such a long distance on foot, if they were from the Shire, as they looked to be. Butterbur had seen all kinds of people, and considered himself a good judge of character.
"Do you know if Gandalf is here?" the oldest one asked. At the innkeeper's pondering silence, he added, "Gandalf the Gray? We're friends, and he's supposed to meet us here."
"Gandalf.... Long gray beard, pointy hat?" the hobbit nodded impatiently. "Sorry, little master, haven't seen him in six months. I'm sure he'll turn up here shortly though," Butterbur added with a reassuring smile as they whispered among themselves worriedly. "We've got some nice hobbit-size rooms on the ground floor if you and your friends care to wait for him. Why don't you go into the common room and take a load off after your journey? I'll send word to you when he shows up, Mr. . . ."
"Underhill," the hobbit answered quickly, too quickly to be truthful. Butterbur thought the old man the hobbit was looking for had once mentioned another who had used that same alias some fifty or sixty years ago; a rich little hobbit who traveled in the company of dwarves. Butterbur could not remember the former Underhill's right name, Baggy Billow, Billby Bagolend, or something like that. . . .
At least this "Mr. Underhill" and his friends had taken the innkeeper's advice and were relaxing in the common room. Perhaps getting a little too relaxed. One of them had gotten up on a table and was dancing a jig and singing drunkenly as his friends clapped him on.
Butterbur generally did not mind such antics, so long as they did not trouble paying customers, but the big Dunedain in the corner was staring menacingly at the dancing hobbit. Strider was fairly trustworthy, for a thieving Dunedain, and always paid in Gondor coin, but Butterbur would hate to see that one riled.
Like all the Dunedain Butterbur had ever had the misfortune of meeting, Strider was tall, morose, and dark as the Black Tower in the south. This particular specimen was even more intimidating than average, not so much for his height or build, which was typical of the tall, lean men from the north, as for his aura of power that was obvious to even the drunkest fool looking for a fight in the Pony.
On the table, the hobbit tripped, fell off the table, and completely disappeared before he hit the ground. Butterbur and his guests stood stock still in shock until he reappeared a few seconds later a foot away from where he should have landed. No one moved when the Dunedain picked up the hobbit and whisked him out of the common room. The other three, brandishing walking sticks, a chair, and a skillet, followed after the ranger a few seconds later, and the spell upon the room was broken. Butterbur examined his ale, but it was no stronger than usual. He took another long draught to banish the night's insanity, but his liquor told him he had not yet seen the worst. As usual, his ale turned out to be just about right.
* * *
The angry storm clouds blew up from the East, out of the desecrated city that few dared to name. Black smoke covered the sky and blotted out the sun. The harsh winds and rain blotted out all sound, tearing against his clothes and hair with a malevolent will all its own. Rain stung his eyes, half blinding him as chain lighting struck from the dark tower toward the white city that sheltered all he held dear.
Yet in the northwest, a single, faint beam of pale light remained with the memory of the sun. He heard a melodious feminine voice call to him clearly over the rain, its source unidentifiable as if from a great distance, it sounded at once familiar and completely alien to him, an implacable sweetness in the middle of the storm.
"Seek the sword that was broken, " it commanded him. "In Rivendale shallt thou find it. Make haste, for Isildur's Bane is waking and doom is near at hand!"
* * *
"That is no mere trinket for songs and tricks that you carry, 'Mr. Underhill,' " the dark, rangy specter growled as he shook the frightened hobbit he carried by the scruff of the neck. "By my rights I ought to abandon you to whatever orc, brigand, or black rider that finds you first. A most fortunate thing for you that Gandalf sent me, else they would have done just that."
Frodo grasped desperately for his scattered wits. The ale in Butterbur's inn was stronger than anything the normally abstemious hobbit had ever tried in the Shire, but being shaken like a wet rag by a disagreeable-looking six-and-half-foot tall stranger was doing wonders for Frodo's sobriety.
"My friends and I have avoided the riders so far without any help." Frodo decided it was best to exclude mentioning how close a thing that had been. While crossing the Brandywine River the mysterious followers had been almost right atop the small barefoot party. Those awful creatures made the surly Dunedain ranger look positively magnanimous by comparison, scaring every creature down to the very worms in the soil their coal black mounts made contact with.
The ranger, having reached his destination on the second floor, tossed Frodo down onto the long bed and sat down in the austere wooden chair next to the door in the sparsely furnished rented room. After double-checking the lock, the black-haired man turned his piercing gray eyes upon the hobbit as Frodo took stock of the room.
"Are you frightened?"The Dunedain paused as the hobbit nodded wordlessly. "Not nearly frightened enough. Those are the Ring Wraiths chasing you: Sauron's immortal hounds tirelessly hunting after their master's source of power, which you now carry, Frodo Baggins. You must be more careful if you hope to survive to see Rivendale. Never, ever put that on again."
