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Minas Tirith Forums » The Green Dragon » The Theft of Umbar (Page 45)
Author Topic: The Theft of Umbar
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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It seemed no more at first than a black dot coming out of the west; then, as it crossed the haven, it resolved itself into lustrous wings, flapping strong but weary, reaching claws, an eye with the life of two in it . . .

'Wearisome I call your quests, old greybeard,' Wrybeak complained as he landed on his awaiter's outstretched arm. 'Much minded am I for slumber after a present morsel.'

'That you shall have, courser of the air,' the man replied. 'Though I will dispense it more gladly when I learn of your success - or otherwise.'

'Well now,' the raven said, 'I trow no Azassu spotted me about the business.'

'Very good - but that might be because you came within sight of none.'

'Did I say so? Come, let me catch my breath. A week-old chick a-crying for worms would be less importunate.'

The ragged figure smiled, little doubting the bird would not speak so lightly if he had not found what he had been sent for.

'Come, hop up on my shoulder that you may talk in my ear without it look strange to those of The City. Seldom do the Birds of Innâdu fail to find that which they seek.'

'Then by the Green Lady,' the raven said, as the pair walked back along the mole towards the awakening streets, 'listen well to what I have seen.'

[ 02-15-2016, 03:47 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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'Ho there, father!' a guard at the Fifth House gate called to the pair as they passed by. 'Th'art about early, I sees. Hast plans for the day?'

'None to report thus far, in-zâg,' the ragged figure replied.

'Good, good. Come sundown, be at this gate, sithee, an' I'll have thee and the bird in to our mess to entertain me goodmates an' myself. There'll be a square meal and as many coppers as they care to throw for ye both.'

'An offer I'll gladly take up, good sir,' the stranger - whose performance the previous evening had been in hope of inciting such a summons - replied, bowing. Wrybeak too bowed from his shoulder.

The guard guffawed.

'Didst see, Renherri?' he said to the man next to him. 'This is the very chap I was after telling you on. Hey, birdie: what's six less three?'

'Kaw, kaw, kaw!' the cunning raven answered.

'Go on, make it say something!' Renherri said, grinning.

The old man whispered in the raven's ear.

'Long live Lord Gimilbâr! Krah!'

'He's a wonder, is that one! Aye, we'll see fun tonight.'

'Till sundown, good sirs,' the man said, shouldering his heavy pack and shuffling off down the crowded street.

[ 02-13-2008, 10:22 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Varnafindë
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 4097

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Komu, Lord Gimilbar's messenger, was on his way back to the Fifth House. He had been on an early errand - a very early errand! - to the Governor of Kalefi's quarters. And it had been a successful one. He had been told to wait for an answer, and he had waited less than he had expected. The senior mahout, who had given him the letter he was now taking back to the Old Lord, had actually smiled as he was handing it over. The Fifth House seemed to be high in favour with the Governor at the moment.

He passed by the Temple and turned into the street that began the route which would eventually take him to the Fifth House. Another man came out from the Temple precincts and turned into the same street. The man hailed him, and Komu realised that he knew him - he used to take messages from the Temple. They greeted each other, and Komu learned that his fellow messenger was also heading for the Fifth House. The Temple had a message for Lord Gimilbar.

"Probably not a terribly important one, since they're sending me and not any of the Reddies," the messenger said. "On the other hand, there seems to be a considerable shortage of Reddies this morning. I've seen far less of them around than usual. The High Priest must have brought a lot of them with him to wherever he's been going."

They arrived at the Fifth House during breakfast time. Lord Gimilbar had already finished his breakfast, and was now attending business with his chief scribe. They waited outside his reception chamber while a servant announced their arrival, until the scribe came out to receive them. The Temple messenger delivered his letter, said that no answer was required, and left. Komu was told to wait, as Gimilbar might want him to carry messages within the House.

Lord Gimilbar read with great pleasure the answer from the Governor of Kalefi - or rather, from the governor's senior mahout, who - in the absence of the governor - had been delegated the task of employing temporary replacement.

The senior mahout was delighted to hear that the Fifth House could provide someone with the necessary skills. If possible, they would like him to start his employment the same morning, and would expect him shortly. If his services were required late at night, sleeping quarters would be provided for him - otherwise, he would be free to return to the Fifth House in the evenings.

Lord Gimilbar's smile became wider and wider while he was reading. He would get his first report the same evening, then. He was about to summon Komu, but decided to read the other letter first, the one from the Temple.

It was a lot shorter.

"The shebir-kish's services will not be required today. You will be responsible for her until such time as she will be collected, probably some time tomorrow."

The letter was signed by some deputy official - where was everybody of importance this morning? Sure enough, after last night's dinner, Gimilbar had expected to have a late morning himself - but when he couldn't sleep anyway, he might as well get up and get some work done.

He called in Komu to give him his instructions, and raised his eyebrows at the information that there were less Azassil around than usual. Both the Governor and the High Priest and his Azassil away? It wasn't easy to say whether this was good news or not. It would depend a lot upon what they were up to.

