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Travellers' Tales ~ Mordor

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alias author Jan Hawke

Joined: 27 Dec 2008
Location: Dunheved Kernow
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Travellers' Tales ~ Mordor
    Posted: 12 Apr 2010 at 10:41pm
 Travellers' Tales
This is a thread for fan-fiction that is place-specific
Please feel free to post one-off stories, or instalments of longer tales, where the action mostly takes place here in Mordor ('The Questers' Tales' that start this thread are part of a 'road trip' story that roam across the lands of Middle Earth in the 3rd age)
If your story continues in another forum, please include a link so people can find the next part! Wink) 
 
 
 
THE MOUNTAINS OF SHADOW
 
It was as fine a morning as any to start a journey into the Black Lands, Jano thought to herself as they broke camp beside the eastern bank of the Anduin just south of the foul river Morgulduin, close by the Emyn Arnen. She reflected on the previous afternoon's events that had brought them to this place that seemed hale enough, but they had all been looking over their shoulders at some time since they had settled in for the night and looked with doubt in their hearts at the Mountains of Shadow glowering down at them from a distance.

 

On the face of it their various quests did not necessarily seem to have much reason to take them into Mordor. Éowyn was searching for the rare herb athelas - and perhaps a long lost king to cure her ailing uncle, Théoden King of Rohan; Angbor's quest was even more esoteric - a white sapling of the fabled nimneldor tree, brought into Endor from doomed Westernesse by Isildur himself, a withered symbol of the Kings of Gondor who were no more, that perhaps might bring about the return of a royal descendant of the King of Arnor, Valandil, grandson of Elendil.

 

Then there was Fin of course - his object a legendary pearl which seemed most unlikely to be found in the Black Lands. This was where she came in of course, for Aulë himself had sent a message to the former Lord of the House of the Golden Flower that Jano, brought up by mortals in Ithilien, might aid his search through the mortal lands, and in so doing finally come to terms with her past life amongst the Secondborn. And lastly and perhaps most strangely of all, their latest companion, Lump. They had found him alone and chained in eastern Osgiliath and set him free. The mysterious creature had not spoken much and became hysterically incoherent when they tried to find out why he had been in such dire straits, yet last night as they had determined where their next destination was to be, he had shown no sign of distress, and this morning seemed perfectly content to stay with them.

 

Strange companions and even more mysterious quests Jano thought to herself as she put out the remains of their fire and perhaps the strangest of all was the one that she, Fin and Éowyn had agreed to undertake for Beregond, which had indirectly led to their being here and also to the heated argument that she and Angbor had had last night. He had reasoned with a great deal of justification that athelas, nimneldor and perhaps the black stone that Beregond sought as a new projectile weapon, might all be found in the vicinity of Minas Morgul. And that was when Jano had argued just as hard, with different but just as persuasive reasons for not going anywhere near the Morgul Vale, the former Tower of the Moon, that was now a place of darkness and fear. Sighing, Jano went to join the others who were all busy making their horses ready. Silently she saddled Fili who was beside her friend Asfaloth, already prepared to leave.

 

Also silent, waiting for the rest to finish their preparation, but watching Jano closely was Fin. He had stood watch last night as he had needed no rest, which was as well because he had been mulling over the various arguments that Angbor and Jano had debated across the campfire. 

"Ai Jano! Are you sure you wish to go on?I truly have no desire to take you into places that you do not want to go to."

He had been growing increasingly concerned about the elleth since they had left Rohan and he had more or less decided overnight that he should send both Jano and Éowyn back to Minas Tirith and just go on with Angbor and then rejoin them once they had made a thorough search of Black Lands. He was about to tell her this, when she answered him in a quiet voice that was only audible to him.

"I said last night that I would go with you Fin and I hold to that, even though I think it is folly to go there. I know you think I am terrified of the Vale... and I am... I admit that. It is too dangerous to go into that place from the western end - it is too well guarded. You would need an army."  She was close to tears and was furious with herself for being so weak, so she made herself concentrate on teasing out a twist in Fili's bridle, avoiding Fin's gaze and trying to sound as though she was calm and steady. She nodded her head towards the peaks almost opposite the Emyn Arnen.

"There is the pass I talked of last night. Very few know of it and even fewer use it in these dark days. Those four peaks like spikes - Cirith Caraes, the Pass of the Spikes... well they are a back way into the Vale - or else right onto the other side of the Ephel Duath and down into the Gorgoroth..."

 

 

Gently Fin put his fingers over Jano's as she fumblingly placed the bridle on Fili's head, and pulled her hands down. She was trembling like a leaf as he put his arms around her, holding her softly to his chest until she calmed a little. Then he spoke as quietly as she had done, his voice gentle with concern as he saw she was crying with shame and frustration. 

"Truly you do not have to go there Jano. I do not want you go if it distresses you this much. And I really think that Éowyn should not go anyway - she is far too young and I know full well what horrors lurk in there, so there is no disgrace in admitting to your fears. You are right to have them."

"You need someone who knows the way and I have done it before... and alone too. There are just... evil memories. Angbor knows the dangers as well, for all he made light of them last night. But he lives far away to the west and does not know these lands as well as I. I only left them three years ago and that was because it was not safe here anymore in Ithilien... even though I had moved far to the south of here."  Her voice had faded to a smallest whisper.
"They fly now... the Nine... I followed some Orcs in there. Into the Vale from the Spikes - they know the way too, though they rarely use it. That was the time I told you of... when the battle madness took me."  He was still holding her and she was glad of the contact as her whole body shuddered with loathing.

"I killed them all - five of them. But as the last fell I heard him calling from the heights... the Wraith... It was high, high above me and I do not think it was even looking for the ones I had killed. It rode on a huge winged creature... I thought at first it was a dragon but I saw it another time at close quarters, nearer to where I lived, and it is more like a great featherless bird. It was horrible. It flew off towards the Tower - Minas Morgul. I ran as fast as I could in the other direction and I have not been back to the Spikes since."  She pulled away from him, rubbing her eyes with her fists.

"I can see how that must have been really frightening Jano. And you were all alone as well... I repeat - you do not have to take us there - we can find our own way if you tell us how." 
He let her go reluctantly, sensing her embarrassment now she had told him why she was so afraid.

"Fin - I thank you for the thought and I am grateful for your understanding. But I think I do need to come with you? Maybe that is what that message meant? That I put this fear behind me? And I know the Spikes are not really guarded that well, or at all, so we can maybe get in and out of there without being spotted - we are a small group after all and they will not be expecting anyone to come into the Vale from that direction."

 

Fin had been a commander of armies and he was used to assessing the courage and veracity of his comrades. Jano was frightened for sure, but was also rational about her fears and was still committed to going with him. He had fought the Nine before and knew the risks very well. But he also knew his own capabilities and was confident of his ability to safeguard those who travelled with him. He looked frankly at his friend and saw she was trying hard to master her fear and he decided that it would probably do more harm than good to make her leave him. His face was serious, but his eyes were kind as he spoke to her.

"Being afraid does not mean you are a coward Jano - far from it. You have nothing to prove to me certainly for I have seen how brave you can be. Memories are harder to deal with sometimes than an Orc bristling with weapons... I should know after all. So if you think you should come with us, then I will not deny you, even though I would rather you stay here. I would appreciate it greatly if you could keep a tight watch on Éowyn though - whilst we travel in the Black Lands. She trusts and admires you and will need your guidance like never before in that land I think. I will be glad to get our business there done with all speed that is for sure!"

