Drelent's laughter carried through the camp. He
glanced over the
sparking fire that burned brightly in the center of the circle of men
who lounged around its shallow stone wall, eating what small catch the
hunters had scoured from the surrounding area. They had made their camp
near the forests that bracketed the plain in front of the ancient
Night had rapidly drawn over the grassy meadow they
had camped on, and
Legolas and Aragorn had found themselves quickly enveloped by the men
who had rescued them from Paxcyn and the orcs earlier in the day. They
seemed a fairly inclusive group. Drelent had four men working with him,
Gyn, Romyr, Rhyddry and Selvic. They all claimed to be from southern
Rohan, but Aragorn was sure that their accents were wrong. When the
ranger had questioned Drelent on the length of their search for game,
seeing as how Methedras, the mountain they camped below was well over
one-hundred and fifty miles from their home, the hunter had merely
shrugged it off and returned the question with one of his own. Aragorn
filed away the information for later use. He liked Drelent, and Gyn his
second in command had been a pleasant fellow as well. Portly and happy,
Gyn was an excellent shot with a crossbow and had bagged nearly all the
game they were now dining on.
The other three that comprised the small company had
themselves, keeping their conversations and contact with the elf and
the ranger limited. Even now, Drelent had sent them into the forests on
the edge of the plain in search of more wood after they had seen to
Dryxyn, making sure the man was well tied up and had had food and water
for the night.
Legolas had remained silent for the better part of
the day. During a
quiet moment when the two had been left alone, Aragorn had questioned
his friend on his reticence. The elf had responded simply by saying
that the men seemed all wrong to him and he was certain they were not
who they said they were. He had watched them carefully throughout the
day, his suspicions only deepening.
"So you say the floor fell beneath you when you
turned the handle?"
Drelent leaned forward, his tone incredulous as he listened to Strider
recount their exploration of the building that sat quietly behind them,
resting in the slight fog that hugged the ground near the base of the
"It did! Half the orcs fell in with it! And I
couldn't get my hand
freed. Legolas and I were stranded on one side with the orcs on the
other!" Aragorn laughed now, but it hadn't been funny at the time and
Legolas glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes, a smile pulling
at his own lips.
"Now there is a situation that I would never wish to
find myself in."
Drelent elbowed the man next to him with a huge smile. "What say you
"I'd say that would be a mighty fine spot to find
oneself in." Gyn
tipped a mug of mead to his lips and took a huge gulp. In the seconds
that his eyes were hidden from their guests he glanced at Drelent, his
gaze questioning the man he called his boss. He grew weary of these two
and wished to get on with business. Drelent smiled back and nodded
almost imperceptibly, motioning ever so slightly with his eyes into the
trees behind Aragorn and Legolas.
He had in fact sent the others out into the woods to
circle behind the
camp and wait. At a signal from Drelent the three hidden hunters had
orders to kill the elf and the ranger, but Drelent wanted to learn
everything he could from the two before he disposed of them. Saruman
had told him in no uncertain terms that failure was unacceptable and
that those who failed him paid for it, as Paxcyn had. Drelent had hated
killing the man; he'd known Paxcyn for years, always as the
competition. But Romyr had enjoyed it. He was a killer at heart and the
one reason Drelent had hired the youth in the first place; he had no
conscience at all.
"So tell me how far have you explored the ruins?"
Drelent pushed his
guests for more information.
Before Aragorn could respond Legolas gently brushed
his fingers against
the ranger's leg. His eyes were fixed on the men across the fire, not
giving away the silent communication that passed between them.
Strider pretended to be caught off guard and asked
Drelent to repeat
the question, leaning forward and filling his mug with a second draught
of mead. With the attention off himself and onto his actions, Strider
glanced down at Legolas' hand resting near his thigh. The elf made a
sharp cutting motion with his fingers before laying them back on the
ground. If the ranger hadn't known what to look for he would have
simply thought that the elf were shooing away a pesky night bug or a
crawler, but the warning was taken to heart and when the human sat back
once more he sipped his ale before answering.