But leaving Nim-lotel to him for another day was a good thing. If his sister had time, maybe she would like to talk to her again. And the dwarf and the others in his in-daulu would no doubt enjoy her entertainment for another evening.

The only trouble might be that she would be delayed in her plans for finding out where the High Priest kept his spying device. He guessed that she was intending to look for it, and possibly seek help from his own men if she ever found it. He had a feeling that they didn't have much time, though ...

Komu found Kamo fa Ódugban's in-daulu having their breakfast. Köttreldir seemed to be prepared to go to his new job at short notice. And they were all pleasantly surprised to hear that Nim-lotel wouldn't leave them immediately after all.

"The Old Lord says that you may visit old friends in the harem while your new friends are working," Komu told her. "They are assigned to day-patrol again this morning. In the evening you may be able to have some more time together."

Renherri, who had been sitting next to them, broke in.

"If you have time at sundown," he said, "you should all come to our mess for some entertainment - there's this old man who has promised to come along. He's got a bird that he can make to talk almost like a man - it's as good as the Old Lord's own papingo, that bird is! And the old man's a great one for telling stories, they say. You shouldn't miss him!"

The Company promised that they would try to accept the invitation. Nimlothel spotted her friend Kalashêl and went with her, and the others went to get ready for the day's duties.

From: Narnia, also connected with Norway | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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Nervously, but without hesitation, Valkyr paced through the crowded streets towards where the Nambónu delegation was housed, a little beyond the Temple enclosure. She had said farewell to her comrades outside the Fifth House's gate as they prepared to patrol the streets of the quarter, hoping that she would be able to return to Lord Gimilbâr's house for the evening. It would be difficult enough to keep her identity secure during the daytime, but if she had to bed down for the night among these strangers . . .

Knowing that having Feilan with her would only complicate matters, she had left the almost full-grown wolf in the care of the elves, with whom his relations were excellent. The woman-warrior smiled wryly as she thought how such a thought would appear to her family in Khand. To trust the White Demons! Yet a love and reverence for Arcon and Aglod had grown deep and irreversible in her heart in the months they had been together. Again she smiled as she remembered her first encounter with them, huddled against the side of an elvish ship escaping the burning village which only later she learned had been called Ethir Vrilthor. Her brazen drawing of her kesdar alone, as she had imagined, among enemies as Arcon queried her! How long ago and far away it seemed, almost as if it had happened to someone else.

But now she must attend to the business in hand. She was coming to the gate of the Nambóni guest-quarters, and already she fancied she could scent on the breeze the unmistakable spoor of the mûmak. The entrance to the Nambónu embassy was of course guarded. Wiry warriors stood on either side of the gateway, round shields of mûmak-hide and bronze stabbing-spears in their hands. The scars on their cheeks reminded her of Kaino.

'The day's greeting, warriors of Anambón,' she said. 'I am come hither from the Fifth House as mahout for the Great One.'

The men stared, then guffawed.

'You, little boy,' one said in heavily-accented Shore Talk. 'You I think Earth-Shaker will swallow in one bite! Ahau! We will see fun! A mahout, he says. And I sit upon the Leopard Throne!'

Valkyr was used to the reaction. So the Fifth House bullies had sniggered, until they had seen how she handled her arms.

'Leed me to him, in-zâg, and we will see. From my father I had The Word over the Great Ones of the South, and never has it failed me. She how I shape with this Earth-Shaker before you laugh.'

The warrior shrugged, and turned to his comrade.

'Surely, it is your funeral. Take him to Akizi fa Bama, Kwaitaru, and we will see.'

Kwaitaru grinned and gestured for Valkyr to follow him.

Within the enclosure were many tents, along with stone-built guest-houses, where the important members of the delegation would be staying. Many Nambóni were about, some playing at lamenggu before their tents with pebbles on dimpled wooden boards, others practising their skills at spear-throwing or wrestling in the open area behind the gate.

'See, spear-brothers,' Kwaitaru called. 'This one will be the mahout lent by the Fifth House. How you think he shapes, hahé?'

'Akizi will eat him, if Earth-Shaker does not!' a voice called.

'Will they send boy to do work of man?' another added.

Valkyr smiled inwardly. Her faith in her father's teaching, a hundred times proven, was not to be shaken by this rabble.

'Ho, fa Bama!' Kwaitaru called as they came to the enormous door of the mûmak-stable. 'Here is mahout House Five Lord Kimiba send us. He has The Word, he say.'

'The Word?' the Chief Mahout said as he came to the door.

The Nambónu was a man of about thirty years, immensely strong, his facial scars supplemented by many on his mighty arms and chest, cut agonisingly in intricate patterns of magic and control.

'Well, little brother from Anu-Kanda,' Akizi went on. 'If you have that you need no help from me. Earth-Shaker is yonder. Maybe he will not feel so happy today. But you will brighten his mood, surely?'

