Now that Thalor had relocated the brat, he had spent the past six days glued to his palantir. That was a relief to Raul, and he didn’t care whether the elf ever slept or not. But six days passed and Raul began to grow anxious. “He’s left Gondor! The brat’s on his way to Mirkwood!” he kept hearing Thalor shout in triumph. Pretty soon, Thalor will demand an audience with Elrypso to rub his triumph in the other elf’s face.
Only Elrypso wasn’t there. He was gone and usually his absences lasted a day or two. After three days, Raul’s anxiety grew and with the passing of six days, he was close to panic.
Now eight days had gone by and Thalor was announcing the joining of a centaur. Thalor himself never sought out Elrypso for Elrypso had always been known to shut himself up for days upon end, isolated from life. But after enough time, even Thalor would miss Elrypso’s sarcastic critisism and look for the Elder himself.
If Thalor ever came to discover that Elrypso left the tower completely, it would raise very awkward questions that could spoil everything. Raul looked out of a large window toward the West, toward Gondor, with a single thought in his mind.
“I don’t care what you say! Nothing can stop me! I’m going! He’s my son! I should have gone with him since day one!”
Meanwhile, in the palace of Queen Aurora Moonwater-Greenleaf, everything was falling apart. Loran was in distress, Elrond and Thranduil were in shock, and Galadriel and Valandros watched it all with bemused expressions.
Aurora, like all mothers, had been overcome by worry and it only grew as time went on. Unable to take it anymore, she changed out of her royal robes and into ordinary travel clothes of a navy blue tunic with a matching woolen cloak and black boots. Her hair, which was dark blue, seemed to be even darker until it looked black but not quite.
“My Lady, our people look up to you!” Loran cried. “First our prince leaves us, and now you.”
Aurora whirled on him, her blue eyes sparking with lightning. “YOU are not a parent! YOU could not possibly understand! My SON is out there alone; I must go find him!”
Elrond stood to his feet and cleared his throat. “Aurora, I understand how you feel. You know I myself am a parent of three, one in particular who always seemed to make me age faster than any elf living. However, I must agree with Loran on this. This task was appointed to Alak alone, and only he alone can complete it, whether you are there or not.”
“Then, let me go to him. I have to go to him,” Aurora snapped. “If something goes wrong and Legolas cannot come back, I can at least see my son safely home.”
The other elves looked at Aurora, then exchanged glances with each other. Elrond sighed and smiled slightly. “Well, we at least can’t let you go alone.”
“How could I have let you talk me into this!?” Elrond exclaimed. His eyes were tightly shut as he gripped the spike in front of him until his knuckles were stark white. His stomach jolted sickeningly with every lurch of Rynn’s wings.
“What? If I recall correctly, you are the one who volunteered to come!” Aurora retorted.
“I wouldn’t have had I known we would be riding a dragon,” he shot back.
“My lord Elrond,” Rynn spoke up, “with all due respect, sir, it is not my fault you have never ridden dragonback before. May I request that should you speak of myself or my race again, please refrain from using such a nasty tone.”
“Forgive me, my lady. I meant no offense.” Elrond felt awkward apologizing to a dragon, but her tone was clear that should he disrespect her or her kin again, she would not hesitate to dump him down into the sea far below.
Kairee led Alak and Serenity away from the trail and into the woods themselves. She informed them that they were trespassers in centaur territory and must be taken to her village for questioning. “The arrow I shot would have missed your head, though just barely. It was not a threat on your life, just a warning,” Kairee told Serenity.
Alak had never seen or heard of a centaur, but Serenity, like most of Gondor, knew centaurs existed in Grey Wood, along the borders of Gondor and Rohan. Though very little knowledge was collected of these creatures, centaurs were rumored to be extremely aggressive and distrustful of everything, especially elves and humans. It is also believed that centaurs are neither good nor evil, the center of balance between the two forces.
“I thought the rode was free for travelers,” Serenity inquired as they walked.
“It is,” Kairee confirmed. “But those of us who guard our realm take captive of anything that looks threatening or suspicious,” she added. “Though you two do not look threatening, you arouse my curiosity. It is not everyday an incredibly young elfling and a half-blood travel through the woods alone in the middle of the night.”
