- Chapter 1: The Thrush’s Tidings
- Chapter 2: Exceptions
- Chapter 3: Midnight Raid/URL]
- [URL=https://www.theonering.com/docs/13827.html]Chapter 4: Departure
- Chapter 5: The Wildlands (Part 1 of 2)
- Chapter 5: The Wildlands (Part 2 of 2)
- Chapter 6: Arrival At Laketown
- Chapter 7: Revelation
- Chapter 8: Defeat
Autumn was ending. A desolate wind blew over the Lonely Mountain and whistled eerily through the ruins of Dale. The world was dull and grey; the last of the leaves had fallen, and blew aimlessly on the wind, skittering across broken paving stones, circling about ruined towers. The remains of a small fire could be seen a ways up on the shore of the River Running. A boat had been dragged up the beach, and flipped upside down to form a makeshift shelter from the cold. Various bundles and the corner of a bedroll spilled from underneath it. But the camp was abandoned.
On the far side of ruined Dale there lay a secluded swathe of grass, where weathered burial stones stood in lonely ranks, unkempt and unhonored. The owner of the camp knelt amongst them, in the shadow of the mountain. Her long pale hair was tied back in the manner of the elves: she wore a grey cloak and her eyes were of the same color.
Menrial was cold – she had been conscious of this for quite a while now – but that was something she had grown used to over the last couple of days, whether her nights had been spent crouched in the Otter‘s prow, or lying sleepless beneath it, only a thin blanket between her and the ground. She had come here looking for her father, and she had found him.
The small stone that bore his name was almost identical to the others – save for that the inscription was written in the elven tongue, carved by an elven hand.
Manoth Istaril, Faithful Servant to King Thranduil and Emissary to Lord Girion of Dale. May he rest well in the Halls of Mandos.
This could mean only one thing: that one of her people had also been in Dale the night the dragon came. That they had survived her father, and presumably returned home to Mirkwood. That there was still someone alive who had been with him at the end…
But how could there be? Surely Aris would have told her? Surely she would have known?
Questions that kept her there, tracing the words engraved in the marker over and over again with numb fingers, trying to find some character in the writing, some clue as to the identity of the one who must have seen Manoth fall.
But there were no answers to be found. It was foolish to think that whoever had carved that stone could give her father back. They would probably just tell her more stories about how bold he’d been. And stories were a poor excuse for a father.
She sighed, quietly, and opened a flap in her pack, pulling out a few wild flowers she’d found in the ruins. Their frail stems were bruised, their tiny pink and blue petals beginning to wilt even as she laid them before the stone. And yet, they were all that she had to offer.
Rest well, Adar. Menrial closed her eyes, but tears still welled within them – for Aris, for herself, for the stranger who had died here. I would have liked to have known you.
Menrial left the burial ground soon after, having paid her respects, and returned to camp. For a time she just sat by the fire pit and stared into the ashes, but common sense won out in the end. Shaking off her melancholy, she dug a flint from her pack, rekindled the fire, and rationed out a meal from her supplies.
As she gnawed on stale waybread and salted meat, she began to think over her plans for the future.
It had taken her two days to come here by the river, and she estimated that she had at least six more before the elven army arrived. She guessed they would stay a while longer in Laketown, to help with the rebuilding, before continuing on their way. Slipping into the ranks when they got here was going to be a problem. The supply train, always in need of an extra hand or two, had been the easiest group to find an unquestioned place in: but she suspected Feanil would have an eye out for her now, and the last thing she wanted was to be shipped home again, this time without any chance of escape. Infiltrating the armed ranks would be well-nigh impossible, as the companies had been formally assembled and everyone knew each other. That left only the healing corps, but her hopelessness with herbs and lack of a mentor would quickly betray her there.
Oh, Elbereth! I have dug myself into a mess, haven’t I… Menrial shivered, and pulled her cloak tighter, then finally gave up poking at the pitiful fire and crawled underneath the Otter for warmth. Either I stay and wait to be caught and sent home, or I leave now, and get caught and sent home on the way back. If only Naneth were here, to help me work everything out…
But Aris wasn’t there. And if she had been, she probably would have advised her daughter to go home, which was the last thing Menrial wanted to do after all the trouble she’d been through just to get to the Mountain.