There was a grim smile on the face of the Chief Mahout as Valkyr made her way to the preposterously enormous stall. Others of the Old Lion's following crowded into the stable, hoping no doubt to see her trampled or torn to bits. She looked through the cage of immense beams - whole tree-trunks imported from the jungles of the South - at the beast-mountain who stamped and snorted in the space beyond.

Earth-Shaker. He is well named.

[ 04-20-2011, 11:15 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Varnafindë
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 4097

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Valkyr felt a moment of panic. She had forgotten that the beast would loom so large up close.

She immediately came to her senses, though. This wasn't a matter of size or of strength. This was a matter of authority. And she knew that, being equipped with The Word, she would indeed have the necessary authority.

Her confidence restored, she stepped boldly between two of the beams and into the cage where the mumak was stamping his feet and glaring at the intruder.

Valkyr spoke a few words, quietly, but firmly. It was obvious to the spectators from the Nambónu delegation that although they didn't understand a word of what was said, the animal did. He stopped, seemingly to listen to what the slender figure in front of him would say next.

Valkyr spoke soothing words to him, words meant to tell him to relax and to calm down. And relax he did. He stopped stamping his feet, snorted just a couple more times, and then fell silent.

Valkyr went closer up to him. She stretched out her hand, still speaking soothing words, and touched his trunk, gently rubbing it. Earth-Shaker let her stroke him, then moved his trunk a little and, with the tip of it, probed her shoulder.

She gave another quiet but firm command, and the animal moved one of its large front legs a step forward.

Valkyr examined it. She had been worried that the chains that were tying Earth-Shaker's legs together, might have been fastened in such a way as to cause irritation or pain around his foot. But the first one at least seemed to be all right. She had feared that the beast might have been ill-used, but this seemed not to be the case. She was glad - it would make handling him so much easier, then.

She went over to his other front leg and made a similar examination, bending down over his foot, speaking softly to him again. Then she straightened her back and cast a passing glance at her wide-eyed spectators, now a small crowd. Pretending to ignore them, and hiding a secret smile, she crossed the space underneath Earth-Shaker's belly in order to examine his hind legs.

She heard an astonished murmur from the crowd as she took her position behind the mumak, bending down again to examine his hind feet. Nothing was seriously wrong here either, so she straightened up again. What else was there that she could do? She looked up at his massive rump for a while, as if to check that everything was all right with his tail - which it was - and then walked back under his belly again, rubbed his trunk once more, and then turned to Akizi.

"Yes," she said. "I think he is happier now."

From: Narnia, also connected with Norway | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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Akizi, standing just beyond the barrier of massive logs, lifted his eyebrows and grinned. Behind him, Valkyr glimpsed one warrior smile and another scowl angrily as he passed the first a handful of coins. She reckoned she could guess what the bet had been about.

'He pines for the free air, fa Bama,' the woman said. 'He has kicked his heels in this narrow place long enough, and would be out and about. Let us have the doors open, and we will see how he fares on the exercise ground.'

'You heard our young friend, dogs of Kaléfi,' the Chief Mahout barked. 'The harness and quick about it. Abanggan! Ozungwa! On the doors.'

Gingerly at first, the grooms edged into the stall and took down the massive leather harness from the hooks on the walls. Earth-Shaker seemed now content to stand placidly as the familiar ritual of lowering the palanquin onto his back went forward. The small saddle for the mahout was placed in front of it, and Valkyr saw it was firmly secured in place herself, all the while keeping up a soft chant of happy times in the mother-herd she knew the Great Ones loved.

'Very good,' Valkyr remarked, one expert to another, to Akizi when the work was done.

'The ladder,' the Nambónu ordered one of the men beside him.

'I will not need it, I think, though thank you for the offer, son of Bama,' the woman went on. 'We have a little trick among my homeland clan . . .'

Almost whispering, knowing that the beast could hear sounds beyond the human range, Valkyr spoke soft word up at the immense ears, easily as tall as she was herself.

The enormous muscular trunk snaked back like the fabled python of the southern jungles and circled her waist in a grip gentle but strong beyond measuring. She felt herself lifted bodily up to the level of the shoulders, and was let down on the leather saddle behind the dome of the skull.

'There's my clever beauty,' she said, scratching behind the ears, and taking great satisfaction in the gaping jaws and gasps of wonder below. 'The doors, there! Let us be out of this place of stale straw!'

The heavy doors swept ponderously back, and Earth-Shaker trumpeted mightily to greet the light as he hastened into the open air.

[ 11-03-2013, 03:36 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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The warrior-woman felt pure joy at her oneness with the Great One as the vast beast stepped boldly into the light.

'Yahau! Yahé!' she cried in exultation as Earth-shaker, obedient to the gentlest touch of her knees on his mighty neck, turned this way and that at her command.

Trumpeting with ear-splitting force as he circled the large enclosure, the mûmak seemed to share his rider's exaltation. He was full of happiness to be free from his narrow prison and feel the warmth of the spring sun on his flanks.

'Behold, my master,' the Governor's steward said as he observed the scene from the upper window of the chief guesthouse. 'The númaga shakes the earth once more, though it seems but a boy upon his neck.'