He gave her a wry grin and then mounted Asfaloth and called to the rest of the party.
"Come - let us get on my friends! This path is best taken in daylight I think so the sooner we start the sooner we can leave! To the Mountains of Shadows!"

 

Feeling a little better for her conversation with Fin and looking much more composed outwardly, Jano joined Éowyn just behind Fin and Angbor and, as they passed through the increasingly wooded, lush green countryside, she talked to the young mortal maid about her old life in this region. Éowyn was very taken with South Ithilien and admired the blunt granite peaks of the Emyn Arnen and the waterfalls that fell down its craggy slopes, listening avidly to Jano's tales of the caves she had used as occasional homes, farther to the south in the Mountains of Shadow.

"But Jano, you say this is where you lived with your adoptive family so how did you come to be living in caves all by yourself?" 
Éowyn who was looking up at the huge bulk of foothills, spoke without thinking and could have cursed herself for asking such a question as Fin turned and threw an anxious glance at the dark-haired elleth and then a stern look at her. Jano's face was unreadable, but she answered in a level, easy tone, though her gaze was fixed on the skies above the Ephel Duath, where all but Fin could only just discern two eagles on the hunt, circling high on the thermals.

 

"This was much later on muin Éowyn - well, after I was over one hundred years old. My parents and three brothers had all died by then." 
She paused a moment, then went on anticipating the next question.
"Things changed you see. When I was growing up with my brothers, it was a little simpler but even so it was... awkward at times. I am a full-blood Elf and they were all mortal of course. The Eldar do not grow as fast as mortals in height and bulk when they are children - I was not fully grown until I was fifty years old... and as you can see for yourself, in mortal terms I appear, at first glance anyway, to be a much younger woman. As children, all my brothers outgrew me and then of course carried on getting older as mortals do."

 

She paused a moment as that sank in with both Éowyn and Angbor, who was also listening now, intrigued with the conversation. Éowyn was blushing furiously at asking such a personal question still. so Jano reached out and patted her hand gently.
"It is all right Éowyn - it was a long time ago now and I have many happy memories of my family - many more than the sad ones."
She smiled at the young girl and carried on, this time looking at both the mortals as she spoke of how it was to grow up with people who were not your true blood kindred, though in her case it was more complicated than that.

"And of course, as you know, brothers and sisters are not always kind companions, even where they love each other dearly - it was worse with the eldest of my brothers, as he was only two years younger than I. So by the time I looked to be a full-grown woman he was nearing fifty, losing his hair and a grandfather. It was even worse when he was fifteen, for I was his bossy 'big' sister of seventeen, but I was still only about the same height of a seven year old mortal child - yet I could run as fast as him and was better with a bow too. Well... we weren't always such good friends and that was mainly because I was forever embarrassing him in front of his own friends. And the same with my middle brother, although I knew what was coming with him by then, so it was not quite so bad. My youngest brother was fifteen years younger than me though, and so with him it was easy enough - when he was a young man I looked to be about the same age. It was when he began to get old and sick that I had the worst trouble of all - not with him but with his children..."

 

Jano's voice tailed off and her gaze went back to the skies above the high cliffs and the bare scree slopes of the Ephel Duath. Again Fin followed her gaze and once more saw the hunting pair, male and female, just as they were joined by a younger male eagle. Their latest hatchling by the way he was tolerated by the two adults, the golden-haired elf-lord thought to himself. Smiling he looked back at Jano and his smile suddenly faded as he realised that this was her true pain. She was an eagle raised by falcons. Similar enough, but different in their growth and behaviour. Maybe tolerated, even thriving within the brood nest, but ultimately rejected by those she grew up with and by all their kind...

 

He made his decision and swiftly spoke before anyone else thought to, for he knew that Jano might not be of a mind to talk of this again. He just knew that in this place and at this moment, doing so might ultimately help her in her journey.

"Surely your brother's children always knew you as an adult Jano - or nearly so anyway? Why would that bring worse troubles?"

 

She jumped at the sound of his voice, not expecting the question to come from him. They locked eyes, his gaze firm with empathy, Jano was angry at first, then guarded as she realised the question was rhetorical coming from him, sparing her any ill-phrased comment from the mortals that might cast unknowing barbs. She gave him a tight little smile and carried on with her story as though she had never stopped speaking.

"Because they always knew me as the adult who never grew old as they did. As everyone else they knew did."  Her eyes and smile for Fin softened with gratitude and she deliberately decided on the most painful memory of all and spoke it before her courage faltered.

"Imagine you are an old women of sixty years or more, who is about to bury her newly-dead father, looking into a mirror at her own reflection and that of a much younger-looking female at her side... barely out of girlhood. That was me of course. The old woman was my brother's youngest daughter. Her mother died when she was eight years old and I brought her up as though she were my own child. We had loved each other all our lives."  She sighed at the memory and then went on.

"But as we looked into that mirror we both knew we were not and could never be true kin. She could say it, but I could not. We both knew it was true though. And the longer I stayed with the Secondborn the worse it would have become. People aging before my eyes whilst I went on, unchanging, until there would be nobody who really knew me as their sister, their aunt, their childhood friend, because I could not change - I was their past still living - or worse, a part of the past that should rightfully be long dead."

She stopped and looked at Fin and he smiled sadly at her and nodded. He knew this too - how it felt to be 'out of place', even with those who were nearest to your heart. She took a deep breath and continued.

"She took the death of her father badly - I was with him and she was not and... it does not matter - we both loved him so much. She said things to me in her grief and anger that could not be taken back, no matter how much she begged me to forget them, because they were all true, despite the hurt they caused us both. So I left her and her family the night my brother died and I never went back to the people I had called my own family, my kin, again."

"But I stayed here in Ithilien because I knew of nowhere else to go except to Dol Amroth, where my mother had been born and spent her childhood. But that was not really home to me. And so I lingered here, living on my own with the memories of what had been mine. Who had been mine to remember. Until it was enough and times had changed - this place had changed and it was no longer a haven for me. But then maybe I had never been safe here in one way or another."

She looked up for the eagles again, but they had gone.

"And so I left here when I could not bear to be alone anymore. Went to find my blood kin, to Imladris, and finally to my friends who became my family and to my own love. My Silen. I miss him - I wish he was with us now."

 

They rode on for a while in silence, each with their own thoughts on how it would be to have to live so long, cast off from all their kin. Éowyn again wondered how something that sounded so wonderful - never growing old - might be more of a curse than a blessing to someone, but then of course Jano's experience was a rare one and, had she been brought up by her true kindred, her story would not have been so sad. It made her wonder about Jano's and Fin's tales of Luthien and Beren as well, and she began to see why Luthien had chosen to die as a mortal, rather than be apart from her love forever and ever.

 

The Emyn Arnen had slipped past them and they crossed the Harad Road, here little more than a lightly used drovers trail, and began to pass through more thickly wooded areas that began to rise and then thin again as they traversed the foothills of the Mountains of Shadow. As they left the last of the forest behind and saw the misty, cloud-strewn, grey rocky slopes opening up before them, they all gasped suddenly as a flash of white came into view, moving swiftly towards them. Fin and Jano quick eyes spotted it first and both cried out in surprise…

"Mearas! A horse!"

The Éowyn saw too and gasped in amazement as she recognised the pride of Rohan

"Shadowfax?!!"

The great gray horse neighed proudly as she called his name and came straight up to them. Éowyn slid off Windfola and went up to the magnificent steed, rubbing his nose gently as he nudged his head against hers in greeting, for he knew her gentle ways well.