No, she was going to have to think of a solution for herself.
What if I set up a camp nearby, and hid myself when they came here, then followed them home as soon as they’d retrieved the treasure? She’d have to do some hunting, as she didn’t have that much food left, and it would involve finding a remote place to shelter, with a good view of the valley, so she could wait for them to leave, but…
It’ll work, Menrial decided, a small smile coming to her lips. It would give her something to do while she waited, and a chance to explore the Mountain and the surrounding lands. There was enough small game hereabouts for her to live off of, and she’d brought her bow and arrows, and her hunting knife. She had the flintstones for fire, and basic supplies in her bags, and she’d even noticed an abandoned boathouse nearby, a perfect hiding place for the Otter.
“It’ll work.”, she thought again, this time aloud. The smile grew into a rather shameless grin, but there was no one on the beach to see it as she emerged from underneath the overturned boat, or anyone to hear her laugh merrily to herself as she strode up the shore, happy and hopeful in defiance of the grey sky and the chill wind and the gloomy shadow of the Mountain.
“Tell me again about Beren and Luth-yen.”, said Cala. “Please?” Her dark eyes, which were slowly regaining the luster of health, entreated Alduin’s as she sat up on her pallet. The human child was still pale and rather grubby, but the fever had left her after several days of elvish medicine, and she was almost well enough to return to her mother.
Alduin sighed, but not without a certain fondness. He was more cheerful today then he had been in a long time, both due to his work here, and to the happy memory of a recent event. Yesterday, Captain Earel had finally tracked him down, determined to send him home for “stowing away” on a military expedition, but Master Rothgar had stepped in. Alduin was now an Official Volunteer Member of the Healing Corps, and as such had an assured place in the army. And although he was technically no longer welcome at the 23rd Company campfire, Vanyar and a few others had dropped by only this morning to congratulate him on his new post.
“Alduin?” Cala’s plantive voice interrupted his musings.
“Oh – very well then.”, he said, with a rueful grin. “But only if you take your medicine first.”
Cala nodded, and obediently drank the contents of the wooden bowl Alduin handed her. When he had taken it back, she pulled her knees up, wrapped her skinny arms around them, and watched him expectantly. Alduin shut his eyes, searched in memory for the first note of the song, and began:
“Long ago, in starlit wood
Danced a maiden elvenfair
Countless stars shone in her hair.”
He had explained the rest of the story to her once, but after that she was content to listen and asked no more questions. She had a good memory. Although he had only sung it to her a few times before, to comfort her when she had been especially feverish, at some parts she would shut her eyes and silently whisper the words to herself, like a charm.
“Beren wandering through the night
Came upon fair Luthien bright..”
He was also aware at these times that the others in the tent were listening too. He could feel their eyes upon him – grown Men, and boys and girls older than Cala, all sick or wounded. It made him a bit nervous – Cala was one of the few he was really comfortable around, probably because she reminded him of his younger sister Nathalia when she had been an elfling. But in truth he didn’t mind their listening. If maybe after all that had happened to them the night Laketown burned, the song could give them a little happiness, he was glad of it, just as helping Rothgar to give them back their health made him happy too.
“Through countless shadows did they pass
Yet were together at the last.”
The ballad ended. Cala gave a little sigh, and pulling up her blanket lay down onto her side.
“Good elleth..”, Alduin said. “Sleep well, so you can go home tomorrow.”
Cala looked up at him from under drooping lashes. “You’ll be alive long after I’m dead, won’t you?”, she asked sleepily. “You’re an elf and you never die, and that’s why they were so sad when Luthyen…”
Alduin gently tucked the covers in around the now slumbering child, fighting back the suspicious wetness which blurred his eyes all of a sudden. Then he got up, and went to mix some potions for Master Rothgar that had to be ready upon his return.
* For those of you who noticed that the Lay of Luthien isn’t….well, the Lay of Luthien, I made up some lines to try and recapture the feeling of the poem without directly quoting it. They’re no substitute for the original, but I wanted to stay on the safe side of copyright law.