'Ahau?' the Old Lion replied, shuffling stick in hand from the couch where he had been resting to the window. 'This will be the mahout Lord Kimiba lends us. Hmmm . . . His style is accomplished, and I see the palanquin already upon the Great One's back. Perhaps we will go on a progress through The City's streets after the noontide repast. Go to Akizi fa Bama, and tell him to make all ready for when my son returns from the North Shore. No better place for him to tell me what is to be done than atop beast Earth-shaker, I think. Count out also three measures of gold. We will broadcast them to the rabble as we go.'

'Hearing is obedience, master,' the Nambónu said, and hurried from the chamber.

[ 03-10-2008, 11:35 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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Exultation strove with frustration in Valkyr's mind as she made her way back through the streets to the Fifth House gate in the early evening.

Relieved that she was not required to spend the night among the Nambóni, and still thrilled beyond measure by the oneness she had found with the Earth-shaker, she was nonetheless annoyed at her failure to learn aught of use from the conversation of the Old and Young Lions. She supposed it now, indeed, naïve to think that she might have learned something from their talk as they sat upon the palanquin, as the mûmak stepped ponderously through the streets. Of course, not only had they spoken in a dialect of Kinambón that was beyond her, but they had been at pains not to let her or any other hear what was said.

The heavy tread of the Great One, the clink of the bells decorating his harness, and the shouts of the crowd as they scrambled for the gold coins the Governor carelessly tossed from the bag by his side as he passed, had in any case served to drown out their words.

So she would have no interesting news of the plans of the delegation from Anambón to report to her friends. Ah well, it could not be helped. Her new friendship with Earth-shaker, on the other hand, was a cause for deep joy, and might well yet prove to be of the utmost use. Valkyr therefore looked forward to reporting the events of the day to 'Kamo's in-daulu', as she sometimes caught herself referring to her comrades even in her own mind after these weeks in Lord Gimilbâr's service.

The warriors of the household were preparing for the evening meal as the woman stepped into the fighters' hall. She found her friends already seated in their now accustomed place. Feilan ran to meet her, jumping up and seeking to lick her face in welcome like any dog.

'You look tired but happy, Köttreldir,' Adan remarked. 'I doubt you've got a tale worth telling of your day among Kaino's folk.'

'What of yourselves, Dân?' the woman replied.

'Nothing worth reporting, goodmate,' Kharnûn on her other side replied. 'The streets were quiet. We put a trader who'd been caught giving short measure in the stocks, and serve him right, and had a mutual scowling contest with some of The Baron's thugs . .'

'And after that there's naught more to say,' Adanedhel cut in, completing the report.

The servants came round the tables, bearing food and drink, to the usual banter, and the assembled fighting men set to.

Presently, the warrior Renherri stood up, and called for silence.

'Me an' Thelin has arranged a treat for ye, goodmates. That ol' mountebank an' his tame bird that was at the gate last night, an' kept us an' the Eighth House chaps entertained. Well, he's here, anyways.'

There was a burst of applause.

The ragged figure, with Wrybeak perched on his shoulder, entered through the doorway at the end of the hall. He left his pack beside the door, and bowed to the assembled warriors. The raven followed his example, to laughter and more clapping.

'I am honoured, in-zâgil,' the old man said.

'Long live Lord Gimilbâr! Long live the Fifth House!' the raven croaked.

Valkyr became aware that her companions were staring at the figure, their open mouths and wide eyes proclaiming their amazement. She exchanged a quizzical glance with Kaino. The hunter of Anambón had not been slow to notice the profound effect the appearance of this figure had had on their friends. He shrugged, unable to offer any explanation.

She heard Aglod's voice, his words scarcely audible.

The promise has been kept, the lost found. Mithrandir!

[ 02-15-2016, 03:55 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Varnafindë
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 4097

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Nimlothel had had a good day. Kalashêl had been on kitchen duty, and Nimlothel had joined her to talk, helping her with the vegetables. Then to her surprise, she had been called in again to tell Lady Ildribeth more about the Lady of the Sea and the other Powers. Lady Ildribeth had proved a most interested listener.

Afterwards, Nimlothel had spent some more time with Kalashêl, and she also had been able to talk to many of her other old friends in the harem. In all, she felt it had been a profitable day.

When it was time for her friends to come back from their day-patrol, she went to join them. Valkyr hadn't come back yet. Feilan, who had spent the whole day at the Fifth House without his mistress, allowed Nimlothel to stroke him and scratch his ears, and finally went to sleep for a while with his head resting on her foot again.

They went together to the fighters' hall for the evening meal. Feilan was the first to notice Valkyr coming in, welcoming her in his own fashion. She didn't have much to report - not of the kind that could be told in such a public place, anyway. And soon the food was served, and for a while there was just the usual banter.

When the old man with the bird was introduced, she found him vaguely familiar. Oh yes, it was the old beggar whom she had seen on her way to the Fifth House yesterday, the one that the Azassu had threatened away.

