The Last Ring - Middle-earth, Tenth Age - Chapter Four - In Which Ened Makes An Unpleasant Discovery, and the Title Starts to Make Sense

The library was huge. One step inside, and Ened was overwhelmed. It had a high, lofty ceiling and roof-high shelves stacked beyond their capacity with books, papers, and scraps of historically significant parchments. "And you can keep track of all this?" she asked Oronin incredulously.

He laughed. "We have a cataloging system. That helps. Here, sit down." He held out a chair for her at a circular table, and she sat, looking around her at the walls of shelves that seemed to continue forever. "I will bring you some things to read, and I'll leave you the catalog in case you want anything more - I do have work to do. I was heading over here anyway when you practically crashed into me."

"Sorry about that," Ened muttered.

"All is quite forgiven," Oronin assured her, "as long as you maintain the rule of silence in a library. That is most important."

"Of course," Ened said quickly.

"Excellent," said Oronin, and he headed off to the shelves, leaving Ened to continue staring at the massive library. This was probably the one building in Minas Tirith that had not been modernized. The windows were empty, with no glass, and aside from the sunlight, large torches hung in wall sconces were the only things that lit the room, instead of many little candles at each table and a few hanging lamps. It felt, Ened thought uncomfortably, as though it was a transport in time all the way back to the 2nd or 3rd Age.

Luckily, Oronin returned before she had much more time to develop her thoughts. "Here you are," he said, gingerly setting down four books and about twenty loose pages in front of her. "Be very careful with these!" he warned. "Here's the catalog." He set down a large box filled with cards to one side, and then reverently laid down to the other side a thick red book with a leather cover. "That," he told her in a hushed voice, "is the 4th-Age account of the War of the Ring. Treat it as if your life depended on it - it is irreplaceable. Good luck!" He gave her a quick smile and left her at the table.

Ened reached first of all for the red book, of course. The red leather cover was fading with the effects of time, and she pulled it over to her most carefully, gingerly turning back the pages. The title page was full of crossed-out titles, and she had to laugh at how many of them there were, and how bad some of them were as well. "My Unexpected Journey," "Adventures of Five Hobbits," "What We Did in the War of the Ring" - it was really rather funny. But the mention of hobbits piqued her interest. She knew about hobbits, of course, but they were practically as foreign to Gondor as the Haradrim. Some king had made their land free and forbidden to men, and hobbits themselves, she was told, were not inquisitive people, so they never left their homes. The idea of five hobbits going off and being involved in a war was odd, but intriguing. She turned the page, ignoring the title finally inscribed in a firm hand at the bottom of the title page, and started reading.

"It was in the year 1341 that I, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, set out on my great journey. At that point in my life I was very well off, living in the best hole in Hobbiton, wanting for nothing, and dwelling far away from most of my relatives..."

Ened read farther and farther. After about twenty pages, Bilbo Baggins had not touched on anything like the War of the Ring, but he certainly knew how to tell a story, and Ened found herself admiring the hobbit's matter-of-fact tone and the mixture of bewilderment and pomposity with which he told his tale. She broke the rule of silence when she laughed out loud at the Dwarves crowding into his hobbit-hole, and earned herself many scornful looks from the other people in the library.

Ened was a fast reader, although she didn't care much for books. By the time Oronin showed up again, she was engrossed in Bilbo's description of the narrow escape of his companions and himself from the wolves. "How are you coming?" the chief librarian asked her.

She looked up, startled back into her own time. "Oh! Oh, yes, I'm doing fine," she said.

"Have you looked at any of these?" Oronin asked with a knowing smile, motioning towards the other books and papers on her table.

"No," she admitted, "just this. It's wonderful!"

Oronin smiled. "Ah, yes. Bilbo Baggins. A little full of himself, but a marvelous storyteller nonetheless." He stepped around to one side and reached toward the book. "If you want the part that's relevant to your house, I suggest you skip Bilbo's tale, enthralling as it is, and move on to the part written by Frodo Baggins." He turned a section of pages, and Ened saw with surprise that more than half the book was written in a different hand. "This is the real meat of the tale," said Oronin. "Bilbo, for all his pride in himself, is but a footnote to Frodo, as history regards it."

Ened sighed. "I want to at least finish this part," she said, "but then I promise I'll skip on to Frodo."