"What on earth are you doing here Sir? Huh?" 
She turned and looked at the others shyly.
"He is Shadowfax and like Fin said he is of the Mearas, the fathers of horses and too noble for any to ride. He is the pride and joy of our stable. I do not know how he comes to be here for he is usually well guarded - although permitted to go where he wills within our borders..."

 

Fin exchanged yet another meaningful glance with Jano and then spoke gently to Asfaloth who seemed to wish to make Shadowfax' acquaintance.
"Hush mellon nín. There will be time enough for you to make friends I think." 
He smiled at the young Rohir and asked what Jano and Angbor were both wanting to. 
"Well we need a spare horse now our pack animal has Lump to carry. Would Shadowfax permit a rider Éowyn - then we can all lighten our loads?"

 

Éowyn looked at the Elf-Lord in surprise and then with dismay
"Oh no! No! He will not let anyone ride him... at least he never has... No Fin. I do not think so!"  Shadowfax snorted and tossed his head back, beautiful pure white mane floating on the breeze.

"Nay Fin - this one is not for riding I think... unless he would consent to carry one of the Ainur."
Jano, brought up with horses from the moment she sit unassisted, could not resist and had joined Éowyn patted the side of the great stallion's neck as Filigod followed her mistress' example and whickered to him in a respectful but friendly manner. As did Asfaloth, Windfola and Angbor's two horses.

Angbor laughed heartily
"Well it looks as though our mounts have decided that we must have another join our fellowship!"

 

They all laughed, even Lump - a strange wheezy, whining sound - and, after letting all the horses greet Shadowfax they began to ascend towards the Pass of the Spires, Cirith Caraes. With Shadowfax following them unfettered, they went on horseback at first with Jano leading them up the lower slopes where the grass gradually gave way to shale and loose scree, zig-zagging her way back and forth as the gradient got steeper. When they were about halfway up Jano called them to a halt and pointed up the slope to where the peaks seemed to divide into a shallow gully only about four horses wide.

"We will have go on foot for a while, the way is too steep coming uphill at least. When we get to the ravine we can mount up again for a while. We will come to the divide just before nightfall I would guess..."

She looked at them all keenly and then went on slowly and distinctly.

"You all heard my counsel last night as to our next destination and agreed to follow me this far and I thank you all, especially Angbor, for trusting my advice to avoid entering the Vale beside the Morgulduin. But there will be no going back once we reach the divide - do you wish to head towards Minas Morgul or head south and east towards Gorgoroth?

 

Angbor looked at the rest and then at Jano and nodded quietly at her.
"My Lady you are too gracious and I am glad you have shown us this less fearsome way to our goal, for I know you do not agree with our going into the Vale at all. But I can see no alternative to our at least searching around dread Minas Morgul... the men of Westernesse wrought that Tower and, perhaps, the trappings of their former power may still exist even unto these dark times. We must travel there and make the attempt!"

Fin looked at Jano, giving her one last chance to leave and take Éowyn with her. The elleth shook her head slightly and smiled a little.

"Minas Morgul it is then!"

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alias author Jan Hawke

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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Apr 2010 at 10:42pm
THE MORGUL VALE AND BARAD-DÛR
 
It was still light as they reached the western gateway of the pass that Janowyn called Cirith Caraes - the Pass of the Spikes... or the Fangs more likely, for that is what they most resembled. Angbor knew full well why Jano gave the alternative description for this terrain was frightening enough without bringing in even more terrifying imagery. For all his good humoured nature he had been very angry with the Elleth the previous evening when she had categorically refused to go into the Morgul Vale itself by its western opening beside its befouled river, the Morgulduin. Though he knew the dangers of approaching the Vale he had thought the risk justified because of the Tower's ancient history and because it was raised by the Men of Westernesse. His own kindred. When Jano had argued so hard against his wishes, he had been on the verge of leaving them and going into the Vale on his own. This had caused Jano to beg him not to do so, and then she had conceded that if he really wanted to search the Vale for nimneldor, athelas and black stones, then there was another, almost secret way that he did not know. He was very glad now that she had finally come up with this alternate route for, even in daylight, this place, though darkling and intimidating, was nothing like as terrifying as the Morgul Vale.

 

As they passed further into the ravine, dwarfed by dark cliffs, almost in twilight, though the Sun was still westering for its light only looked into this shadowed pathway for an hour at most each day, even the Lord of Lamedon's spirits were downcast, though he tried to talk to Fin a little at first. He knew the Elf-Lord was ancient and so had not been surprised to hear that he had fought against the dread Lord of Minas Morgul a thousand years ago.

 

"You fought at Fornost then my Lord? With the King of Arthedain - Arvedui?"

Fin shook his fair head sadly as he remembered the last days of the rule of Valandil's heirs in the North Kingdom.

"Nay Angbor - King Arvedui had already perished, fleeing north from Fornost and the forces out of Angmar. I rode out with a band of brothers from Rivendell and we joined with the troops of the Gondorian general Eärnur - who was later King in Gondor I believe?  Anyway, together our warriors prevailed against the army of the Witch-king when we met in battle to the west of Lake Evendim, that we Eldar call Nenuial. We pursued the base king when he tried to flee to Carn Dûm with the remnants of his creatures..."
Fin stopped abruptly, realising that Jano, who had been riding alongside him had urged Filigod away in front of he and Angbor, taking Éowyn with her. He could tell just by looking at the Elleth that she was distressed again and he turned to the Gondorian and gave a rueful smile.

"Perhaps it is as well we do not talk of that foul Lord so close to his domain. Even if it is a tale of his greatest loss in war, I still failed that day, for alone and defeated he fled my blade and came south... to this place as you know."

"Aye Fin - you are right I warrant. I have never seen him or fought against him but his very name is cursed. I am glad now that Jano talked us out of entering the Vale so openly. We need to take great care now I think."
Both he and the Elf-lord had increased the speed of their mounts to catch up with the two females, and as they drew level once more, Angbor saw that they were coming up to the fork that Jano had spoken of.

 

*****************

 

Jano could not move her mind away from her last journey through this Pass and only the presence of Éowyn kept her from panic. When Angbor and Fin began to talk of the Lord of the Nine's earlier reign of terror in the north it was too much for her. She could feel a scream building up inside of her and she kicked Fili to put some distance between her and the conversation, trying hard to appear calm still for the sake of the young mortal noblewoman who had not said a word after they had started into the Pass. Jano wanted to say something soothing to Éowyn but she could not trust her voice and so she was relieved when Fin finally realised and curtailed their discussion, rejoining them as they reached the end of the first leg of the Pass. She cleared her throat with difficulty and pointed to the fork to the north-west.

"That is our way for the Vale. We can ride for a while but we will have to descend as the path turns north for the level way is very narrow - too narrow and frightening for the horses I think, but we can all walk down to a lower path that will allow us to ride the rest of the way."

She looked at Éowyn and thought of what she wished to say next carefully, trying not to make it sound like she doubted the girl's and her own courage. The company watched Shadowfax turn away from them and look down the other fork running away to the south, then shake his noble head in disgust. The Elleth pressed on, half hating herself for what she was about to say.

"Or maybe we should not take the horses so far at all. Perhaps Éowyn and I should stay with them a little way back from where the path goes into the Vale?"

