Only a Game
10. Dwarves and Rumours
We had made good speed travelling through Eryn Lasgalen, achieving a distance of round about twenty-five miles each day. I looked at the bruises and calluses on my fingers. I was evidently turning into a ranger, walking farther and faster each day and my hands by now looking worse than Aragorn's in the movies. Elrohir had insisted on practicing with the swords each day and had added bow and arrow five days ago. I would gladly have skipped the latter. It was boring, it was exhausting to keep up the tension and concentrate on the aim and my arrows had hit most anything up until now, but not the aim.
We had met no one on our way through the forest and found no clue to the whereabouts of Elladan. But the woods and their creatures were peaceful and knew of no disturbance, so at least nothing evil had happened to him here – if he had walked the rustling shadows of Eryn Lasgalen at all.
We had skirted the marshlands at the confluence of Thranduil's river and the Celduin, heading north towards Long Lake on its western shores. Although the plains between the Celduin and the Carnen, the river Redwater out of the Iron Hills, now officially belonged to the Kingdom of Dale, Elrohir had told me that the term "the Wild" or "Wilderland" still applied. The wild Eastern tribes out of Rhûn and Dorwinion sometimes roamed in those sparsely settled lands, and they were wild and dangerous (apparently the kill strangers first, ask questions later kind of people). I offered no argument to Elrohir's decision to stay on the safer side of the Celduin.
Dusk was approaching and after a day's walking in the hot summer sunshine I felt sweaty and tired. I did not bother to suppress a yawn. As we walked on, I grew aware of rushing sound, which increased into a thundering noise as we walked on.
I turned towards the Elf nervously. "What is that sound?"
Elrohir grinned at me and pointed me ahead on the trail. The trail, which had swerved away from the river Running during the afternoon, was no turning back towards it. Feeling slightly irritated, I obeyed Elrohir's command. After a few yards I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared at the wonder of nature before me. The thundering and rushing sounds I had heard, were a number of broad water falls splashing down a sharp incline of at least ninety feet, extending for at least four or five miles horizontally. Swirls of mist danced among the falls and the shimmering colours of the last rays of today's sun were shivering in the spray.
The water pooled in a wide, triangular basin, narrowing towards the South and releasing the river Celduin on its way towards the Sea of Rhûn to the East.
I turned towards the Elf and felt my face positively glowing with delight. "This is beautiful, the power of the water, that's simply awesome! I have never seen anything like it before!"
Elrohir grinned back at me, enjoying my amazement. He had taken to showing me plants, animals and stars during the last days and observing my reactions seemed to entertain him no end. "The Lake Falls are very beautiful, even if they are only a shadow of the majesty of the Rauros falls." Elrohir commented.
Then he led me to the banks of the river. With no hesitation he found us a perfect place to stay for the night, a spot of warm sandy beach in the shelter of several tumbled boulders and weeping willows, facing towards the falls. I put down my pack and set about looking for stones to bank a fire with, and enough driftwood to cook some supper and keep warm during the night. Elrohir was crouching at the edge of the water… either communing with the river or catching some fish? I hoped for the latter and got the fire burning. And indeed, I was rewarded with a string of beautiful rainbow trout strung to a willow twig some twenty minutes later.
Sitting in the warm sand, my mouth still filled with the delicate flavour of grilled trout, I looked out across the lake towards the falls, their water glittering silver in the moon light and felt completely happy and at peace with the world. Tomorrow we would reach Lake Town, Esgaroth, apart from Dale the only town in Middle-earth, where dwarves and men lived companionably and peacefully together.
We started out again early in the morning, Elrohir gliding, me scrambling up the steep slopes at the edge of the falls. After two hours of climbing I finally reached the summit, gasping and sweating and feeling remarkably anti-elvish at the sight of Elrohir, who was neither out of breath nor betraying any hint of feeling hot. But the view was certainly worth the effort: behind us lay the breathtaking vista of the falls splashing into the silver ribbon of the river Celduin, which trailed off towards the dark green sea of trees of the woods, and in front of us the oval surface of Long Lake, some ten miles wide and more than twenty miles long, sparkling in the sunshine, promised good swimming and relief of the heat.
Elrohir, however, was disinclined to make a break and taking a swim. He wanted to reach New-Esgaroth by the evening, and so we continued on a path at the western shore of Long Lake towards the North.
At noon we reached some treacherous marshlands, where the Forest River flowed into the lake. It was very hot, and there were myriads of tiny flies and midgets flying around us in thick clouds. The stings were itching horribly. The path was difficult, I had to watch exactly where Elrohir had stepped or risk sinking into a swamp hole up to my hips, which happened twice. By the time we were across the marshes, I was covered with stinking, slimy mud and thoroughly bad-tempered. Elrohir's light leather slippers were only barely splattered with mud, and the few spots on his leggings and tunic had resulted from his having to tow me out of the sludge.