Her companions seemed to recognize him as well - but on a different level, and with his presence coming as a happy surprise. Like Valkyr and Kaino, Nimlothel didn't understand why. Until she heard Aglod's words.

Mithrandir!

The old wizard, who - so they had told her - had been the leader of the company for the first part of their mission.
Mithrandir, who had secured a ship for them for their departure.
Mithrandir, who in the north was called Gandalf, whom she had heard about in her home, but never had met in person.

Mithrandir, who had promised that he would come south as soon as he could.
Now he was finally here.

[ 03-30-2008, 02:49 AM: Message edited by: Varnafindë ]

From: Narnia, also connected with Norway | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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Laughter and applause sounded around the benches of the warriors' hall as the old man recounted an amusing tale of Malâkh the Mad's misadventures, as Wrybeak acted out the story in the centre of the room. The disguised mage skillfully caught the small coins that showered at him from all sides. The raven, catching one in his crooked beak, won an extra burst of clapping.

'Krah! Thank you, brave soldiers!' he croaked, dropping the copper in Gandalf's hand.

'Over here, father!' Arcon called. 'Food and drink for our guest!'

'Thank you, Ianilmaru,' the wizard replied. 'A moment for refreshment, sirs, I beg!' he went on, addressing the crowd. 'Assuredly I have a second act for the in-zâgil of Gimilbâr.'

The others went back to their meals, well satisfied by their entertainment. Gandalf settled in a chair in the midst of the Company, and the bird hopped onto the table before them, bowing to Kharnûn.

'Wrybeak, by Ennûr's beard!' the dwarf whispered. 'I knew you the moment you were through the door.'

'We are well met, Marchwarden,' the raven replied. 'Hail to you all, far-travellers, faithful in the quest.'

'What do you here, winged one? And you, Tharkûn, returned to us beyond all hope . . ?'

'You he who were leader, Misirandi, mage of great power, left behind in Northlands?' Kaino said in wonder.

'The same,' Gandalf replied in a low voice. 'But let's make a joke of it shall we?'

Taking the hint, the Company laughed aloud as if they'd just heard some amusing anecdote recounted.

'Your good health,' the wizard said, raising a tankard to his lips.

[ 11-06-2008, 09:03 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
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'And yours,' Arcon said fervently.

'First things first,' Aglod went on. 'Before you say aught else, even how you came here, tell us how Bethberry fares whom, we suppose, you took with you when you so suddenly left the hostel of Ethir Vrilthor. Has her memory returned? Did you take her as far even as her father's house?'

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 652

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'Not so far,' the mage replied. 'But be assured I left her in good hands. She was in the gentle care of your household, Aglod, when I left the Havens to come South once more with my feathered friend here. Auinandel your daughter and the wise-women of Mithlond were tending her, and her memory returned, little by little, with every passing day. The elvish dagger, your gift, Adan, was ever in her sight. I think it has helped her to recall her friends. It was hoped one of the Wandering Companies might take her presently in hand, and return her to her father's house beyond The Shire.'

'I rejoice to hear it,' Aglod said.

[ 08-18-2009, 09:19 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cernunnos
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'As to my own sudden departure . . .' the wizard went on. 'It pained me to leave you all without even a goodbye, but the Shipwright's messenger could not be denied when he made his appeal the evening I took my leave. Far other would my actions have been had I known of the imminent attack, you may be sure! But even I cannot foresee all chances. By all accounts you showed your mettle when the onslaught came. Perhaps you have already guessed it was not Ethir Vrilthor alone the marauding orcs attacked. The Havens themselves were threatened, and by a host far greater. Bree, the Shire and the little towns of men like Rivermeet the Rangers of Eriador protected, but a great host was bold enough to come by a southerly route even in winter's depths to assault Mithlond itself, just as earlier some had advanced upon the Renshai villages - a thing not heard of these many centuries.'

'With all despatch Círdan sent for aid throughout the scattered settlements of the Shore Elves, for though the walls of the Havens are strong, great numbers invested them, cunningly led. Hatred for the elves, and greed for plunder, made our enemies reckless in assault; nor did the nearness of the sea seem to daunt them - an ill sign, to be sure. It happened also that at the wintertide many were absent from the Havens in their home villages, who else might have contributed much to the defense.'

'Happy was the outcome, nonetheless. For the dwarves of Shazûr, and even some of the Renshai who could be swiftly gathered, learning the Fair Folk were assailed in their very halls, came south with all haste, and fiercely came upon the rear of the orcs. The Firebeards advanced wrathfully down Iceroot, a solid phalanx well fortified with axe and byrnie, while the Renshai, lightly armed on hardy mountain ponies, harassed the goblins with dart and arrow upon the flanks, before closing with them to good effect.'

'Glad was the meeting with Fandhûr son of Ziggathûr in the midst of battle, when in sortie the Falathrim issued from the Landward Gate with the Shipwright at their head, and I at his side. In that hour the weapons of the three Free Peoples shone as one, and the malice of the Dark Power was confounded.'