 

Éowyn was beginning to feel very frightened in this place of towering, stifling darkness. The Sun still shone somewhere over Gondor, although nearly setting - she knew that because the thin sliver of sky above them was still bright when she looked up - but somehow the light seemed to be consumed as it tried to penetrate the ravine. She listened to Jano talk of perhaps leaving the horses outside the Vale and actually say that she would stay with her and the animals whilst the others made the search and she did not know whether to feel relieved or angry. She could not stay silent and she blurted out her fear in a frightened little squeak.

"I do not want to be left behind! Not if this new way is like this!"

She was shivering as she spoke.

"I do not want to stay in a place like this - where the rock closes in all about you and everything is so dark!"

Jano's face was paler than ever and her fear was as great, but she forced her voice to be calm and comforting.
"The ravine opens out more once we are through this next passage - although the Morgai rises steep and sharp to the east of us, the Spikes slopes run back enough so the rock faces do not oppress so much. The way will be difficult for the horses to walk for most of the trail - even though we can ride the rest once we get past the first descent. But the Vale will frighten the horses very much - it is not a natural place and there will be smells and sights that will disturb them far more than the darkness..."  She looked at Fin and Angbor anxiously, wondering what they would make of the suggestion.

 

Fin could see how frightened both women were which made the decision all the harder because having agreed to come with them, he was not about to leave Jano and Éowyn on their own now, however sensible the reason might be. He looked at Angbor and then Jano and shrugged apologetically, shaking his head slightly.

"I know you both have more knowledge of this terrain than I and for that reason alone I think we should all remain together."  He looked closely at Jano as he went on, wanting her to understand why he was against her perfectly valid suggestion.

"Were our horses all mortal raised I would agree with you, but Asfaloth and Filigod are both well-trained. And we have one of the Mearas with us too."  They all looked at the magnificent figure of Shadowfax whose snowy coat seemed to glow and repel the gloomy twilight of the chasm.

"They will give heart to the other horses. I am the only one here who has fought against the Lord of the Nine and I know that I can protect you all well enough should we be challenged - and that the horses can tolerate the presence of such a horror if their rider remains in control. We must not take stupid risks however so we should be swift in our search. Therefore we need the horses’ speed, especially if we are challenged in more numbers than we can fight against. So we stay together. Agreed Jano?"

"Yes, my Lord. You are right in all you say."
Jano's voice was quiet and held no trace of the fear she still felt. She looked deep into Fin's blue-grey eyes and found the strength she lacked, for she accepted and trusted his assurance that he could protect them no matter what, without question.

"Then ride by my side and show me the way, mellon nín."

 

*****************

 

And so she took the same way that she had last trod through this Pass, looking skywards occasionally; reaching out with all her senses for an early sign of any creature of Mordor that might be lurking. The mortals silently following behind the two Elves took some comfort, for both began to shine subtly when the darkness thickened as the light began to fail them - Fin more so than Jano - as they quickly cleared the corridor of rock and the way opened dizzily before them to a steep slope. They stopped and all dismounted and then began to negotiate the slope, again zig-zagging to keep from slipping too much as they descended to another narrow pathway, although, as Jano had promised the mountain side on the Spikes was not quite so precipitous and the sheer face of the Morgai was about a half mile away.

 

Angbor's spirits began to rise a little as they reached the lower pathway, but as they neared the Vale itself, they sank lower than before as he beheld the perpetual gloom, but also the strange eldritch glow given off by the great tower as they emerged in the Vale itself. Minas Morgul dominated their vision, though all except Fin tried not to look at it.

"Let us search the west end of the Vale first." Angbor's voice was low and tense.

 

Fin nodded his agreement and led them away from Tower. Jano fell back so that she was riding with Éowyn once more, as Angbor came forward to ride beside the Elf-Lord who shone more strongly than ever now. They had not gone too far before they noticed the ruins of some structure that appeared shiny black, like polished obsidian. Fin slowed Asfaloth and he looked at the rubble carefully. Quickly he dismounted and signalled for Angbor to do the same.

"Stay on your horses everyone else."
Together the two Lords examined the stony debris. Angbor picked one sliver of stone up and began to turn it around in his palm but then gasped as the edge cut his finger, causing him to drop it and the stone shattered further.

"Well it seems we have found something we are seeking already! Beregond at least will be pleased!"

The golden lord came back to Asfaloth and pulled out a leather pouch from his saddlebag. Returning to the piles of debris, he carefully gathered up a variety of sizes for samples for the soldier back in Minas Tirith.

 

The rest of their search west and east of the evil tower revealed nothing else that they sought and so they stopped for a moment as they looked out to the cindery vastness of Gorgoroth.

"Well my friends - do we take these stones back to Minas Tirith now for your friend, or do you want to search these Black Lands farther?"

 

Jano looked at Fin at then at the plateau before them. The Sun was rising now through the reek of dark smoke that came not only from yet another Dark Tower, but from the fire-mountain Orodruin. Both Elves took heart from the sight and once again a lark sang out somewhere to the east.

"It seems we go to Barad-Dûr then?"

 

Jano's voice was a mere breath and her eyes were veiled.

"All will be well muin nín."  The Elf Lord turned to the Elleth and placed a comforting hand on her slim shoulder.
"We are following a path bestowed on us by one more powerful than the pathetic shades that rule these Black Lands do we not? So long as we follow the signs we are given, our road is clear enough, do you not think?"

Jano nodded slightly and then her head came up as the lark's voice was heard again somewhere out on the vast cinder plain that lay before them.
"Yes, too clear for my liking, but I am not alone here and you are right - we are in the hands of a power that is mightier by far than any other here on the Hither Shores." 
She sighed deeply but gave him a sweet smile.
"So will you lead us my Lord, for your way is clear and you have no need of a guide this time?"
Glorfindel chuckled softly at her and then had Asfaloth lead the way out onto Gorgoroth. The others followed him with a good will, heartened by their finding at least something that they quested for... all but Lump who seemed to be reluctant to go any farther.

 

****************


Angbor,
noticing that the strange misshapen creature was lagging behind, fell back in order to cheer him. Oddly enough Shadowfax seemed to be picking up on Lump's reluctance as well and the Gondorian Lord and the proud stallion fell into step with Lump's mount, who had been Angbor's pack animal.

"Come now Lump - you heard our friends the Elves? We are riding under the protection of a god! Aulë no less! If they have faith in our road then that surely should be of comfort to such as we? Hmmm?"

Lump shrugged sullenly, his eyes averted and he merely grunted sulkily. Angbor's usually kind grey eyes narrowed and he decided to stay close to strange being for now, if only to make sure he did not try and run away with his horse, as Lump seemed to be trying to fall back and away from the company. Shadowfax neighed and slowed to nip the creature’s rump or shoulder every time these lagging tactics started. Fin turned to see what the fuss was and nodded to Angbor, indicating he was right to keep a watch with the Mearas.

 

Éowyn was still quiet, but felt a little less frightened now, partly because of Jano and Fin's talk, but also because they were moving away from those horrible mountains. As horrible and ashy as this plain was with its gloomy clouds, at least she didn't feel as though she was going to be crushed and buried alive at any moment. She could see why Jano had not wanted to go into the Morgul Vale as well, although it was very good to have found those stones for Beregond. Perhaps when they had been to this terrible Dark Tower they could go back to Minas Tirith and give the stones to the guard and not have to go any further into this horrible place. Poor Windfola hated it as well - if it had not been for Shadowfax the mare would have been terrified in the Vale. She had only stopped trembling as they left it behind. The noble maid patted her horse gently and ran her fingers through her mane, untangling the knots set by the harsh wind and giving more comfort just through the familiar contact. She spoke soft nonsense to Windfola, knowing her voice did as much good as her touch in restoring the mare's spirits and, indeed, her own.