"I need a break. I have to get out of these stinking clothes and those stings are driving me crazy", I announced, my voice sounding testy even to my own ears. Elrohir raised his eyebrows and studied my appearance. Apparently accurately judging my evil temper, he acquiesced and sat down at the edge of the lake on a rock, bathing his feet and looking the other way, as I took off shoes – sturdy, absolutely inelegant walking boots – and socks, then entered the lake without taking off my foul smelling clothing.
Submerging completely in the cool waters of the lake, I felt a measure of quiet returning. I stripped underwater and proceeded to wash myself and my clothes. When I felt comparatively human again, agreeing privately with the saying about cleanliness being next to goodliness, I turned towards the Elf with the first smile since sinking into the stinking swamp.
But Elrohir's eyes were staring across the lake unseeing, drifting through the strange mazes of Elvish dreams and sorrows. He had told me that he could feel his brother's thoughts, if he was anywhere nearby, and I had witnessed his searching for his brother's presence several times during the last days.
Suddenly the light of his personality returned to his eyes and they lit up with a silvery gleam. "Do you feel better now?" He asked, searching my face. I grinned through my puffy eyes and rubbed my fingertips lightly across a particularly nasty sting. "Yep. Almost human again. Any sign from your brother?"
He shook his head, his eyes darkening to a sombre twilight. "Come out of the lake, I can give you a salve for the stings."
I obeyed. And if those stings had not itched like the dickens, I would have thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of Elvish fingertips on my cheeks and forehead. Why did life always sabotage such moments, which would look so very romantic in a movie?
I did not bother changing into dry clothes. The sun was so hot I felt the cloth drying against my skin within minutes. The path following the lake's north-western shores behind the Long Marshes was fairly level and quite broad. From the lake a light breeze drifted up to us, making the walking much more enjoyable than during the morning and the noon.
After we had walked along the lakeside for perhaps an hour, I saw strange structures protruding from the water close to the shore, and there were tumbled ruins of ancient buildings close to the path. "What are those?" I asked and pointed at the dark shapes looking out of the water. Elrohir slowed down until he was walking next to me. "This is the old situation of Esgaroth and the village of Lake-Town, which were both destroyed by the dragon of the Lonely Mountain. It was rebuilt to the North, far larger and more beautiful than either of the old cities."
I stared at the Elf and thought I could almost see the picture of long ago perished cities above the water flickering in the depths of his eyes. I swallowed hard, recalling a conversation about reckoning and his date of birth we had had one night in the forest. He counted this year as the year 320 of the fourth age; King Elessar had died two hundred years ago. Elrohir had been born in the year 139 of the third age. Keeping with the reckoning, Elrohir was now 3,181 years old. I tried to think about the history of the earth, to come up with some kind of comparison for this dimension of time. 1,200 years Before Christ. Who had been alive then? I frowned, trying to recall my class of ancient history at university. Phoenicians trading on the Mediterranean Seas… Egypt, of course, Tutankhamen had lived from 1347 until 1306 B.C., and around 1,100… hadn't that been the reign of Ramses the something or other? Europe, though… I had no clue what – if anything at all – had been in Europe at that time. Stonehenge?
I felt an icy shiver running down my spine, suddenly realizing just how deep the abyss of time and space separating Elrohir and my own tiny glimpse of existence really ran. The Elf had been alive for more human life times than I could place in my sketchy knowledge of the history of my own world. All at once I felt terribly clumsy and unworthy, standing next to one of the firstborn. I swallowed again and stepped back, unsure of how to react or what to say.
Elrohir suddenly turned back to me, the shadows gone from his eyes, his face as young as any man of thirty-something, and far more attractive. He seemed to discover traces of my thoughts on my face, because he smiled at me with a hint of sadness. "Do not trouble yourself about the difference between your mortal age and my Eldarin life times. Time runs differently for Elves than for humans, old and young are qualities with little meaning to us." Then his smile turned into a grin. "Although I do admit that your company makes me feel like a boy again, younger and more care free than I have been in centuries."
He turned and walked away, striding down the path to our destination at the northern edge of the lake, leaving me to stare after him with my mouth hanging open in absolutely undignified confusion.
New-Esgaroth was a city of white and gold and blue. The Long Lake shimmered blue under the white stones of houses, palaces, towers and bridges rising above the water, many roofs and domes blazed almost painfully bright with their golden tiles.
