Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

by Sep 9, 2010Stories

CHAPTER NINE

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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 transport 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 grunginess. 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 selfish gains. 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. Suufice 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 in the northern mountains.”

“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 unspeakabkle 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 of 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 cohorts. 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. 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! 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 fig 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’?”

“The king’s little runt-boy,” explained the thuggish one. “What Rhugga lacks in height and stride 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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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Stories 5 Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

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