Of Moonlight Messengers

Alatar slammed his cup on to the table and looked straight at Pallando, “How much longer are we supposed to just sit around waiting? We’ve been here a week already and you haven’t even told me why we’re here.”

Pallando calmly kept chewing on his food, “Patience, my friend. I told you I’m waiting for a message. And besides I thought you’d like spending some time at an inn after our wanderings. Doesn’t it remind you of home?”

“It did. Until I found out that the pillows are thin, the bread is too dry and the wine is too sweet. I’d never let my business come to this. Anyway, how are you supposed to get this message?”

“I’m not entirely sure. But I think I’ll know when the time comes.”

Alatar scoffed at this, “You’ve always been one for riddles. In all these years you haven’t learned to talk straight.” He got up to get more wine. Pallando smiled to himself and kept eating. As he looked out the window we could see the sky gradually darkening. Tonight the moon would be out in all its glory.

—–

Later that night Pallando stood high up on the hill that bordered the north side of the village. Below the village was asleep under the moonlight. Like most villages of the Sun-Lords it was small but orderly. The streets were clean, the houses laid out in order, the border wall was well-kept and there were constant guards at the gates. However tonight no guard had seen Pallando in his blue cloak slip past them and none would see him enter.

To his back were the outer fringes of the great Northern Woods. The villagers mistrusted the woods, rightfully so. Though nothing had been seen in many lifetimes of men stories were told of strange creatures coming out of the North, killing men and women in their sleep and stealing the children. Walls had been built to protect villages like this. Pallando couldn’t help but think that the walls were both too short and too thin to keep out any of those creatures if they should return. But that would not happen, he would see to it.

His reverie ended as the moon fell behind a cloud and he heard the rustle of leaves behind him. Anyone else would have called it the wind, but Pallando knew better. Without turning he said, “You are far from home, Gamma Runok”.

A voice answered him from just inside the wood, “I could say the same for you, Bluecloak. And it’s Beta now.”

Pallando turned towards the voice and as he did a man stepped out of the wood. He was tall and muscular, his face obscured partially obscured by a dark beard and flowing dark hair. But his eyes were sharp and keen. His bare chest bore many bruises and scars. As he walked out he stood tall and perfectly straight, there was an air of pride, even nobility around him.

Pallando held him silently for a moment. “Beta? I take it Alpha Laanor did not survive?”

“No. He died three days after you left. Kamil leads the pack now.”

“And the child?”

“He is safe, the Duchess and Romar the Elder take care of him. The castle is guarded day and night by both our peoples.”

“Then Laanor’s death was not in vain. The truce is safe.”

“For now. It is still early days and many are still not sure it is the right way. The blood-feud has been long and the distrust runs deep.”

“It will take time. And the boy holds to the key to the future of both your races. But you already know that. There are other matters we must take care of now. What does the Prince say?”

“The Prince agrees with you. His smiths have begun to forge Mirrors, but he says it will be a long time before any of them are ready. He is less willing to send an emissary. He still remembers how few returned from the last mission.”

“I don’t blame him. But the last mission was one of war, this one will be of peace. We must know what is happening beyond the borders. We cannot afford to be caught unawares. Will you be returning to Rorikshore?”

“Yes. I will rest here tonight and meet with some of my brothers tomorrow.”

“Then be so kind as to tell the Prince that I am coming to Rorikshore. I have… artifacts… that I believe will help him. I won’t keep you any longer, I know how much you enjoy the moon.”

Runok’s face curved into a half smile under his beard. “I do enjoy the moon. And it is a good night. But before I go, there is something else I think you should know about.”

“Oh? About the Prince? Or the child?”

“Neither. Do you know about the Moonlight Circle?”

“Yes, I’ve passed it in many times… the phases of the moon carved into fourteen stones in a circle. I believe one of your Alphas had it placed there long ago.”

“So our legends say. I rested there three nights ago. It is said the Circle is sacred to our people, that while we are in it nothing can harm us. So I slept there and I had the strangest dream. I was in the Circle, but it was a full moon night and the stones were glowing in the moonlight. And it was beautiful. But I wasn’t alone. There was someone else in the Circle with me. The thing is, I can’t remember who this person was, or what he looked like. I only remember one thing.”

“And what is that?”

Runok lowered his voice, as he feared there was someone listening to him, “Darkness will fall. That’s what he said to me, just that one line. I woke up soon after. I fell asleep again, but I didn’t dream. I didn’t think much of it then, but I thought you might be interested to know it.”

“Hmm… I can’t think of what it means. But thank you for telling me.”

At that moment the moon came out from the clouds and Runok turned to look at it. It seemed to make him happy again and wash away all memory of his dream. “Enough talk of darkness and dreams. I shall be off now. The Prince will get your message. Farewell, Bluecloak.”

“Farewell Beta Runok. Safe journeys.”

Runok turned and disappeared into the woods. If he had noticed the bright Ring on Pallando’s finger, set with a large white stone, he did not say anything of it. Pallando, for his part, had not said much of Runok’s dream, but in his mind he kept turning over the words: Darkness will fall.