"It is all right lovely. You are safe and I will not let anyone nor anything scare you. I am here 'fola. You are safe beauty. I am here and it is all right."

 

The litany seemed to give her strength even though they were getting nearer and nearer to the huge towering menace of an edifice that the Elves call Barad-Dûr. Even the name was horrible. And all it meant in Westron was Dark Tower so Fin had said. Well it was certainly that and maybe it needed no worse name, for it was indeed dark and she never seen a more impressively dreadful tower, not even Minas Morgul in a way, although she fervently hoped they would not have to retrace their steps and go past that other place again. And the closer they got the more the sky seemed to lower and smoky clouds from the fiery mountain began to thicken, until she began to feel choked again. She kept up her gentle murmurings and kept her eyes on Fin and Jano, for again they seemed to be shining a little and when she looked at them it helped her feel more hopeful.

 

******************

They were there at last and a 'welcome' was waiting for them. He and Jano had seen them from a few miles away, an enormous Uruk by looks of the beast and a few lesser goblins, who seemed to be under his command. Though heavily armed, they appeared not to be preparing to come and meet them in any hostility and again Fin wondered just how much they could trust to luck in the protection of their patron Vala. So far they would appear to be doing well enough. As they drew up to the Dark Tower Jano looked at him and threw him a tight little smile.
"If you are wrong about this Fin I hope you have a good tale to tell Silen when you get back!"
"I hope you will be able to tell him of our adventures yourself mellon nín." 
He grinned at her briefly and then looked solemnly at the great Orc who was striding towards them like some heavily armed bear.

"Hail Strangers. I am Azmog, Captain of the Gate." 
The giant of a goblin was not looking at the Elves, nor the Mortals, but at Lump who once again had been kept with by them by good offices of Angbor and of Shadowfax. Moving swiftly when Lump appeared to be about to jump off his mount and make a run for it, Azmog stalked over to the creature and literally seized him from the horse, his huge hand encircling the back on Lump's neck as though it were that of a venomous snake, then came back to Fin and Jano holding the hopelessly kicking and thrashing Lump at arms length. Again the hideous Uruk addressed them, his voice grating like gravel, but oddly grateful.

 

"I see you have come for a bounty. You are lucky to have survived your journey with this wretched murderer. You should have kept him chained. I have been seeking vengeance on this runaway slave for many years now, and I will reward you greatly for his return."  Nodding to his soldiers who came smartly to attention, Azmog again regarded the tall Elf with a steady impassive gaze then spoke once more "Wait here a few moments and I will bring you your reward!"

 

Jano and Fin had both been wondering about Lump all the way across Gorgoroth. As the Captain of the Gate took their strange companion into rough custody Jano had opened her mouth to protest, but Fin had laid a cautionary hand on her arm and she looked guiltily at Lump as he struggled in the iron grip of Azmog. As the monstrous Uruk explained his action, her expression faded into astonishment.

"How strange is this - why did he not run away from us as soon as we freed him?"

"Maybe he was under some kind of enchantment? He certainly has not been too happy all the way across this plain however... Perhaps our friend has had another hand in this business."

 

"Here he comes again!"  Fin nodded towards the gate once more and they all watched as Azmog return bearing something very carefully in his arms. The Uruk walked up to Fin, looked him in the eye, then bowed low and offered the great iron crown to the Elf-lord.

"I am bidden to bestow upon you the Crown of Morgoth. You are most favoured Elf."

Fin took the ancient artefact from the Uruk a little warily, wondering if perhaps this was some kind of jest, or even a trap. But no, without another word the Uruk and his soldiers went back inside the great metal gates and they swung closed behind them with a great dull clang. Fin shook his head in amazement and then laughed.

"Well how strange was that?"

"Absolutely astonishing! It looks very heavy! Just as well we have a pack horse again."
Angbor led the horse that had lately borne Lump to Fin. They had repacked some of their belongings as they waited for Azmog to return and the Lord of Lamedon found a sturdy sack and held it out for Fin to put the crown inside. Grunting at little Angbor put it back on the horse and secured it firmly.

"Yes a goodly weight! I do not know about the rest of you but I vote we head back for Jano's Pass over the Mountains of Shadow and then get back to Gondor and Minas Tirith whilst our luck holds!"

"Aye Angbor - I agree! To Minas Tirith and Beregond!"

 
 
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Apr 2010 at 10:51pm
 
FROM THE SEA OF NURNEN TO THE ASH MOUNTAINS
 
"Do not drink the water! Keep your horses away from there!" 
Jano's voice was urgent as Shadowfax had actually made to bite the little gray pony when she ignored his loud neighing and began to trot towards the great inland Sea of Nurnen. Jano had already told the company that the waters of Nurnen were very brackish and that they ought to either take their drinking water from its tributaries and streams, or boil any water from the lake itself. Frowning she dismounted, knowing that Fili would not try to follow her and walked over to the gray pony, who was very upset at being treated so harshly by her snow-white friend. Gently the elleth tickled her fingers through the coarse mane and hide, mimicking the way horses groom each other.

"Hush there lovey... I know you are thirsty but this will do you no good! Shadowfax! Come here!" 
 
The stallion was still guarding the way down to the foreshore but he came back to her call.
"Take her back to the river we have followed mellon nín - we will join you there very soon."

She spoke softly to the Mearas as he tossed his head in agreement and whickered to the pony in apology. Both horses set off, back down the trail they have just arrived by, when the nameless river they had crossed and followed when they entered Mordor from the north east, in the furthermost foothills of the Ash Mountains had veered away from the Sea, in one last loop before joining its waters to the lake.

 

"Asfaloth and I can smell it too, although it is very faint muin."  Fin, also on foot, had followed her, leaving the others looking rather puzzled, though they knew the Elves would not make this caution without good reason.
"What do you think it is... the fields still look healthy enough?"
Jano shook her dark head. She did not know this area at all well, having only ever been there once before and not from this direction or so far east.
"I really cannot say Fin. Perhaps we should get a little nearer and see if we can find out?"

"Aye - I will go tell the others to follow Shadowfax and take Asfaloth and Fili with them. They had better make camp and re-fill all the waterskins too whilst they are about it... But I will bring yours and mine back with me - we may have need of them later if it takes us an hour or so to rejoin them."

The elleth nodded at his words, for the day was very hot and the winds stole all moisture from the air, but her sea-silver eyes were scanning the reed beds that surrounded the Sea here. The vegetation did not look too stunted or ill-looking as Fin had noted of the fields they had passed, and the river they had followed most of the way was perfectly clean though not of the highest purity. But that was not unexpected in this place, even though it was much more fertile than the blasted plains of Gorgoroth they had crossed to the north-west of here, when they had been in Mordor before.

 

"Well they have gone, but they are not too pleased with me again I think - although Éowyn knows the horses are distressed and were keen to get back to the river." 
He sighed and handed her waterskin to her.
"Anyway - Angbor's borrowed my bow and he said he will shoot us down some of those ducks we saw."

He grinned wryly at her and they walked down to the water's edge together. Fin had been wearing his sword since they entered Mordor and Jano had taken to carrying her bow and quiver with her since they had left the Iron Hills to supplement their supplies, since there were few centres of population to pass through as they had made their way south. Although these southern farmlands of Mordor were worked by slaves and not full of the military, it was still enemy territory after all.