The eyes of his old comrades gleamed to hear the mage's tale, and Wrybeak danced upon the table-top.

'Krah-ha! We also did our part!' the aged raven exclaimed. 'Let it not be said the Wings of the Air were idle! Were we not eyes in the skies for you, Tharkûn, alert to all the trickery of the orc-brood?'

'That you were, wise one,' Gandalf replied.

'Their arrows we dared, kah-kraw, and swiftly news of all they were about came to you, or to the Lord of Shazûr-dûm. Is it not so?'

'So it is indeed, Wrybeak, and the lasting thanks of dwarves, elves and men will be with you hereafter. Did not the War-chief of the Renshai swear that henceforth none of his folk will harm any of raven-kind, whether endowed with speech or no?'

'That he did, Greybeard, and the tale of it will go from the elder to the chick in all our nests.'

'Ho, Kamo!' a voice called from across the hall. 'Not fair, for you chaps to get all the jokes. Give us another story, master!'

Gandalf smiled and rose, downing the last of his ale.

'Until tonight, in-zâgil.'

[ 07-08-2008, 10:18 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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After another tale about Malakhîm the Mad, there was new applause and more throwing of coins. Then someone shouted: “A song! Let us hear a song!”

“Ah, I must disappoint you there, in-zâg,” the mage answered. “My range of entertainment does not extend to singing.”

“Does the bird sing, then?” someone else asked.

Before Gandalf – or Wrybeak – had the time to answer, a new suggestion was put forth by Renherri.

“Nim-lotêl is here tonight!” he exclaimed. “Perhaps she would sing?”

Nimlothel immediately had an idea. She rose quickly to her feet.

“Yes, I'll sing,” she smiled. “And perhaps the bird could join my song? Master Raven, do you know the song 'Yavanna gave names to all the little birds'? Then they could hear us both.”

“Krah-ha! Know the song!” the raven answered.

“Good,”, Nimlothel continued. “I will sing the verses then, and you will do the bird-songs.”

There was a contented murmuring among the audience at this. The song was a well-known one, especially as sung to children. The verses would each describe one bird, ending with giving its name, and then the refrain would imitate that bird's song. Nimlothel wasn't bad at those imitations herself, but Wrybeak was even better.

“She's good, isn't she?” Renherri whispered after the first verse to Gandalf, who was seated next to him now. “A shame that our master had to let her go to the Temple. We always enjoy it when she is allowed to come back and sing to us, though.”

“She's very good,” Gandalf agreed.

Would this be the elf-woman that Captain Tirandún had mentioned? Gandalf had sought him out, in as discreet a manner as possible, just to ask him one single question: Where can I find them?

Captain Tirandún's murmured answer had been short, but somewhat cryptic.

“They work for the Fifth House. The elf-woman is a slave in the Temple, but they have met her.”

Gandalf had just walked away – it wouldn't do for the two of them to be observed together. The captain had seemed to think that he knew that an elf-woman would be connected to the company, but the mage would have had to leave that mystery unexplained until he met them. This Nim-lotêl – or would that be Nimlothel, perhaps? – had been sitting with his friends, so she could be the same.

“Very good indeed,” he added. “And she is no common woman, is she?”

“She's a white demon, you mean?” Renherri asked. “Oh, she is that, but don't fear, she's never done us any harm. She was a slave here first, for many years, and she never caused any trouble. Then the High Priest wanted her as his scribe, and the Master had to give her up.
But she often comes back to sing. Did you notice that dwarf sitting with those Ianilmari? He seems to be quite taken with her – this is the second time in less than a week that she's been staying the night with that in-daulu. They say that she's singing and reciting poetry to them.”

He winked, as if not quite believing the accuracy of that statement.

Gandalf just nodded, while they listened to the rest of the song. He wondered who she was, and what kind of connection she had established to the company. And why the captain had expected him to know.

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Cernunnos
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'She'd do goodly work in our profession, friend Renherri,' the wizard observed presently. 'And not in the streets and markets only, but in the halls of the high lords, with such a voice - if t'were not for those unfortunate ears . . .'

Renherri snorted and nodded.

'Oh, she's done the same, in the Fifth House at least,' he replied. 'She were here - borrowed, you might say - for the visit of the Old Lord's sister. I s'pose folk'd stone her in the street, though, once they saw she was a Northern Demon. Still, Kamo's lot've come to no harm as I can see, for all she's been in their very quarters. The Evil Eye's not something to take lightly, though, I tells ye. I saw a man withered up with it once - a witch-wife's curse, it was. A terrible thing to see.'

Gandalf leaned back, pondering. This superstition might yet, who knows, prove of use to them in the quest. It would give him great satisfaction if the slander spread by the Dark Power to sunder the Younger from the Elder Children might yet be used against its very source.

[ 07-23-2011, 10:51 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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When Nimlothel and Wrybeak had finished their song, there was another round of loud applause.

Nimlothel acknowledged the applause gracefully, and then turned to Renherri.

"I have a boon to ask," she said. "If Kamo fa Ódugban is willing, and if it is acceptable to the Fifth House, of course."

