- Chapter 1: The Thrush’s Tidings –https://www.theonering.com/docs/13700.html
- Chapter 9: Questions – https://www.theonering.com/docs/14661.html (Contains links to chapters 1-8 before the story and correct 3+4 links in the comments section)
It did not take Menrial very long to make a quick check of the abandoned boathouse and determine that it was suited to her purpose. The surrounding area was clear, as well – the little inlet it was built over was unobstructed and opened into a calm part of the river. The house, though decrepit, was very large, and had obviously been well planned out. Menrial felt a bit respectful of the men who had built it. It’s almost as good as elvish make., she thought.
Returning to her campsite, she pushed the Otter back down to the water (which was considerably easier than bringing it up had been), and carefully rowed it back to the house. Everything went smoothly from there – deceptively so. The Otter glided into a far corner, and she tied it neatly up to a waiting post. Then she stepped onto the wooden walkway that ran about the inside wall.
And the boards collapsed under her with a rotten crunch.
Menrial still had one foot in the boat, but more of her weight was on the walkway, and she couldn’t regain her balance in time. She reeled, the Otter lurched, and the next thing she knew she was neck deep in icy water.
“Elbereth’s thumb!”, she sputtered furiously. “By Elbereth’s blasted thumb!”
She bit her teeth together, cutting off both their chattering and her own blasphemous curses, and floundered forward to inspect the post the Otter was still tied to. That, at least, had held – unlike anything else in this wreck of a boathouse. Elvish make, indeed! Elves at least treated their wood to make it last, didn’t use shoddy boards that rotted after a mere century!
The Otter was undamaged, and luckily had not caught a significant amount of water as she fell. It would be fine left alone here, but she would not. Menrial swam hurriedly out of the boathouse and pulled herself up onto the riverbank, dripping.
A while later, the elfmaid sat back on the beach, rubbing her numb hands and feet into life again before the fire, wearing her only other set of clothes. She had wanted to find a new campsite that afternoon, but her wet garments, especially the heavy cloak, would take a while to dry. And she could not leave them behind. In this weather she needed the cloak, as the wind made harshly evident even now.
She spent all night shivering, too, but in the morning the clothes were dry and she was able to pack everything up and depart. Her hurry to leave, however, made her careless, and several things were left behind that perhaps should not have been.
But these things did not trouble her that day. By the time she was out of Dale and had come into the valley that led to the main gate of the Lonely Mountain, she had more immediate concerns.
The mountain was already occupied.
This was made clear when she first saw the wall that now blocked the cavern entrance. She could not make out the builders very well, even with her elven sight; all she saw were many figures, too short and squat to be elves, working unceasingly.
Dwarves., she realized with dismay. They had somehow managed to get here first, and were now busy looting the dragon’s treasure. To make matters worse, they were obviously preparing against attack – when the king arrived, he would not receive a warm welcome. Dwarves were greedy and selfish, and would fight to the death over a single coin.
While the elven army was almost two thousand strong, it wouldn’t arrive for several days. And although she didn’t think the dwarves had seen her, there were ravens roosting on the southern arm of the mountain, ravens who probably reported to them. According to the tales, there was a long friendship between the two.
Yet another dilemma. Menrial bit her lip, tried to get her thoughts in order. It was hard to think when her stomach was growling so. The supplies had given out that morning, and she had not slept well without the Otter for shelter. But this was important, she had to consider everything logically and in order…
Clearly she had to stay as far away from both the ravens and the dwarves as possible. That left the eastern arm of the mountain as the only viable camp site. To get there, the river Running, which cut the valley in two, would have to be crossed.
Going back to get the Otter will take too long. , she thought. Besides, there’s nowhere to leave it once I’m on the other side, and I’m not about to trust the walkways in that boathouse again!
Yet an old lesson came to mind, Nenthel reciting a warning verse to her scout class, many years ago…
Where flowing water cold doth bite
Beware the freezing of the night.
Call Aerin’s flame, thy warmth to keep,
Lest thy fëa for Mandos seek.
Yesterday she had been able to light a fire in time. But now that she was in more open lands, circumstances were different. The smoke from even a small blaze would alert every creature for miles.