"Do as you please," Oronin said with a smile, and went back to his own work.

She did finish the chapter, but then Ened moved on to the main section of the book. Bilbo was charming, but she was curious - and one of the crossed-out titles had mentioned five hobbits, not one, and she guessed that the other four were in Frodo's part. Whoever Frodo is, she thought.

Frodo, she soon found out, was unforgettable.

Noon had come when she skipped past the rest of Bilbo's tale. Now the shadows lengthened in the library, and people began to leave, and Ened only registered that as less light on her pages. Frodo was another matter-of-fact chronicler, but with an almost childlike sense of wonder instead of Bilbo's pomposity. He gave the story simply, with poetry and power behind every word he wrote. Ened started in surprise when she came across the name Aragorn - the first Telcontar king of the 8th Age had been the last King Aragorn of Gondor. So he must be the person Oronin was talking about, the one I'd find interesting.

And then, as she came to the part where Frodo spoke of the Nazgul and their ties to the Ring, her own ring pinched her finger.

Ened nearly jumped three feet in the air. Having just read about a malevolent ring, to have her own ring feel odd was chilling. She thought about taking it off. Don't be ridiculous, Ened, she scolded herself. It's not the weapon of the Enemy, for Elves' sake! She turned back to the book.

The ring pinched again, harder this time.

She looked up, now quite nervous. The library was empty except for Oronin, laboring away in a small nook lit with only a torch and at the other end of the vast library, and night was creeping in through the windows. The ancient library at evening had an otherworldly feel to it that was not comforting to Ened. This is stupid, she told herself. You are Ened Telcontar. You are in a library, reading a book. It is evening, but you're not alone, and it's sheer coincidence that you have a ring on your finger. Anyway, you're not turning invisible like Frodo and Bilbo! Just calm down and come back to reality. She turned back again to the book.

"I woke in the middle of the night for no reason that I could find. Certainly the inn was deathly silent. Aragorn was sitting by the window, his eyes intent on the world outside the window. Otherwise he sat motionless. I felt cold all over, and lay back down to sleep again."

This time the ring tightened until Ened gasped in pain and dropped the book, heedless of Oronin's warning to be careful with it. She'd forgotten. The pain on her finger had become the only thing in her world. Ened gripped the silver ring and wrenched at it, tugging it inch by slow inch over her finger and hurling it onto the table, watching it spin and roll crazily away from her. There was a circle of red marks around the finger it had rested on.

"Ened!" yelled Oronin angrily. She spun around, and there he was, striding over to her. "What did I tell you about that book?" he demanded. He reached her and picked it up carefully, laying it on the table. "The cover could have cracked!"

"I'm sorry!" she cried. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to - my ring -" Ened pointed with her other hand to where the silver ring lay, flat on the table and innocent. You don't fool me, she thought shakily. "It started to pinch - it hurt - I had to get it off."

Oronin was a librarian. He dealt with books containing tales every day. Anyone else Ened knew would have shrugged off her confusing explanation, but not Oronin. "Your ring hurt you?" he asked, the paleness of his face suddenly about the same color as snow.

"Mm-hmm," Ened nodded, opening the red book. "I was right there." She laid a finger on the passage about Aragorn looking out the window. "It had hurt twice before, but when I read that it just started acting crazy."

Oronin's face had gone in an instant from being white to being the darkest and most scared Ened had ever seen. "It can't possibly be true," he said, so quietly that Ened had to strain to hear, "but it never hurts to be prepared. Wait right there, and don't touch that ring."

No problem there, thought Ened, dropping back into her chair like a stone. Oronin grabbed the catalog off her table and went around to the shelves, rummaging through them as fast as he could, with regard to the historical documents they contained, and came back with two small volumes and an armload of papers. He plopped them down in front of her, took a chair next to her and far away from the silver ring, and asked, "Now, Ened, tell me, what do you know now about Sauron and his rings?"

"He was the Enemy," she said, forcing herself to speak without a shaking voice. "He made the One Ring and put most of his power into it, so he couldn't do very much without it."

"Do you know how it was made?" Oronin pressed.

"He made it in Mount Doom," Ened answered, racking her brain to produce the knowledge she'd sort of picked up from history-of-Gondor lessons. "Right?"