Legolas had seen the slight nod that Drelent had
given Gyn when the man
had silently questioned his boss. He had followed the hunter's almost
imperceptible gaze out into the woods behind them when no one paying
him any attention and had caught glimpses of the hunters hidden in the
forests, the tiny glints of starlight on their arrowheads tipping off
the keen-sighted prince.
He realized that Drelent was using them for
information and he had told
Aragorn to stop telling the man anything with the simple warning he had
given the ranger. He feared they had just stepped from one trap into
Aragorn's answer did not please their guest and
contained look of surprise and anger tipped him off.
"I mean surely you haven't come all this way simply
for game? I see no
provisions that would carry you this far on such a trip. So I ask you
again, my friend, why so interested in the ruins of an old building?"
Aragorn smiled openly at Drelent, his questions easily deflecting the
"Tales." Gyn spoke up from where he sat, answering
for Drelent. He
stirred from his resting place against a boulder that poked from the
broken ground and he shifted the logs in the fireplace with a long
thick stick. "The townsfolk tell of tales from that place. Might be we
could take our own back and add to the fire of the myth." He chuckled
at himself, downing his second mug of ale.
"Yes, tell me of your home," Legolas questioned
All eyes turned on him. Gyn glanced at Drelent, the
tables had turned
and the interrogators had suddenly become the interrogated. It was time
to end the conversation.
Neither man answered the elf and the tension
stretched over the camp.
Aragorn turned and glanced behind them into the
forest. "I think Romyr
and the others might need help collecting that wood. They've been gone
an awfully long time." He barely caught the darker shape of a human
pressing back against a tree; it was so fast he almost questioned
whether he had seen anything or not.
"They'll be fine." Drelent glanced over the ranger's
head and motioned
towards the woods with his chin. "They'll be back any minute now."
Legolas' fingers closed about his bow that lay near
his side. He and
Aragorn had retrieved their weapons from Paxcyn's camp earlier that day
and he tensed where he sat ready for any sudden movements.
In the darkness Romyr notched his bow and sighted in
on the elf's head.
He pulled the arrow back, realigning his mark. Rhyddry and Selvic
followed his lead, readying their bows and sighting in on their
Romyr breathed in deeply and released his breath,
his sharp gaze
narrowing down to the point of his arrow resting just above Legolas'
fair head. His fingers began to relax, easing up on the bowstring, when
a dark shape fell from the sky above the camp sweeping mere feet over
the heads of the men seated there.
Drelent and Gyn ducked as the dark, swooping shape
swept over their
heads, a shrill, keening cry piercing the air, marking its arrival.
Legolas glanced at Aragorn, a huge smile on his face.
"Mithrandir, with help!" he whispered as he leapt to
his feet drawing
his bow up with him and running towards the dark figure that had landed
just outside the light of the campfire.
"Friends of yours?" Drelent asked a bit darkly. He
was irritated with
"Yes." Aragorn smiled at the man. "We've been
waiting on them." He
slowly gained his feet and walked after the elf, who threw himself into
the arms of the man that now stood next to the dark shape that had
fallen from the sky - Gwaihir.
Drelent looked back into the woods, and quickly
motioned his men back
in. Their plans had been waylaid, it was time to regroup. Gyn glanced
at his boss. But Drelent simply shook his head. "We still have a chance
to retrieve the palantir. It'll just be a little more difficult now,"
he answered the man's unspoken question.
"Perhaps." Gyn watched as the large bird turned a
piercing gaze towards
the campfire, folding its huge wings along its back, "or simply more
challenging. Might be fun to bag me a great eagle, now mighten it?" He
fingered the wood of his crossbow idly as he stared back at the four.
Drelent laughed dryly and slapped the man on the
back. "Gyn, my friend,
I knew there was a reason I kept you around." He glanced into the night
and watched as Romyr walked back to camp, his face dark and angry, his
arms loaded with wood they had scavenged
from the forests.
"Sit," Drelent commanded the young man and his
companions, "and smile,
Romyr. Don't worry. You'll get another chance."
The youth dropped his load carelessly on the ground
and slowly glanced
at his employer, his irritation uncontained. When Drelent turned
towards him to emphasize his instructions the younger hunter simply
looked away, working on controlling his anger and seating himself
crosslegged before the fire. He had very nearly blown their cover and
released his arrow when Gwaihir had literally dropped into the camp.