"Speak it!" Renherri answered, smiling. "We are glad to see you here, you know. I hope the boon is something that we are able to grant. Surely she deserves some reward for her singing, don't you think?" he turned to the audience in general. Murmured assent and more cheering met him.

"I know that I am merely a guest myself," Nimlothel began. "But it would please me if I might extend your hospitality towards me to also embrace this excellent bird and his caretaker. May they be my guests - with you, fa Ódugban? The bird could even assist me in the entertainment of singing that I intend to provide for your in-daulu for another night."

She waited for an answer, not really fearing to have her request turned down. She was popular enough, and so were the new entertainers. People would want to try to accomodate their whims.

And it was better to connect the bird to herself than the wizard to her companions. The less that was suspected about the real connection between the old man and the Ianilmari, the better.

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'This thought was in my own mind, sweet singer,' Kaino replied. 'We have pallet for old man and perch for bird, no doubt!'

Gandalf bowed in gratitude, Wrybeak echoing the gesture.

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Cernunnos
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It was not till The Company and its guests were well ensconced behind sealed doors in their own quarters that elves, dwarf and men could at last let slip their joy.

'Mithrandir!' Arcon said again and again. 'Mithrandir!'

'Tharkûn! Grey Mage!' Kharnûn echoed.

Gandalf swiftly made the acquaintance of Nimlothel, Valkyr and Kaino, and allowed Feilan to cautiously approach and sniff his hand.

'You are a good beast, I doubt not, and loyal to your mistress - or should I say, to your friend, Valkyr?'

'Friend, sir wizard,' the woman, a little overawed, replied.

'Gandalf if you please,' he replied cheerfully. 'Remember I'm but a beggar beyond these four walls!'

The companions were seated in the chamber shared by Arcon and Aglod, the part of the guest-quarters where they were least likely to be overheard. Feilan was despatched to the central room, where any whiff of one approaching would come to his acute nose. The faint cut-off growl by which he warned Valkyr was something she had had cause to bless her 'pet' for more than once before.

'And now, friends, let us open counsels,' Gandalf said, looking round the ring of eager faces.

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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"First of all, and perhaps most importantly," Arcon said, "- we know where to find the Palantir. Nimlothel here knows which room it sits in - at the top of the Copper Tower - and she knows where a key to the room is kept. That's why she approached us in the first place. She was hoping that we might be able to get some help to remove it. Little did she then know that this was our whole purpose for being here."

He smiled at Nimlothel, who smiled back, with Gandalf staring at them both.

"Getting the stone down from the Tower is easy enough," Nimlothel said. "There's a smooth road spiralling inside along its walls, we could roll it all the way down. The problem is to distract the guards, both those who guard the chest with the keys - and all the other guards, when we try to get it down to your friend's ship."

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Cernunnos
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'Very good,' Gandalf commented with a nod. 'I little feared you would be idle in pursuing our goal. This I had suspected but not known: and so by inches we near the prize.'

The mage looked gravely round the Company, his eyes hidden beneath his bushy brows under the light of the single bronze hanging lamp.

'But there is most weighty reason we now must hasten our steps lest all be lost. Wrybeak here . .'

The wizard jerked his thumb towards the raven sitting on the carved bed-board.

'. . is a famous bird in the north, as Kharnûn could tell you. His eye is sharp, his wit quick, his wisdom deep. His voice is heeded in nest and rookery throughout the Mountains, nor does the Lord of Shazûr-düm himself disdain his counsel. Though perhaps a little sleepy after his exertions . .'

A shadow of a smile twitched the corner of Gandalf's mouth.

'. . he it is can best tell us in what peril we - and in truth all The City - now stand.'

'Your words, Tharkûn, are gracious as they are just,' Wrybeak croaked. 'Far, and far again have I taken wing since we two came as wandering mountebanks to the banks of the Bahar. This have I seen, and this have I heard.'

The circle of heads leaned a little closer.

[ 11-07-2008, 09:46 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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"I did guess that you would be good for more than just singing funny songs," Nimlothel murmured. "Your race is famous for producing some interesting individuals. I'm sure that you could go unnoticed in places where even a beggar couldn't."
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The raven bowed graciously to the elf, and continued.
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Cernunnos
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'It was no secret that the High Priest and many red-garbed ones left The City some days since. Such numbers, no doubt, could not be concealed. About matters spiritual, the word went about, and who in all Umbar would be foolhardy enough to follow to uncover their true intent? None, surely, that was not tired of life. Well-guarded was the way, both by sea and land, but the paths of the air the Enemy - as yet - owns not, to our advantage. For who in the Southern Realm knows of the Birds of Innâdu, or has spoken with the Children of the Wind? None but those seated here. So at the Grey Mage's urging, I took flight along the Starboard Shore, as it is called, the northwards jaw of the Gulf. So came I unregarded upon their great assembly in an old stone place, round and commodious. I trow the Men of Old took thence stones for the building up of their great nests like this we sit in.'