Early in the evening the path had suddenly turned onto a smoothly paved road, light grey octagonal stones slightly arching at the centre to allow rainwater to drain away, dark grey squares at the edges of the road. It was strange to walk on a real road after so many days on paths and muddy lanes, and the stones felt uncomfortably hard through the soles of my feet.
But we did not have to walk far on the road, because after only half a mile we reached the shore of the lake again. Two small white guard houses secured the entrance of a white bridge leading towards the city of New-Esgaroth with many wide arches carved in somewhat Celtic, angular designs. Two tall guards in blue uniforms trimmed with gold stood in the middle of the road, their spears crossed.
Elrohir walked up to them with me trailing somewhat behind him. "Who are you – where do you come from – and what is your business in Esgaroth?" One of the guards asked in a cool, clipped speech, emphasising the consonants and rolling his r's just behind his teeth. "My name is Elrohir, son of Elrond. I come from Rivendell, searching for my brother, Elladan. My companion is Jarro, a –" He paused slightly and I thought I had caught a quick wink from the corner of his right eye. "– A ranger from the North. We want to stay in Esgaroth for a few days and ask if one of the merchants has perchance a message from my brother."
The guard looked us up and down, and finally seemed to decide that we were no threat to the city of Esgaroth. "You may pass", he said and stepped back. The other guard stared at the Elf in wonder, and not only stepped back, but bowed very low.
When he straightened, his eyes were shining brightly with joy. "You are of Elvenkind, my Lord, aren't you? I thought, there was none of your kindred left in Middle-earth, that the last Elves had left two or three generations ago! It is a great honour for us that you visit our city.
I hope you enjoy your stay! Mae govannen!"
Elrohir bowed to him in return, returning the Elvish greeting. "Mae govannen, indeed. It is my honour to visit your beautiful city again."
But when we walked across the bridge, Elrohir's eyes were overcast with some internal shadows. It had to be a strange and lonely feeling to be the very last of your race left in a world of lesser men.
In Esgaroth we allowed us to be shown to one of the guest houses at the lake front. The landlord treated me just as reverently as the Elvish lord, whose unexpected arrival had already caused quite an audience to assemble in front of the house, from a group of curious children to a mixed crowd of adult onlookers. Without question the rooms we were shown to, were the very best of the house, pent-houses with terraces on the roof looking out across the lake.
I only hoped Elrohir would pay for my room, too, because I felt very sure that, substantial though the contents of my purse might be, they would never cover the expenses of Esgaroth's equivalent to the Hilton.
For dinner a table was laid on Elrohir's terrace and a nervous boy waited on us hand and foot.
Dinner was a splendid affair, candle light and golden wine on a balmy summer's night, five courses of salad, fish, meat, dessert, fine cheeses and a spicy drink of something in between cocoa and coffee as a pick-me-up. I was grateful that the portions served were comparatively small, or I would never have managed to stay the distance of this sumptuous dinner.
The atmosphere of the beautifully laid table, the fine food and the exquisite architecture of the rooms was completely at odds with my travel stained appearance, and even Elrohir in his grey travelling attire was obviously only a shadow of Elvish elegance.
But it was probably better this way, because I felt quite at ease and really enjoyed the dinner, listening to Elrohir telling me the tale of Smaug and the rebuilding of Esgaroth after the battle of the five armies.
"So, where do you plan to go and ask for news of your brother?" I asked finally, sipping at the hot spicy drink served at the end of the meal.
"Esgaroth is governed by a Council of traders and merchants and ambassadors of the dwarven kingdom. If anyone has heard from my brother, they will know it. I will go to the Council Hall in the morning and ask for news. After the courteous welcome we received I don't doubt that they will grant me an audience." Elrohir explained, turning the cup with his drink around in his hands. I looked at him curiously. His lips were tight, and I thought I detected a slight strain around his eyes. "You don't expect to find out about the whereabouts of your brother here, do you?"
He remained silent for a long moment, and then he shook his head. "No. The Elf-friend at the gate of the city would have told me at once." He sighed softly. "But I have to try anyway."
Then he looked straight at me, carefully considering his next words. "I expect you will now return to… where ever it is you come from?"
I stared at him, my heart in my mouth. I blinked at him, not knowing what to say. Or do.
Indeed, I realized, I had not the slightest notion of what I should do. Returning to a far-away afternoon in London seemed to be… as strange as the idea to… travel… – I discovered that I could somehow not think of this as an artificial world of a game anymore – to travel to Middle-earth in the first place. I told myself that the reason for my sudden reluctance to leave was probably that I wanted to know how this story would end, how Elrohir would find his brother again and what they would do… But how could I explain this to Elrohir?