And yet, today the wind had relented, and it was warm and sunny. Surely she would dry off quickly?
Suddenly, a raspy caw came to her on the mild breeze. Menrial whirled about. A large black bird was in the distance, coming towards her. Standing here wasting time over a decision that should have been easy, she had been seen.
“Oh no- “, she started, taking a few unconscious steps backwards, her eyes never leaving the bird as it approached. Once the dwarves knew she was here, would they try to take her prisoner? In Mirkwood it would have been easy to evade them, but here she was tired, and had run out of food, and could not light a fire. A starved deer couldn’t avoid its hunters for long, especially in unfamiliar territory.
The cry was louder: the great bird was closer. It knew she was here, no doubt about it. Menrial’s gaze darted about, looking for some place to hide, however futile the action might be. She was only a few paces from the river. What if –
It was a poor decision, but then again few Men, or Elves for that matter, think rationally or well when they are tired, half-starved, and panicked to boot. At least it can be said that when Menrial dove into the icy waters of the Running she had some reasoning behind her action – to fake drowning and escape the bird’s scrutiny – even if it was weak reasoning, and flew out of her mind as soon as the water closed over her head.
Then all her energies were devoted to one thing: escaping the mind-numbing cold. She kicked desperately upwards, and surfaced with a gasp a several yards away from where she had first entered. The pull of the Running was stronger than she had guessed, and it took every ounce of strength to fight sideways against the current. Menrial gave it all up without hesitation. The instinct for survival, all that was controlling her now, told her that if she showed even the slightest miserliness she would drown for real.
After an age of turmoil, her numb hand, outstretched, hit the soft dark mud of the river bank. The other arm, white-fingered, grabbed for the grassy edge. She tried to pull herself up, and failed. Her limbs were powerless, sapped of all strength.
Not now. Not now…Elbereth, sweet lady of the stars, forgive me for my words…
The irony of it, pleading today when she had blasphemed yesterday. Rather like a fairy tale., she thought, no longer truly conscious of the cold, of any physical feeling. A fairy tale naneths tell their children, ‘be respectful of the Valar, or else’…Her thoughts became more disjointed…A fairy tale for an adar, and Naneth’s eyes always telling a different story, Alduin’s eyes when I came down from that tree, resentful of even that simple thing, however hard I try it won’t fix the friendship because I’m just better, and yet however hard I try Nenthel will never believe me better than Adar, and will Naneth think the same when I don’t come home, because no matter how hard I try I’m still going to be dead?…
Something brushed against her hand, the tip of a black feathered wing, and another “caw” penetrated her frozen mind. She wanted to raise her hand and slap it away – “Be off – crebain!”, but neither her hand nor her tongue would obey her, and the bird was not a crebain, but the raven again.
“Go away. Let me die in peace.”, she thought dully at it. “It’s all your fault, anyway, if you weren’t in league with those dwarves I wouldn’t have had to jump in…Aiee! Let me go!” And at that point a sort of strangled half-cry did come out of her mouth, for the raven had bitten one of her fingers very harshly.
In answer, it only bit her again, even harder. Blood welled up from the cut on her knuckle. This time she actually heard herself scream, as she watched the scarlet drops trickle down her white hand.
“I’m not carrion yet!”, she mumbled, furious, and her other hand moved limply as though to hit the bird away. The raven dodged easily and alighted on the riverbank. She hated it for doing what she could not, and for its loud raspy cawing, which seemed like gloating laughter.
Then there was an answering call, as though from very far away, clear and musical, and surprisingly familiar. The raven cawed once more, and then flew away. As though in slow motion, Menrial watched a single black feather float down in its wake. The feather brushed against her cheek, and landing, stuck to her wet tunic. She stared at it for a moment, her eyes for some reason no longer able to focus on anything…
The familiar voice came again, much closer. She looked slowly up. A blurred face leaned over her, and fine gold hair fell forward and brushed her cheek.
“Adar?”, she mouthed soundlessly. “Adar?”
Then a dark veil came over her sight, and she fell for the final time.
Adar = Father in Sindarin