 

******************

 

They both looked out over the vast body of water - they could not see the end of it to the west but the wetlands to the south and north were dark and brooding.

"Too quiet..." Jano's voice was low and soft as well as she turned to look at the lord.
"There is a man in the reeds about a half a mile away - I think he is fishing but he saw me." 
Fin looked in the direction she had indicated and nodded slightly and his hand went to his sword hilt.

"He does not move like a warrior but we shall know more soon enough - it looks as though he is coming our way."

 

To say that Casyando was surprised to see not one, but two of the Eldar standing by the Sea was putting it mildly. Nevertheless he was filled with curiosity at the sight for he had been plagued by dreams recently, from the moment he had realised that the Sea was slowly being poisoned. Quickly he gathered in his net, noting again that two of the tench had been dead hours before he had caught them and another looked decidedly sickly. He threw the net in his skiff and waded through the water towards the two elves, whom he knew had seen him. He made little noise, but even so a lark rose into the skies singing rapturously. The Elves looked at each other at this sound and then both turned their handsome heads in unison and looked at him.

 

Casyando felt a moments panic, but he was a brave man and he took little notice of slaves tall stories of Elves who bathed in blood and could kill a man just by looking at him. They were merely tales told to frighten children and fools. However... they were both armed, the male with a very large and well-used sword, judging from the battered sheath and the female with a bow that she held in her hand though she did not reach for an arrow. He only had a knife - sharp and straight but that was all - and he was a sensible man. Raising both hands, palms outwards to show he was not intending to use his knife, he approached the two tall figures slowly.

"Fair folk! My Lord and Lady - I would speak with you, if you will!"

The male took a step towards him echoing his own hand gestures and Casyando gasped as he saw the Elf's face properly - he had dreamed of this creature! Before he could think he had actually voiced this thought aloud. The Elf smiled kindly at him.

 

"Somehow that does not surprise me, my friend! If you mean no harm, you shall find none from us. My name is Fin and this is Jano. What is your name, man of Nurnen?"

Casyando was open-mouthed at those last words for he had heard them already last night as he slept. He came to a halt in front of the pair and, stammering a little, tried to answer the Elf.

"My name is... Casyando lord. This is... a... astonishing! In my dream you had been sent to help me and my people, my lord. This land is afflicted and becomes sick - every day I see more that is amiss, as the waters of Nurnen grow tainted. Soon we will begin to lose our crops and there will be great punishments wrought upon my poor people! Please... you must help me... In your mercy - I beg you to help..."

 

Fin turned to Jano who was shaking her head, eyes wide with pity for the dark-skinned man was plainly desperate. He turned back to Casyando and looked at him closely. If this man was a slave he was a highly placed one for he held himself proudly, for all that he was obviously no soldier and in much distress at the plight of his people. ... And they had heard the lark again, as they had when they had come to Mordor before and found the shards of the black stone and had been given the Iron Crown. There was no question as to what his answer would be...

"My name is Fin and I hold no lordship over you. But we will help you if we can - what is it you would have us do?"

"Thank you lord... Fin..." Casyando was visibly relieved.
"My dream... it is in part a tale in this region... a legend maybe. Of an enchanted spring far, far away from these cursed lands, that smells of honeysuckle and is of such purity that it can cure the most foul poison... I dreamt that I found the spring - that you led me to it
Fin! Please - you have to take me there!"

"Casyando..."  Fin spoke gently, frowning slightly with concern at the man's faith that he would be able to help in some way.
"... I have no idea where such a spring may be... although I suppose there are many that smell of honeysuckle for it does grow near water... "
He threw a puzzled look at Jano, then went on in a rush
"... though I have only seen this nearer my own lands, far to the north and west of here... But you have dreamed this... and we have been given signs that have led to strange events and discoveries so... if you wish to come with us then please... you are welcome to join our company..."

 

Jano understood that there was nothing else that they could do but have Casyando come with them. He had needed to return to his home to collect his things and get his horse so he had agreed to meet them later in the day on the tributary river where the others were waiting for them.

"This is most odd Fin - to have to come all this way only to find someone whose quest seems to lead back to the north. I suppose we must now head back to the Ash Mountains?"

The area had returned to its brooding silence but just before Jano finished speaking the sound of the lark's song once more filled the air! They both laughed and shook their heads.

"Well I am glad our friend in high places appears to have a sense of humour Jano - I hope the others will find it amusing! Maybe we will find this enchanted spring in the Ash Mountains - but I somehow doubt it. ’Tis much more likely to hold the source of this poison that is tainting these waters I would have thought... We shall see soon enough though no doubt!"

*************


They faced a small dilemma as to which direction to approach the Ash Mountains but luckily Casyando had sometimes travelled around Mordor with his master and knew that the river they followed in took another loop back to the north and west at the point they had first crossed it travelling to Nurnen.

"I know for a fact this river rises in the Ash Mountains somewhat to the east of another larger river which feeds into the Sea on it's north-east shores. That river takes us too close to Gorgoroth - none of us would be too safe if we ventured so close to that place I would guess." 
His dark skin reddened a little more and he looked a little ashamed.
"Although my Master has faith in me and wishes me to take this journey he.... does not know with whom I travel... else he would not have given me leave to go. I am sorry, but he is a man of Harad and although he is learned and is not unkind to those who serve him well, he is still vassal to a warlord who is deep in service of the.... undead... the Lords of the Morgul Vale..."
Casyando gave a shudder and looked down unhappily.
Angbor who, most unexpectedly, had taken an almost instant liking to Casyando, put his hand sympathetically on the slave's shoulder.

"Well do we know in Gondor that there are men of the South, aye, and of the east too who are not so bound to the service of the Nameless One as it appears, and then only through fear or dark and cruel coercion. Maybe one day such men of honour, like your Master, may be freed from the shackles of the evil ones and in so doing perhaps you and your people will also be released from their servitude."

Casyando gave a tight little smile and shook his head in doubt.
"We slaves know of no other way of life... Angbor."
He was still uncomfortable with being treated as an equal and knew instinctively that these people he had fallen in with were held in great esteem in their own lands.
"We count ourselves fortunate to have a Master who realises that badly treated men become weak and cannot work so hard. He also would suffer if this malady of the waters worsens and starts to kill the crops - as it is already killing the creatures of the Sea! Our Lords will punish all of us harshly if we fail to raise our quota of grain."

 

Fin listened to the exchange between the mortal Men grimly and fervently hoped that Aulë would lead them to this enchanted spring as soon as maybe. As they headed north again however they had to be careful of using their water wisely too, for it was too far around to follow the eastern river's erratic course. Soon enough they rejoined the river again as it swung back to the north-west and decided to follow it to its source in the Ash Mountains.

 

****************

 

As they began to climb the foothills of the dreary range, Angbor was excited to find that they had reached a road of sorts. Being a keen student of history he immediately recognised from the churned up debris that this former road had been built by his people many centuries ago when they had raised the great watchtowers in Cirith Gorgor. These were now held by the Great Foe and known as the Towers of the Teeth, but he was still excited to see that this ancient route still existed.

"It must have served as a route for supply lines from the east I would guess."

 

 The man looked about him eagerly, but so was the dwarf Mithered and it was he yelled out first when he spotted a flash of metal in the rubble a little way ahead of them.

"Silver! Oh, my blessed beard!" 
The others tried not to show their amusement at his excitement.

"There is no doubt you are a true Dwarf Mithered! You are quite sure that is silver are you?"
Jano's voice was perfectly serious, but her sea-silver eyes were glittering merrily.