"That's a great eagle," he whispered darkly at
Drelent. "Do you have
Gyn cut him off leaning forward. "That one is mine.
You leave him to me
and do what you have been told."
Romyr shook his dark unruly tresses out of his eyes
and smiled back at
the ruddy-faced man. "You mind your own self, or you'll wake to find
that I have slit your throat, old man."
"Romyr!" Drelent glared at the youth, "Leave Gyn
alone and Gyn don't
you be pushing it. We're all a bit tense. We just have to keep this
charade up until we get our hands on that damn palantir, seeing stone,
whatever is, that rock inside that pile of debris. You all know what
happens if we fail."
Gyn sat back and calmed himself. Romyr breathed in
deeply and let his
breath out slowly, his eyes flicking up as the elf and human walked
back towards the campfire trailing an older man and the great eagle.
Drelent stood and smiled openly at the foursome, the
dark frown that
had decorated his face completely erased from his countenance.
"Welcome!" He held out his hand to the wizard that
walked next to Legolas.
"And what an entrance that was. Gave us quite a scare." He smiled at
Aragorn, "Your friends didn't warn us you'd be dropping in." He laughed
lightly at his own joke.
"Well met." Gandalf inclined his head slightly and
wrapped his large
hands around the hunter's. "Yes, we were delayed a bit in coming, but
Gwaihir's aid made up for time lost and we're here now." He leveled the
man with an open stare.
Drelent flinched under the searching gaze. He felt
as if the old timer
could see right through him and he quickly dropped his eyes, covering
his discomfort by gently kicking Gyn over to make room for the other.
"Please sit. Join us, there is plenty of mead left and the night is
"I thank you for your most generous offer," Gandalf
smiled and cast his
gaze at the ring of men, taking them each in quickly. "But I dare say
we should set up a bit away from you. Gwaihir's presence tends to make
the horses uneasy." The wizard motioned towards the line of beasts
picketed close to the remnants of a rock wall within the light of the
campfire. The animals pranced and shifted anxiously, pulling at their
"I see. You are correct." Drelent's smiled slipped
slightly as his
plans were disrupted once more. "Well if you should need anything
throughout the night, let us know."
"Thank you. We will." Aragorn placed his arm around
and turned the elf away, following the wizard and the huge eagle back
out onto the broken plains, near the edge of the meadow, where the
fissures in the earth were not so deep.
Gwaihir joined the three beings as they searched out
bramble from the
shrubbery that dotted the landscape and scavenged the edges of the
forests for bits and pieces of wood to make a fire with.
Gandalf struck the pile of wood with his staff and
flames leapt from
the interior of the small mound, sparking and leaping into the sky.
They had set up camp in a shallowed-out bowl on the edge of the meadow.
Two flat low rocks bracketed the campfire and Gandalf eased himself
down onto the top of one of them, laying his staff across his bent
Legolas slowly seated himself on the ground in front
of the other and
leaned wearily back against the cool stone.
"Here, let me see to that." Aragorn knelt by the elf
and gently brushed
away the stray strands of blonde hair that had become dried into the
blood that still caked across the elf's brow.
"Aragorn, don't fuss with it." Legolas tried to push
the human away but
he did ache and he felt dirty and tired, neither of which was a feeling
he appreciated. In the end he gave up, rolling his eyes to glare at
Gandalf as the wizard chuckled at the two of them.
"Let him have his way, Legolas." The older man lit
his long pipe and
pulled a breath deep into his lungs, savoring the sweet flavor. The
of the pipe lit hot red as the oxygen was drawn through it, lighting
his smiling eyes with its faint glow. "You look like the wargs took you
out to play with."
"Thank you, Mithrandir." the elf muttered and winced
as Aragorn checked
out his battered knees. The gouges that the rough stones had scraped
away there were more painful than his pride wanted to admit.
"Gandalf," Aragorn looked up at the wizard, "would
you have water and
bandages with you? Ours were taken and I could not find my pack. He has
taken only scratches but some are deep and I would not see them become
"And your new friends gave you none?" The old man
stood slowly and
walked back near the great eagle that had bedded down behind him, its
head tucked back against its wing, its dark black eyes watching.
