The heat up on that ledge was intense. Rowen wasn’t bothered, but she wondered how Castamir and the others could stand it. Perhaps they were used to it… but they wore such heavy cloaks! The truth of it was, the cloaks were made of some strange material crafted by the Seerganash, developed over hundreds of years, that actually kept them a lot cooler that the air around them, yet warmer when the air was cold.
Castamir whirled Kaytar around and rode him down the hall leading away from the lookout ledge. This led down a long tunnel, obviously much less used that any other. It had no others branching off of it. This was Castamir’s ledge, and no other was permitted on it. The company they had arrived with was allowed up to the tunnel just for that one time as an extra guard for Rowen. But no one ever looked over the ledge.
Once down to the main tunnel, a door of thick fire sprang up behind them, blocking off the tunnel. The tunnel they rode down now was a much larger, grander corridor, beautifully crafted. Carvings and streaks of silver and black rock sliced their way through the walls. Many different tunnels and corridors passed off in either direction, giving the impression that the entire place was a giant maze – which it was. Rowen closed her mouth, long dry from being gaped open, and cleared her throat. “Where exactly are we?”
“We are at the base of the beginning of the Iron Hills. This is our home, and it is carved from the mountain itself,” Castamir answered.
“Were you aided by the dwarves?”
“No. We sought help from nothing. This is our work alone.”
Rowen could think of no other question to speak right now, though a million flashed across her mind. Elves did this? Alone? But… how? Surely such destructive art they would not have learned in Lorien!
Tunnels flashed by… left, right, right, right, left, middle, right, right, left, middle, left, left… Rowen lost track as Kaytar sped on, agilely turning the corners with amazing precision and no jolt whatsoever – seemingly without guidance from Castamir.
Abruptly Kaytar slowed to a walk. His hooves echoed on the sudden appearance of smooth-polished obsidian and other black rock lining the entire tunnel. A curtain of flame died in front of them, revealing the Great Hall. Rowen gasped: between the time she had been on the ledge and now, the hall had filled with hundreds of elves. They all stood, using neither chairs nor tables. Their dark faces glowed with the surrounding fire, and all were silent. Now that Rowen was down on the Hall instead of the ledge, she realized the Hall was far vaster than she had thought. Its black floor spanned in a great ring, and the walls formed a sheer circle of rock, not smooth but purposefully jagged, and the ceiling disappeared into endless dark heights above. Shifting her gaze from straight up to straight down, Rowen peered to the floor only to jump in surprise. The rock… she didn’t know what it was, but it looked like they were walking on water with fathomless black depths. Symbols appeared at different levels, some so far down below it was almost impossible to see. Rowen wondered how far they really did go down, or it the clear black rock ever had an end. It was almost like staring into an abyss… only it was solidly smooth rock. But the fires were not reflected in this stone, it was like they were absorbed. Eerie, it was, that nothing reflected, it made it look like everyone was a ghost. Castamir hoisted Rowen out of the saddle and onto the floor. She wobbled, part from riding so long, part from amazement, and part because she half expected to fall straight through the astonishing floor. Another elf, called Larenteth, caught her and steadied her while Castamir dismounted himself and turned to address the court of elves.
He spoke awhile in some language that was nothing like Rowen had ever heard. It was harsh, but had the complicacy and grandness of elvish, yet with some dwarvish-like sounds and a few syllables of the language Rowen knew. She could not understand it, but many times they seemed to be talking about her. Then an argument arose, and Rowen thought she heard Jack’s name, followed by an uproar of many different voices. Castamir listened to an account of something from Sabor, then looked very perturbed and annoyed. His angry face growled out something harsh sounding, and all of the elves fell silent. Then he relaxed and continued on business.
Hours upon hours they talked, all standing. Rowen did not even know if days had passed or not. The welcoming heat, combined with the constant lull of voices she could not understand, caused her to nearly fall asleep. So long, so much standing… no sleep for days and days…. She leaned her head upon the elf holding her. He didn’t budge from her weight, and she soon fell asleep.
Castamir was aggravated at the stupidity of these elves, elves that were supposed to be Seerganash! Jack would be back, a waterfall would not kill him. Jack knew what they were trying to do, and he would try to stop it. Trying to force the annoyed thoughts out of his mind, Castamir continued on and eventually looked back to see Rowen asleep on Larenteth. The elf stood unmoving, trying to keep Rowen from falling off his shoulder. When another elf in the hall began talking, Castamir signaled that Larenteth could put her down. He let her slide down, softly hitting the floor unnoticed by the rest of the hall.
Hours or business passed and then the topic fixated on Rowen. Castamir signaled the hall to her, and the elves around her moved back until she became at the center of the circle of elves. She was still asleep, lain across the floor with her thick black hair draping in tangles around her and over her face. Some of the Seerganash were skeptical. Her? Negotiate with a dragon? Accomplish something that they could not? But Castamir scowled at them. “Do you not see her lie here without one of our cloaks and not be dead from heat? Do you not see she also casts no refection on our floor? Look down below her, inside our floor. What do you see?” The elves gazed through the transparent black floor below where Rowen lay. Amidst the blackness, the well-developed eyes of the Seerganash elves could see a tiny spec of red light. “Need I say more?” Castamir finished. The elves said nothing in reply.
Rowen woke up to the sight of endless black depths, swirling under her in a never-ending vortex…. With a yelp she wrenched her gaze from the eerie floor, only to find herself at the center of a great circle of dark elves, backed by red flame. The combined sights made her dizzy. Castamir picked her up, but she could not stand. Castamir called something to the rest of the elves, and they disbanded. He handed Rowen to two other elves and then turned the other way and went on his own business. Rowen called out after him, but he merely looked back and nodded to her once to calm her down. She shook her head confusedly, and then let herself be led away.
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9127.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9141.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9184.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9263.html
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9297.html
Chapter 6: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9307.html
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9356.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9422.html
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9472.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9530.html
Chapter 11: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9566.html
Chapter 12: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9603.html
Chapter 13: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9616.html
Chapter 14: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9629.html
Chapter 15: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9658.html
Chapter 16: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9678.html
Chapter 17: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9772.html