"Actually, I… would like to accompany you a bit further", I said, trying to sound nonchalantly and ignoring his remark of 'where ever I came from'. "That is, if I am not a nuisance or something – if you want me – if…" I trailed off lamely. The Elf's bright eyes seemed to literally pierce my thoughts, and I felt my heart racing like after one of those practice sessions of sword fighting. Was that relief shining in his eyes? But then the moment was gone, and Elrohir answered in his normal, darkly melodic voice. "A ranger is never a nuisance on lonely country roads." I frowned at him, as I had been by no means oblivious to his recognizing my considerable lack of skills as a ranger. "Very funny", I said testily.
But Elrohir reached across the table and took my hand. My breath caught in my throat and I felt my heart beating like a drum. "I would be very glad of you company, Jarro."
I slept late in the morning. When I finally ventured down into the guest room and ate breakfast, I was told that the Lord Elrohir had left for the Council hours ago and would probably not be back until the evening.
It looked as if had to discover the wonders of the city on the waters on my own.
That was fine with me, as I felt the presence of the Elf more and more distracting, and Esgaroth seemed to be quite an interesting place. Friends of mine had travelled to Venice and had been delighted about the beautiful combination of architecture and water in one city.
Roaming the streets and places of Esgaroth this summer's day I finally understood what they had been talking about. The closeness of the water, all around the city as well as in the city, with its numerous canals and pretty little boats accounted for an atmosphere of lightness I had encountered in no other city before.
Apart from enjoying the beautiful architecture I kept looking for dwarves, but at noon I had not been lucky enough to spot anything like the sturdy figures I had encountered in the Prancing Pony.
My luck changed early in the afternoon, when someone turned around a corner without looking, running smack into me and succeeding in throwing me to the ground. It was a dwarf, clothed in dark-green velvet, with a long grey beard and sparkling green eyes set deeply under bristly eyebrows, his nose quite large and hooked. He wore golden glasses on a chain around his neck and was completely flustered at finding a human woman knotted around his feet.
He helped me up as courteously as someone of small size can aid a woman of 1.7 metres in height and insisted on inviting me for a cool drink in compensation for the accident.
I did not mind the accident and gladly accepted the invitation. Finally I had the opportunity to talk to a real dwarf!
"Gorn, son Gaîn son of Galin", he introduced himself. "At my lady's service."
"My name is Jarro", I said. "I am a ranger from the North; I travel with Elrohir-Peredhil."
The dwarf looked up with his eyes full of curiosity. "You are the girl – sorry – the lady travelling with the Elf?! Then you have to have much news to tell! I pray thee, lady, do tell, how fares the North?"
Sipping at my lemonade, I smiled at him. "I will give you all the news that I know, but you have to give news from your country as well. We are looking for Lord Elrohir's brother, who wanted to travel first North through the Misty Mountains and then to the East, probably heading for the Lonely Mountain."
He nodded thoughtfully, scratching his beard.
"The most Northern news I can give you are from Bree", I told the dwarf, and he was immediately interested, as Bree was situated at a crossing of roads where the traders of different tribes of dwarves frequently met. He grumbled about the gossip of trading and weather I had gleaned from the merchants at the Pony and commented the rumours about the Elves leaving Middle-earth to darkness and despair with a melancholy "Ai! 'Tis sad to see the ancient races dwindle and pass away…"
Was he referring to his own people?
My question was answered, when he in turn began to tell me of the plight of his own people. Apparently dwarven women had always been few, due to the hard life under the mountains. But now, for more than a hundred years no dwarf-girls at all had been born, foreboding the death of his people. He knew nothing of an Elf called Elladan travelling on his own to the East.
But he had heard a rumour.
"It is only a rumour, mind", he said, his voice a bit grouchy. "But my cousin, Berin, son of Barin, son of Balin, he did some trading with one of those Eastern tribes some time ago. One of those wild tribes, which roam far to the East, going as far as the Orocarni, it was. And they told him about Elves living in the woods of the foothills of the Orocarni, many hundred leagues away, and due east of the Sea of Rhûn. I did not believe him, and I don't know how that can possibly be true. As far as I knew – at least until you arrived here in Esgaroth – I thought that all Elves had left Middle-earth. But with your friend very obviously an Elf, mayhap these stories about Elves in the East are true, too. Perhaps they will know about your friend's brother."
We talked some more, then said good-bye, after I had promised to visit him in Dale sometime.
I returned to the guest house lost in thought. Rumours about Elves in the East… and Elladan had wanted to travel to the farthest Eastern shores of Arda… maybe those tales were only rumours, but it was better than nothing.
Elves in the East… there had been nothing in all of the books about Elves in the East.
In fact, apart from a few lines about the wild Easterlings living in the wild countries around the inland sea, there was not much about the East of Eä at all in Tolkien's writings. Strange.
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This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.