"Behind the rock, Gandalf," the eagle answered the
gaze, his voice a soft deep trill.
"Ah yes, thank you, dear friend." Gandalf retrieved
his bag and produced
the items Aragorn had requested, handing him a small sack of various
herbs, should he desire to use them.
Legolas was watching the camp of the men, thinking
question. "No, they did not," he answered quietly some moments later.
Aragorn and Gandalf both stopped and glanced at the
elf when he spoke
"They did not give us water or bandages. In fact
they only offered us
meat and mead," he clarified his answer. His eyes had not left the far
camp and he was frowning. "I do not trust them."
"And well you should not." Gandalf looked in the
direction the elf was
gazing and his face darkened. "They are not as they seem unless I
completely miss my mark."
"That's what Legolas said," Aragorn quietly spoke as
he walked back to
the elf's side and dropped down next to him, spreading out the things
he would need to clean his friend up.
Legolas focused on Aragorn, smiling as his friend
poured water into a
small bowl and gently began to clean away the blood and the dirt that
stained the elf's knees; it reminded the prince of being tended when he
was a child, which was probably the last time he had had scraped knees
like this. It really was nothing to fuss about, but he had learned a
long time ago that Aragorn would have his way about this or there would
be no peace until he did. The map slipped from its hiding place against
the ranger's breast and Legolas reached out, snagging it with his long
"Give the map to Mithrandir. It will be safer that
way." He held the
paper out to his friend.
"Good idea!" Aragorn took the folded packet and
walked back around the
"Map?" Gandalf looked back at the two friends, his
bushy white eyebrow
arching as he questioned them. "Ah yes, your father told me something
of it. It is why we made haste to find you. Now tell me, how is it you
came to have it in your possession?"
"Well, we ran into a man in...," Aragorn started to
"No he ran into us," Legolas corrected him with a
"Actually," Aragorn stopped, turning to stare down
at his friend, "he
ran into you! I knew it was
mistake to take you into Adirolf."
Gandalf interrupted them both with a choked laugh.
"You took the prince
Aragorn nodded innocently.
"Have you not a wit about you! You are bolder I
thought," the wizard
shook his head.
"Or more naïve," Gwaihir added chuckling as he
watched the young
ranger, his eyes lit by the fire's glow looked red in the dim light.
"We needed supplies," Aragorn tried to defend
"He wanted a blanket," Legolas laughed.
"I am not going through this again!" Aragorn looked
between the elf and
the wizard. Gandalf was barely containing his laughter and Legolas had
lost his constraint long ago. The smile on the elf's face banished the
frown that decorated the human's and he simply shook his head and
looked around the camp.
"Yes, well I am going to be needing another one too
At that confession even Gwaihir started laughing.
"Come, young human,
you can sleep under my wing tonight. It will stave off the chill." The
great eagle turned towards them and lifted his wing slightly.
"Oh go ahead and have your fun," Aragorn teased
them. Turning back to
his friend he jabbed his finger at the seated elf. "I am never taking
you there again! This whole thing is all your fault."
"Oh give us the map and stop your nonsense," Gandalf
his hand towards the ranger.
Laughing as well, the human placed the paper in the
palm and stepped behind him, glancing over his shoulder as Gandalf
smoothed the paper open on his lap.
"Can you read it, Mithrandir?" Legolas sat up a bit
taller trying to see
over the bright fire.
Gandalf did not answer right away, his brow furrowed
as scanned the
weathered document,. "Where did you say you got this?" His voice was
and held a bit of awe as his fingers brushed the silvery words that lit
up brilliantly in the moon's soft glow. Quietly he spoke a few of the
sentences out loud, the language as beautiful and poetic as it was
Gwaihir loosed a soft trill and moved forward gazing
at the sheet over
the wizard's shoulder. He spoke softly in words that neither Aragorn
nor Legolas recognized. The two younger beings glanced at each other in
"Where?" Gwaihir glanced at Legolas and questioned
The elf quickly recounted their trip into the town
of Adirolf and the
subsequent deaths of the original map bearers. He told them how they
had discovered the map a few days later and had fled to Moria after
barely escaping Paxcyn and his men. Aragorn noted with a secretive
smile that elf did not speak of the way they had left the dwarves'
"We were followed by flocks of crebain, Mithrandir.