'A former quarry, aye!' Gandalf said with a touch of impatience. 'But what saw you therein, loquatious one?'

'Even this, old greybeard,' the bird answered, not the least abashed. 'Many and many a rank of the Reddies, armed and dangerous, and all of them looking towards Utukhân, and Edeb-Nargûl, and the Young Lion of the Farsouth Kingdom, and one who stood with them. Not hard, to hear the words of the Old Serpent, in that circled space. Victory he foretold, the covering of all the lands in darkness, the triumph of He not to be named, and the Azassunath mightily proclaimed it. Then shortly and subtely, he came to the means . . .'

[ 02-19-2009, 12:55 AM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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'This then is their devilish conspiracy. The one who stood cloaked and silent with the three in midmost there was bidden forward. Utukhân unshrouded him, and he gazed about. A young man-child it was, yet to see fifteen summers if my reckoning be not awry, and of this strippling the High Priest demanded, whether those standing there did not know his face?'

'Then shouts broke out, cries of assent; and strange though it might seem, I too knew this visage, for it is carven in marble and bronze and ivory throughout The City. The living image of Castamir the Usurper stood there. And Utukhân proclaimed that the tale told in the histories is a lie, that the Hero-Brothers, his descendants, had left no descendants of their own when Umbardacil of Gondor smote the Corsairs. This, he said, was the true King of Umbar, who should sit once more upon the Double Throne of An-Kamet and Sankihan, with the priests of the Lord of the Dark as his protectors and guides. As for those of the Ten Houses - who have been but as Stewards these many years, he said, mocking the usage of Gondor - any that refused to return to their true allegiance should surely be put down.'

Adanedhel whistled.

'Devilish cunning indeed, Wrybeak,' Kharnûn remarked. 'So: the High Priest brings forward one to be his puppet, hiding his true intent behind a cloak of legitimacy.'

'Indeed,' Aglod agreed. 'Reverence for Angamaitë and Sanghyando is still strong - they are the patrons of this very House, after all - and should any doubts as to this most happy discovery manifest themselves, they will be swiftly crushed by the Warrior-Fanatics, no doubt with the aid of the Old Lion's men, who we now see are mercenaries brought in to strengthen Utukhân's arm.'

'Ai! So it must be, Akalod!' Kaino agreed. 'Truly, the Old Lion will skin his own mother if there is profit to gain, nor will his son be behind in dividing the spoil!'

'Do you suppose Utukhân can really have found some descendant of the Hero-Brothers?' Adan asked.

'Does it matter?' Gandalf replied. 'The records of Gondor speak against it. I little doubt this person is a peasant from some obscure village one of the Old Serpent's agents has come across and, realising his possible use to his master, brought in secret to the Great Temple. His resemblance to the Usurper is probably no more than a coincidence.'

'You discern well their conspiracy,' Wrybeak continued. 'And swiftly it goes forward. Now, when the Houses most likely to dissent are weakened by the battle against Gondor, Utukhân will proclaim the return of the King. An assembly of all the Houses under the Peace of the Temple is to be proclaimed in two days' time, for the news to be given out. When it is held all the eggs will be in one nest, as we say. Or, as the Umbari have it, all the heads will have but one neck.'

There was a silence.

'My, but we do live in interesting times,' Adan said, with a grim smile.

'I wonder . .' Nimlothel said hesitatingly. The others turned to her.

'I wonder . . should we warn Lord Gimilbâr?'

[ 02-13-2011, 12:15 AM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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The others stared at Nimlothel, not speaking at first.

"It might be a help to our own cause," she added, "if he's aware of the seriousness and thee urgency of the situation. And there's something ... something I didn't tell you last night."

She blushed.

"Oh, I told you some of it," she hurried to say. "I told you that the Old Lord and his guests had mentioned this business of the High Priest 'looking into all hearts', and that Lord Gimilbâr disapproved of it."

"So you did," Aglod said. "And I remember saying that we might then be helping him in ways he wouldn't be aware of."

"And I just nodded, not saying any more," Nimlothel confessed. "I was embarrassed that I might have said too much, and I thought I would have to think more about it before telling you, and ... oh, I'm just confusing myself ..."

"Tell us now, then," Aglod said sternly. "What did you say to Lord Gimilbâr?"

"It was because of what he said first," Nimlothel said, now meeting Aglod's eyes firmly. "He said that if someone could steal the device the High Priest used for looking into all hearts, then that thief deserved a reward."

"So that rumour has reached even him," Aglod murmured. "And then you said ...?"

"I said that such a thief might seek help even from mylord's own warriors," Nimlothel whispered. "And that he then hopefully wouldn't think that they were doing anything wrong even if they suddenly disappeared - and probably never could come back."

She swallowed.

"He looked at me almost expectantly," she said. "I added that it was just theoretical, but I believe that he expects me to start looking for this 'device' as soon as I go back to the Temple. I'm not saying we should tell him everything about our own mission - but he is on our side against the High Priest. And I would hate to see his House being wiped out just because he was taken by surprise. Should we warn him?"

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