Oronin nodded. "Read this." He pushed one of the papers at her, and she picked it up - and put it down instantly. "I can't read Elvish," she admitted, embarrassed.

"Oh, of course not," Oronin muttered, taking it back. "I'll read it to you, then. In Westron," he added quickly. "Ahem.

"`In that time there came to the Elves -"

"Wait, wait, wait," Ened cut in disbelievingly. "Elves? The Elves? Oronin, when was this written? There are no Elves anymore."

"This," said Oronin peevishly, "is an account found in the great land of Greenwood and given to the library in the 4th Age by Prince Legolas of Greenwood, and it talks about matters that happened long before even that. There were Elves around in those days."

"All right, all right," Ened muttered. "I just wanted to make sure."

Oronin shot her a disapproving look before starting again. "`In that time there came to the Elves a great lord, fair to look upon and mighty in his bearing, naming himself Annatar' - that means lord of gifts in Elvish," he added. "`Annatar spoke sweet words to the Elves and made himself a great lord among them, teaching the smiths new skills so that their work attained a higher glory than they had ever dreamed. In time the smiths of Eregion were fully won over by Annatar, and it was then that they began to forge the Rings. Sixteen they made with the help of Annatar, fair to look upon, and three in secret that Annatar knew naught of. Also there were lesser rings forged, to learn the skills of placing power in the final Rings. Yet the Elves of Eregion knew not that Annatar was Sauron, who had served Morgoth and who was at that time lord of Mordor...'" Oronin set down the paper and looked over at Ened.

"Don't be ridiculous, Oronin," Ened said flatly. "It's impossible. Things like that don't happen anymore. Nowadays the biggest problem is making sure that we don't offend the Haradrim when they send ambassadors to Minas Tirith, not some crazy lord of gifts."

"I'm a librarian," Oronin answered. "I live with tales of the impossible."

"All right, all right," said Ened. "Tell me this, then. Obviously, whatever happened in this War of the Ring, everything turned out all right, because Aragorn founded the Telcontar line and Gondor lived happily ever after."

"Other places, too!" Oronin interrupted, sounding irritated. "Gondor isn't the whole world. There was Rohan, and Greenwood, and Rivendell-that-was -"

Ened held up a hand to shut him up. "Anyway. So Sauron, or Annatar, or whoever he was, died, and probably everything he made died with him, right? The Ring included?"

"Forgive me for spoiling Frodo's story," Oronin said between clenched teeth, "but you're missing a crucial part of the narrative. The Ring didn't die. It couldn't die because it had no life, only a will. Those are two different things. As you will learn from Frodo, the Ring ceased to exist because it was destroyed - thrown into Mount Doom during the Battle of the Black Gate. The three Elven Rings didn't pass until their owners took them out of Middle-earth to Valinor, or so Frodo says. And Sauron had apparently corrupted the other Rings, so they were heavily under his influence and their bearers were all dead by the Fourth Age - so they passed with him.

"But suppose that one of the prototype rings forged by the smiths in Eregion - this chronicle tells you flat-out that there were such rings - went astray, wandered through Middle-earth -"

"And ended up singing for his supper in a crowded inn?" Ened asked disgustedly.

Oronin balled up his fists and dropped his head onto them. "Ened! You're being stupid. Look at the situation."

"We have no situation," she said. "We have my weird ring and your overreacting. That's not a situation."

Oronin looked like he wanted to shake her. "Ened," he said, too patiently, "you're not listening to me. You're thinking in modern terms. Think in ancient terms. We are talking about a being so powerful that he could bring all of Middle-earth to its knees before him. Not just Gondor, not just the West - all of Middle-earth. This is a being who made an object so dangerous that it corrupted some of the best men of its time. That is a situation!"

He was so certain, so sure, with such conviction behind his words that Ened started to be scared. She looked over at the silver ring, lying innocently on the table, and shivered. He was a librarian, after all. He read records and documents that talked about this sort of thing. And according to them, to history, it had happened once - more than once, if she was remembering right, which she doubted. Why not again?

"I'm not saying it's true," Ened warned, "but let me see any one of those papers that's not in Elvish."

Oronin looked through the documents and handed her two. "Take your time," he said, pulling another paper toward him. "You're not going back to the palace tonight, are you?"

"Fat chance," said Ened, carefully avoiding looking at her ring.

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