They seemed to find
us every step of the way after we left Moria's walls." Legolas glanced
at Aragorn before turning back to watch as Drelent and his men settled
in for the night.
Gandalf nodded, listening intently. "Crebain you
say? That is ill
news." He too glanced back towards the others, his eyes finally resting
on the collapsing hulk of the ruins.
"Can you read the words?" Aragorn asked the question
"Yes." Gandalf murmured, his eyes dropping back down
to the map once
more. "Yes, I can."
The human leaned over and pointed to one word. "That
one I know." He
smiled as Gandalf looked at him incredulously. "It's 'Maiar'. What it
means I know not. But my father told me that was what it was."
"Your father?" Gandalf looked at the man perplexed,
thinking for a
moment before his face brightened, "Ah yes! Your father does have some
of the ancient manuscripts, doesn't he? I had forgotten that," he
replied cryptically as he gazed back at the building behind them.
"Rescued a few, if am not mistaken."
Aragorn shrugged slightly, when the wizard said no
more and began to
read the shimmering text. The human moved back around the fire and
reseated himself next to Legolas, gently bandaging the elf's head wound
and wrapping his knees in soft cloth for the night.
The soft sounds of the night drifted into the camp.
The fire's popping
and spitting from time to time as it hit pockets of sap broke the
Finally Aragorn spoke again. He moved a bit away
stretching out on the ground between the elf and the wizard. "Gandalf,"
the ranger glanced over at the older man seated himself on the rock.
"This place?" The wizard indicated the darkened
building behind them.
"Well, what have you heard?"
"Paxcyn said it was a place of knowledge and
wisdom," Legolas answered
Gwaihir edged forward and settled down, the rustling
of his downy
feathers quieting as they listened to the old tale. He tucked his head
back along his wing, his bright eyes ever watchful in the dark. "Well,
Paxcyn was correct. This used to be a great repository of wisdom and
knowledge. People like myself and the firstborn," Gandalf smiled at
Legolas, "used to frequent it eons ago, in what you would call the
Second Age. All those who sought wisdom and who wanted to study
what was long lost came to these halls and to those who lived within
to learn. Much of the structure itself was built by the Drúedain
and contains a kind of deadly skill that has been lost from the world
since their disappearance."
The stars twinkled brightly in the heavens and
Aragorn relaxed on the
ground turning over onto his back, his pack bunched up under his head
for a makeshift pillow. He traced the patterns of the bright pinpoints
of light with his eyes as he listened to Gandalf's deep melodious
voice. It felt safe somehow, so near the wizard, and he found
himself finally calming down.
"Anyway," the wizard continued, smiling slightly to
himself as he
watched his companions begin to relax. "There was an earthquake at the
end of the Second Age unlike anything that has happened before or
since." Aragorn tipped his head around and met the older man's eyes at
the mention of the natural disaster, his own experiences with one
tumbling through his mind.
"The ground was ripped here and all was torn
asunder." He waved his
hand around the open plains. "This all used to be forests but, when the
earth shook, the ground split. That's why there are all those fissures
out in the plains in front of this place. They never healed. The plants
died off and the building was broken by the quake. The fumes, from the
vents that pierced the earth, drove the people away."
"This building was deemed unable to save and so they
only shored it up
long enough to remove most of the artifacts and the libraries to safer
locations." He glanced at the ruined hulk, remembering it from its day
of glory, and smiled sadly.
"Obviously not everything though," Aragorn spoke up
quietly. The tale
of the ancient ruins captivated him.