“How do you know I’m a half-blood!” Serenity cried.
“How can you tell I’m so young?” Alak demanded at the same time.
Kairee turned to them and smiled. “We centaurs are more beasts than beings, and there has never been a beast created who can be deceived by appearances as elves and humans can.”
She turned back around, and that’s when Alak realized he and Serenity, though they were prisoners, were not bond. Then looking at Kairee’s powerfully built horse legs, he saw that there really was no point. Should he and Serenity make a break for it, Kairee would be upon them before they took three steps. And those who evoke a centaur’s wrath are pretty much screwed.
The village was really a large clearing where many centaurs were now gathered in a large circle. “Ah, we are just in time for the council of Ranar,” Kairee announced.
“Why are so many centaurs gathered?” Serenity asked.
“It is the night Ranar shall read the stars.”
“Excuse me, Lady Kairee,” Alak spoke up respectfully. “What is star reading?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
“And what will your people do to us?” Alak continued, his dark eyes wide.
Kairee smiled gravely. “If we find you peaceful, we shall allow you to continue on your journey. If we find you a threat, we shall kill you.”
Straight forward. No comforting lies. No soft-edged truths. Just the cold, hard facts. Now Serenity understood the saying of one not handling the truth. The truth made her feel tiny, inferior, nothing but a tiny fraction that makes no difference in the equation of life.
Alak was holding her hand again, squeezing it gently. She saw in his eyes that he looked just as scared as she did. But he held his head high, not allowing the centaurs to sense his fear. Serenity followed his lead. They were innocent. They had nothing to be afraid of.
At least forty centaurs were gathered in a large circle. One in particular stood in the center. His skin was almost as black as his hair and coat, but his eyes were an alarming shade of blue. “Greetings, Kairee,” he announced in a deep crystal-clear voice. “And what have you brought us?”
“Two strangers from the borders of Gondor,” Kairee replied. “Very curious. They travel alone.”
Ranar raised a brow. “Very curious, indeed. A little young to be traveling alone, aren’t they?” He took several steps forward, addressing Alak and Serenity directly. “State what business you have in Grey Wood.”
Briefly, Alak explained his urgent need to go to Mirkwood and awaken his father. The centaurs stirred uncomfortably for darkness one more had fallen upon the forest of Eryn Lasgalen, reclaiming its former name of Mirkwood. It seemed to be more evil there now than it had ever been before. Even the centaurs avoided the subject of the fallen Wood of Greenleaves.
“I do not understand why you need to be traveling alone to such a dark place,” Ranar finally said. “But you speak of the Sword of the Silvan Elves. May I see it?”
Alak unsheathed the sword and held it up to Ranar, laying horizontally in his hands. The sword looked as plain and as ancient as ever, but Ranar snorted and backed away quickly. Other centaurs were pawing their hooves nervously.
“This is indeed more complex than I thought,” Ranar said. “We shall decide what to do with you after the star reading.”
The centaurs seemed to gather closer as Ranar took his place in the very center of the circle. He held up his left hand as if trying to catch the stars. “Children of the night reveal to me the secrets hidden deep within thee.” He closed his eyes and a bright symbol glowed on his forehead. No one spoke. No one dared to breathe. Alak and Serenity, who had never before witnessed a star reading, were caught in the awe at the drama in the moment.
Ranar nickered loudly and stumbled backwards, falling the grass. His chest heaved and his blue eyes were wild. A couple centaurs broke the circle and galloped to his side. “Star Speaker!” they cried, bending to see if he was okay. An appaloosa looking stallion with brown-red skin helped Ranar to his feet.
After a couple of minutes, Ranar managed to calm down and stared at the prisoners. “Those two…are the doom of Middle Earth,” he whispered as if forcing the words out. “They bring this new darkness. We have no choice.” He stood up straight. “We centaurs are neither good nor evil, the very center of balance between the two forces. But this new darkness that approaches is an ancient evil beyond reckoning. In order to balance this, we must to a good.” He looked deeply at Alak and Serenity, and announced in a low, deep voice:
“We must KILL them.”