"Aye I am, you cheeky elleth!" Mithered's voice was teasing for he was very happy indeed.
"And of much better colour and quality than your saucy eyes Missy!"

 

****************

 

They made camp for it was getting late and they had been moving along quite quickly for the last few days. They also needed to talk about their route and it soon became apparent that Mithered would be staying here whatever they decided to try to find the mother lode of the slim vein of silver he had followed a little way off the ancient road. Having found one of their company's object  most of them were now eager to get out of Mordor and go back to Erebor, but this time Jano found herself agreeing with Angbor when he made a rather shocking suggestion to travel farther westwards towards the Black Gate and the Towers of the Teeth. Fin, Éowyn and especially Casyando were all for crossing the mountains and heading up to Dorwinion again.

"I do not suggest this lightly my friends, but as you and Jano felt so strongly in the Iron Hills Fin, I in turn feel as strongly that we should follow this road to the Black Gate - we found Beregond's rocks in the Vale after all, so perhaps I may find my Nimneldor there! And it is not so very far after all..." 

Fin regarded Angbor gravely and weighed his words carefully.
"I hear you Angbor and as you followed Jano's and my own inclinations in Erebor against your better judgment and we have met with some success here... I agree we should follow your instincts in this as you were willing to follow mine. So we go westwards at first light!"

 

And so they were off early the next day bound for the Black Gate of Mordor. Just before they left him to his prospecting Mithered also made a suggestion as to their direction after they had finished their exploration of the Black Lands.

"I doubt I can tell you much that you do not already know...but should you pass through Erebor again, be sure to explore the Long Lake." 
He was a little sad to see them all leave, but suddenly his eyes lit up with an amusing thought. "

Who knows - that may be where you will find Casyando's enchanted spring? Or that beer - right under that silly Master of Long Lake's nose!"

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one
will do ~ Thomas Jefferson
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Apr 2010 at 10:53pm
THE BLACK GATE AND BEYOND
 
Although Jano had fully agreed with Angbor, now that they were getting closer to the main gateway into Mordor she found that she was having much the same misgivings as she had when they crossed the Ephel Duath. She trusted in their previous experiences in the Black Lands so far and that their friendly and powerful Vala would watch over them, but this did not help with her growing feeling of anxiety as they approached one of the Great Foe's strongest fortresses.

 

Angbor and Casyando were now firm friends and so it seemed natural for them to be at the head of their company for the most part, as they made their way along the spine of the Ash Mountains. Jano for her part did not feel much like talking and drew back, preferring to ride with Éowyn, Shadowfax and the gray pony, whom they'd taken to calling Clover for some reason. Although Fin most often rode ahead with the other males, he seemed to need to check on them a lot and Jano realised she was worrying him again and tried hard to show him that she was still content with their decision to go west.

 

"Casyando says we will be there tomorrow - the peaks are growing higher and so we cannot see so far ahead."
He smiled at Jano and Éowyn trying to cheer them, but he knew both women were not happy.
"I know the Black Gate is a place of dread, but then so is Barad Dûr - more so in fact - and we passed through there unscathed did we not?"
Jano nodded at him but said nothing.

"I will be glad to leave this foul land though Fin. I know that we have been lucky thus far and some enchantment guards us seemingly, but..."  Éowyn's usually merry voice was subdued and quiet.
"... I just hate this place so much."

"We will see an end of it soon enough Éowyn and then we can pass back into less forsaken lands."
The elleth finally exerted herself, though her voice too was soft and hardly audible over the sound of their horse hooves on the stony ground that rose just above the course of the old Gondorian road.
"As Casyando says we cannot see our goal as yet, but we are nearly at journey's end." 
She kept her eyes averted from Barad Dûr far off to the south which had thankfully been almost hidden in dark clouds these last few days.
"Well we will make our last camp in a few hours time - it is best we descend into the vale of Ûdun in daylight so Casyando says."
There was no need to explain that decision at all, so he gave them a last smile and rode back to join the other males.

Much later that night Fin sought Jano out again after the others had lain down to sleep. Neither of the Elves would rest tonight anyway so it had been taken for granted that they would stand watch.

"Tell me what is troubling you Jano. You have been very quiet these last few days."
They were both perched on rocks watching the great fires that were set on the valley floor far below them, sending up huge reeks of smoke into the night sky. He did not look at her and spoke gently.

"I honestly could not tell you beyond the obvious Fin."  She sighed a little.
"It is this place, although I have never been in this part of the Black Lands before. There is great evil here - also not surprising."
She paused and for a moment he thought she would give a little laugh but she made no sound until she spoke again.
"My courage will hold mellon nín, but do not give me the choice of staying up here with Éowyn and the horses again... like you did before we entered the Morgul Vale. We must stay together now as never before - I feel this most strongly, but I do not know why that should be."

He got up and walked the few paces over to her and put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
"I have no doubts of your courage Jano. I too am troubled by this place, but I am also certain now that we must pass through the Gates tomorrow - and pass through it all together. There is something.... or someone... waiting for us down there."

"Then we feel the same thing Fin. But... I have this terrible feeling of dread... and not just for tomorrow, but for a long time afterwards too."

"Maybe muin - but we will all face it together. And we will prevail!"
He had been standing to one side of her, but now moved in front of her, looking into her troubled sea-silver eyes.
"Tomorrow I will always be at your side, this I promise you."
He smiled at her now, his serene face suddenly lit by the Moon, which had at last emerged from the clouds.
"May I sit beside you now? Just so you get used to my being there?"

Finally she laughed, though soft and brief, and he settled himself beside her as a companionable silence settled on them.

 

******************

 

"At last! The Towers of the Teeth! Behold Carchost and Narchost and between them the Morannon - the Black Gate of Mordor."
Casyando's voice sounded too loud on the slopes, but in truth he would not have been heard in the valley as the noise down there, even from this distance, was tremendous. Yet even the Eldar could not see any living thing moving below them, but they nonetheless were both aware of a fell presence, though neither said anything, for fear of alarming the others. Jano glanced briefly at Fin as they descended into Ûdun. He gave her a quiet little smile and though she could not return it, she nodded at him.

 

Still they saw no sign of life, but now he knew why. The presence he felt was not living in any real sense, but was nonetheless powerful. And evil. He felt no fear since he had faced creatures of this kind before, over ten centuries before. At that time the cravens had fled from him in his ire. This time however the wraith was on his own territory and had numberless cohorts to call upon. They were nearly in the valley and were possibly only a half mile from their objective. He called for them to halt.

 

Gazing towards the enormous bulk of the Black Gate, a comparatively small dark figure could be made out now. He knew Jano had seen him and that the others now were feeling the evil that they both had sensed for some time. Fin took a deep breath and summoned his own power, his form beginning to glow as it had in the Morgul Vale some weeks before. This time however his light was stronger and the mortals drew back from him a little, but this was good. They needed to follow, not lead now, for this was a foe beyond any of them. He spoke, his voice clear and firm as he drew his great sword with a slithery rasp.

"Draw your swords, all of you - but hold them at your sides. Jano - ride alongside me. The rest of you stay a few paces behind us unless I call for your aid. This should not be necessary I hope."

"What is it Fin? I can see something... someone, standing in front of the Gates but it confuses my eyes." Angbor's voice was steady, but he sounded unsure and a little cowed.

"A shade only, though it has great power. I have faced these creatures before and it knows that it cannot defeat me. But there are many orcs here too, though they are not abroad."