"No, not all." Gandalf turned his attention to the
young human who was
watching him. "Some things were left. Some because they were too
dangerous to move and some because the time was not right for them to
be revealed yet, and so they have waited for that day. Like a few other
things we know of." He smiled and winked at the ranger, knowing that
the young man had heard that same sentiment used to describe his own
"Of course that time has never quite come, though it
is now near," the
old wizard continued cryptically, "and in time the caretakers died and
they never passed on the information of the items still contained in
its depths, as they were warned not to." Gandalf reverently fingered
yellowed paper in his lap, pulling a deep breath of sweet smoke into
his lungs as he chewed on the end of his pipe, lost in thought. "As
often happens, things that should have been remembered were forgotten,
even by the wise. This map is the last link to prove the existence of
this place which even the wise had almost forgotten."
Legolas gasped slightly as the information triggered
his thoughts and
Aragorn glanced up at the fair being as the elf looked back at the hall
in awe. "This is Eowioriand?! But I was told it was only myth. The
knowledge of this place and its people have fallen from existence."
"What did you call it?" Aragorn turned to his friend.
"It is known as Urithral, in the common tongue,
Hidden City. Or Lost
Knowledge in the words of my people." Legolas turned to his friend. "I
have heard stories of Eowioriand. Many were the wonders housed here."
Huge blue eyes locked onto the ranger's in amazement. "And so then the
stories of old are true. The
treasures themselves are guarded by an
ancient power. That is what I felt today when we were in the
passageway, that was what upset the orcs."
Gandalf gazed hard at the elf. "You say you felt
it?" His brow was
furrowed at the mention of this new information.
"Yes, like an evil shadow in my mind. A dark dread
that I could not
shake." Legolas glanced back at the building that had only moments ago
been bathed in the glory of the elder days, but now a shadow crept over
it and the elf shuddered. Turning back to Gandalf he whispered,
"Do you know what lies there?"
Gwaihir shifted slightly, his huge black eye turning
to gaze on Gandalf.
The wizard caught the simple gesture and answered simply, "Such things
are best not discussed under the cover of night."
"Thank you," Aragorn muttered sarcastically around a
yawn. "I really
don't want to know. I would like to be able to sleep tonight."
Gandalf laughed lightly, pulling deeply on his pipe
and blowing out a
perfect smoke ring, "And well you shall young human. Tomorrow we will
go back and retrieve the palantir and leave this place to its guardian."
"Well, whatever it is, it lives in the left hand
passage and the floor
in the right hand passage is not at all what you think it is!" Aragorn
grabbed the edge of his overcoat which he used for a blanket and rolled
over onto his side facing the fire, glancing at Legolas with a lopsided
smile. "We already tried to get in that way. The handle just makes the
floor drop out underneath you."
Legolas looked over at Gandalf and nodded
"Ah, is that so?" The old wizard smiled at the two
"Well, tomorrow we'll give it another try and see if I just can't do
something about that."
Aragorn laughed lightly, "As you wish Gandalf, as
you wish." His eyes
were heavy and it was becoming hard to keep them open.
A warm hand touched his shoulder and he closed his
eyes. "Sleep now.
Tomorrow you'll see." With a slight smile the ranger fell quickly
Gandalf glanced from the young human to his elven
companion. The prince
was watching the exterior of the building uneasily.
"Legolas, take your ease," he whispered quietly, his
soft voice easily
carrying across the fire to the anxious elf. "Gwaihir will stand watch.
Besides, what lives there would not dare to step outside its dwelling
place. We are safe here." He smiled as the elf turned back towards him,
the stars reflected in the huge blue eyes. "It will be alright."
Legolas nodded slowly and settled to the ground with
his back to the
large rock he had only moments ago been sitting on. Hugging his bow
tightly to his chest the elf allowed himself to rest and within moments
Gandalf could tell that his half-lidded gaze was merely deep slumber.
The wizard turned serious eyes on the eagle. "Be
vigilant, my friend."
"I would not dare to turn our backs on the enemy
this night," Gwaihir
spoke quietly. "There is more amiss here than meets the eye." The eagle
looked towards the camp of the men a few yards away. "They are not who
they present themselves to be."
Gandalf followed his gaze. "They smell wrong," the
great eagle answered
the unspoken question. The old wizard simply nodded and looked back to
the darkened shell of the building before him. It would be wise to
retrieve what they came for and leave quickly; Eowioriand was a place
best left forgotten if Middle-earth would only let it remain so.