A pounding on the door interrupted Strider's lecture. One hand on his sword hilt, the ranger opened the door to find three young hobbits pour through the doorway.
"You'd best let Mr. Frodo go, you brute," Sam snarled, clutching his pan in a desperate but businesslike manner. Pippin brandished his walking stick with a very good impression of his father's outrage after catching the boys at a prank. Merry did his best to keep a formidable expression upon his face as he held the stool from the bar shield-like in front of him, but his angry countenance twitched slightly as the hobbit looked up towards the obviously dangerous ranger who held his cousin captive.
The Dunedain chuckled at their futile display. "Quite an amazing people indeed, as Gandalf is so fond of telling me. Easy, friends, I mean you and Frodo no harm. Gandalf has sent me to escort you to Rivendale in his place, whilst he sends word to the wizards of Isengard of what has come to pass."
"How do we know you're a friend of Gandalf?" Sam asked, never lowering his skillet.
"I suppose there is yet little proof I can give you as yet, Samwise Gamgee, not until we get upon the road. But stand here by the window and watch the gates for a while. Then you and Frodo can tell me if you still do not require my aid." The ranger shrugged carelessly and backed into the shadows of the room without a sound.
All seemed quiet outside the room with its window overlooking the stabiles and part of the front door. People entered and left the Prancing Pony, talking and laughing amongst themselves, rarely loud enough to carry up to the second story window; their horses were saddled or led into the barn, and local livestock pawed and grazed in the grass. Sam turned away from the window and headed toward the door, but was cut off by the black shadow of the cloaked Dunedain. "You don't want to leave here tonight. Believe me, I hold you here only for your own protection."
Sam grumbled, but was cut off from further argument by a gesture from Frodo. The eldest of the hobbits did not trust the ranger, but something in the cool night air raised the hair upon the back of his neck. Frodo sat by the window long after his companions had gone to sleep, Pippin and Merry drowsing off in the bed, Sam stubbornly remaining on his feet until he collapsed against the wall in exhaustion. Strider picked up the sleeping hobbit gently, tucking Samwise in between the other two before righting the stool Merry had brought in.
"Who are they?" Frodo asked the tall man as he sat upon the chair that was barely half the size needed to fully accommodate his lanky frame.
"Nagzül. No man can kill such creatures, wraiths in the service of the Dark Lord. They do not see the world as we see it, but merely in terms of distances between themselves and that bane which you carry. They sense it always; hear its call most loudly when someone uses it. They will hunt you so long as that is within your possession, Frodo. Their master is rising again, and needs only this to regain his power. But listen, and soon you will see why I brought you here."
The Dunedain sat forward in his chair as the chilling screams Frodo recognized all too well sounded outside the inn.
Nine black forms upon darker horses trampled the gate beneath them, and then with five standing watch over the horses, the remaining four broke down the door to the inn. Frodo held his breath as he heard their heavy stomp approach the room where he and his friends had planned to spend the night. There was the sound of drawn steel, and the repeated muffled thumps as their swords tore the beds to kindling. Frodo could almost make out the dark forms in the window across the inn, and heard their unnatural screams of frustration as they discovered the hobbits had escaped their grasp. Sam woke as the black horsemen remounted and streamed off into the night.
"What was that?" he asked once Strider had removed his hand from the disoriented hobbit's mouth.
The ranger gave Frodo a hard look, and the hobbit nodded slowly. Turning back to the wild eyed awakened sleeper, Strider indicated the window with the chaos milling in the streets below.
"That," he replied softly, "is the reason you need to trust me."
* * *
Her father offered her hand to many a business partner over the next decade, perhaps even secretly counting on her to run away from her suitors. On this point Tasana never failed to succeed, escaping to the woods, the wolf pack, and her sword, learning how to use the poisoned orc blade the same way she had learned her bow: through experience. She got plenty of that with both weapons as she accompanied the Wargs on hunts and orc raids, teaching them her language as well as learning theirs.
Thirteen years after her initial contact with the pack, the news was on every tongue, human and wolf alike. The eldest prince of Gondor, heir to the Steward, had had some strange prophetic dream was riding to Rivendale as fast as the swiftest messenger horse could carry him. Supposedly, the dream predicted the doom of the White City, Minas Tirth, and all her surroundings. Was it possible that the Dark Lord and his ilk were attempting to conquer Gondor? Certainly the orc raids Tasana had participated in lately seemed to be getting worse.
Deciding to slip away and find out for herself what dooms she faced, the healer mounted Mithilira, the chief she-Warg she had befriended for so long, and rode hot on Prince Boromir's heels. Tasana parted from the wolf far outside the edge of Rivendale, fearing for her friend's life. She trusted the seeress with her life, but the elves did not know the Warg's hunting preference for orc instead of elven meat. Hiding her scimitar beneath her cloak, Tasana approached the gates of Rivendale.
* * *