 

Fin's naked sword was gleaming with a pale azure light and his human companions were having difficulty looking at the Elf lord now, so bright was his own light. Jano's form too was glowing, but much dimmer for she had not lived in the Blessed Lands as the ellon had done. Satisfied that the company's nerve was sufficient now, Fin urged Asfaloth forward and they descended the last few yards onto the dark blighted plain of Ûdun and made their way steadily towards the ringwraith. They could all see it now, a tall shrouded figure, astride a great black horse. Or what appeared to be a horse. Jano's flesh was crawling as she tried to reach out to the animal with her senses, and found nothing.

"What is that Fin? That is no horse's mind!"
Her tone of one of revulsion and her voice was too low for the others to hear. The other Elf replied as quietly.

"It is a horse Jano, but it has been placed under some kind of spell - so it will bear the wraith. No animal would carry it without such a foul enchantment."

"Horrible!"

He did not reply to her for they were almost there now. He halted a few paces away from the sinister figure and waited for it to address them. It was clear that it had some business to state and its sword was not drawn.

"My Lord Glorfindel. We were not sure who would come, but it is fitting somehow that we meet with thee once more." 
Its voice was as he remembered from long ago, hollow with the sound of icy chains and the grave. His answer for the creature was cold and curt.

"State what thy business is with us and we will be on our way as soon as we may."

 

He laughed and the sound was like gravel falling on a coffin, masking his own fear of the terrible Calaquendi lord before him. He knew Glorfindel did not fear him, but the others... They all were quavering, even the elleth though she showed no outward signs of terror. He looked at her with an invisible gaze and saw in her eyes that her mind quailed before his and had done for some time. Years. How ironic that he must parlay with them... that he needed their help. He spoke again, a little softer, not wanting the other minions at his call to hear him currying favour with these so-called free people.

"My lord hath commanded me to ride with thee, Elflord. He bids me find him the finest of coals, in abundance enough to feed the mouths of our great furnaces. Thy reward for allowing my company on thy questing is to leave these lands with thy life intact, and those of thy companions too. If thou wilt not countenance my company... well, then here thou all wilt stayeth - and all shalt forfeit their measly existence. And remain forever bound to the service of the Eye."

 

Though his heart sank at the words of the wraith, Fin remained as still as a statue, showing not a flicker of emotion. As he paused, wildly trying to think how he could answer, suddenly, impossibly in such a vile place, he heard the sound of a lark ascending high above the Black Gate. Jano gave out an inadvertent gasp of horror and he did not need to look at the others to imagine their dismay.

"Forgive me Jano. You know we have no choice now."
He whispered softly to his friend. Drawing in a deep breath he spoke calmly to the foul shade.

"Since the paths thou presenteth offer little or no hope, I and my companions will travel with thee until such time as thou fulfilleth the charge laid upon thee by thy Dark Lord. Now let us immediately have safe conduct out of this foul place before I change my mind."

 

Again the dreadful creature laughed, though bitterly, at the prospect of travelling with such worms.

"Then I must thank thee for this boon Elflord. Am I to know whence we travel?"

Fin shrugged carelessly "We are bound for Erebor and the Long Lake by way of the Ash Mountains"

 

"We will leave now. Open the Black Gate." 

 

She did not want to believe that they were to simply allow this creature to be their companion. Its awful voice commanded the great black iron doors open for them, and almost immediately subterranean wheels and gears began to grind and slowly, slowly the opening grew and they saw, spread before the gateway, the bleak grey-green wastes of the Dead Marshes and, far, far away the jagged cliffs of the Emyn Muil rising like a fog on horizon. The Black Rider had turned its ensorcelled steed and it moved forward at a walking pace as the doors stopped moving with a deep clang.

 

"Come. We will at least be beyond the borders of this place, even though we take a part of it with us."
As he urged Asfaloth forward to follow the black steed and it's rider through the iron gateway, Fin's mind was in revolt almost at this turn of events. Their quest seemed suddenly on the brink of ruin, but they really had had no choice but to accept the Nazgûl as a companion. This was something nobody could have foreseen and, even without the now familiar omen of the lark's call, he knew he would have had to agree to the vile creature's ultimatum as, with a refusal there was no doubt they would now have been fighting in vain for their lives.

 

They had all now passed beyond the Black Gate and that at least was something to be glad of. He signalled to Jano and the others to halt as the mechanicals began to groan and the doors began to close behind them like some horrible metal jaw. The Black Rider was still heading out towards the Dagorlad.

"Stay a moment Nazgûl!" 
His voice was stern and rang with steel. The creature reined back his horse and turned in the saddle to face the Elflord, waiting silently. Fin turned and spoke softly to the mortals.

"You can sheath your weapons now. We must discuss terms of truce whilst our roads run together - hopefully this will not be for long, but... Well I do not know how long it will be before we can be rid of him. Take Shadowfax and Clover with you and follow the Ash Mountains for about ten miles or so then strike north for Mirkwood. Jano and I will follow on not far behind you, but I do not want the wraith near any of you until I know more of its motives."

"Are you sure this is wise Fin?" Angbor's voice was anxious and subdued.
"I have read a little of these fell creatures - accounts from when Eärnur travelled into the north to aid Arthedain and later when their Lord took Minas Morgul and they fought once more..."

Fin cut in abruptly, the bright light in his eyes lancing outward towards the three mortals so they were blinded and had to look away.

"Then you have also read of how the Witchking fled from Fornost, unable to face the wrath of the Calaquendi Lords led by one Glorfindel. I have only grown in power since that time - and this wraith knows it."  He dropped his gaze and went on more softly.

"It is not wise at all Angbor. But though I could have defeated him back there, there was no way we could have fought our way out alive if we had not agreed his terms... Well now he has to agree mine. Have faith a little longer my friend. He is weak during the day and his only real power, alone outside of the Black Lands, is in others' fear - Jano and I will have to deal him though. It is better if you all stay away from him as much as you can. Please - head eastwards a little and we will catch up with you before we camp this evening." 

 

He waited patiently whilst the Elf spoke to the mortals. It was at least satisfying to know the 'companions' he was commanded to travel with were as reluctant as he was to join forces. After a few minutes debate however, the mortals all turned to the east and left the Elves and him alone, still before the Black Gate.

"We need not play a charade of being comrades at least I am assuming."

"That is something I would also wish for. This is as difficult for me as it is for thee."

"It seems there is much that we will agree on in that case."
He and Jano still held their swords, but he now returned it to his saddle scabbard and motioned for her to do the same.

"We will travel in daylight and we will do what we can to assist thee in thy quest, but only myself and this elleth, Janowyn, will associate with thee. If thou attempst to harm or threaten our mortal friends in any way then we will abandon thee. Thou hast no true power alone that I cannot defeat. This elleth is proof against thy enchantments and she will join me in ensuring thy sojourn with us is swift and uneventful. Dost thou accept these terms."

"I accept. I have no wish to meddle with thee or thy 'friends'."
The Nazgûl's rasp was unconcerned and contemptuous.
"Neither do I wish to 'associate' with any of thy company more than is necessary. I am obliged to ride with thee, but that is all. Once I have discovered the anthracite I will leave thee."
 
He turned towards Jano who seemed almost frozen in the saddle. The creature bowed mockingly to her.

"As for thy Lady Woodelf... she is scarcely more significant to me than those mortals. But I wilt not give thee cause to send me away until my task is complete Elflord."

 
 
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one
will do ~ Thomas Jefferson
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