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Another adventure

Pallando was awoken by the bright sunlight streaming through the window onto his face. It was close to noon, he had slept far longer than he had planned to. As he clambered out of the bed he tried to remember the last time he had been able to sleep so late. He couldn’t. In fact he had to think awhile before he remembered the last time he has slept in a proper bed. It wasn’t easy traveling across the world, especially when you were trying to stay out of sight. But now he was under the watchful eye of an old friend and he could afford to let his guard down, if only for a night.

When he came down Maric was washing his mugs, like a good barkeeper. “Ahh, you’re awake” he said in a cheery voice, rather different from his demeanor the night before. “Would you care for some lunch?”

“Lunch? Have I really slept that late?”

“Indeed you have. But you wouldn’t be the first weary traveler I’ve seen to do that. Have a seat and I’ll get you some food.”

“Lunch sounds wonderful. But first, do I call you Alatar, or do you prefer Maric Whitehood now?”

Maric stopped washing and for a few seconds stood silently. If Pallando was close enough to see his blue eyes under the bushy white eyebrows he would have seen them glazed over as if his mind was far away, in both space and time. Finally, he said, “Alatar will do, old friend.”

Over lunch the two old friends talked and talked. They talked of the incessant wars in the West, the rise of new powers in the South and the growing strength of the so-called Centre Alliance. Pallando brought news of just how low the old kingdoms of the West had fallen, of the shrinking woodlands and the plight of the last of the Eldar. But in the South the jungles were vibrant still and in them were different beings — rakshasa they called themselves — immortal and strong like the Eldar of old but dark skinned, quicker to rage and given to illusions and deceptions. Pallando spoke of strange creatures that stirred in the Central Plains — man-horses gifted with great knowledge and wisdom rumored to have the gift of seeing through time. They were secretive and aloof but Pallando thought that they were the powers that propped up the thrones of the Centre Alliance. He had skirted around the Great Desert on his journey East but even in the border cities he had seen amazing sights and sensed the presence of terrible magic — powers that were Maiar-equal at least but seemingly commanded by mortal Men. And finally he had passed over the Red Mountains and come at last to Shi Taiyang — great capital of the Sun-lords of the East.

At this point Alatar interrupted him, “But why, Pallando? Why? You have traveled across the world, farther even than Mithrandir or Aragorn did long ago. And now you come knocking at my door carrying impossible treasures. What is the meaning of it?”

“To tell the truth, Alatar, I don’t know, I can only suspect. But I suspect that the age of Men is coming to an end. This is a world of many creatures. In fact, I suspect it always has been. But till now they have been content to stay out of the affairs of the world, out of the knowledge of the Children of Illuvatar at least. But now they are stirring. They are coming out of their jungle hideouts, out of the plains and the desert and the ice. And they are not quiet farmers and brewers like the Halflings of the Shire. They are forming empires and alliances, gathering armies and building citadels. They have the power to move earth and water, they play with wind and fire. What else they are capable of, I can only imagine. All I know is that here in the East the Sun-Lords have established the last strong nation of Men on Middle-Earth.”

“And you wish to give them strength against the tide of change that now sweeps the world? Is that why you bring your treasure here? You think they are strong enough to wield the power of Ring-lore and not be corrupted by it?” As Alatar asked this his eyes seemed to grow brighter and sharper. They focused on Pallando, unblinking.

Pallando for his part smiled a little, “You are sharp as always. Yes, I think the Sun-Lords can wear Rings without falling to them. But as for the rest, you are not quite right. I brought them here, but they have not traveled far. They were forged in a small town just two days ride from here. They were made by and old man and his grandson.”

Alatar was visibly surprised. “Are you telling me that these Men of the East have rediscovered the making of Rings? I do not think I believe you. It took Celebrimbor years to perfect the art of Ring-making and that too under the tutelage of Sauron. Curunir himself only made the smallest steps and he tried for decades.”

“Yes, I know all that Alatar. But you have seen the proof with your own eyes. I saw their forging myself. The night I left it was raining; the old jeweler wore the ruby Ring and kept the fire going through the rain and the damp. These are Rings of Power, Pallando and the East-Men wield them like they are hammers and spades.”

“So what do we do now? Do we go to the Sun-lords and offer guidance like Mithrandir did to the Kings of the West?”

“No, no. It is too soon for that. And I feel the Sun-Lords should be allowed to grow accustomed to these powers on their own. For now we should only watch. Besides, affairs in the West are more pressing — the last of the Firstborn will not long survive the decay of the West.”

“The Sun-lords have mighty armies. But even if they wield the power of the Rings, they cannot march across all of Middle-Earth. And they have no alliances with the Houses of the Eldar.”

“True. But the Sun-Lords are not the only strength in this part of the world. There are powers here that are older than them by far and they owe us a debt, if you remember.”

“You mean to go North then? To Rorikshore? Or even further?”

“To Rorikshore. I have no intention of meeting the Frost Giants just yet. But there is an impulsive young vampire in Rorikshore I have been meaning to see for a while.”

“I thought the vampires had been purged from Rorikshore.”

“The vampires purged? Hah! Rorikshore would fall to the Sultanate within a day if the Vampires left. No, I suspect it’s an elaborate rouse. Or someone’s idea of a practical joke. We shall find out. Will you come?”

Alatar did not respond immediately. He furrowed his eyebrows and for a while his eyes had that far-away look again. And when he did speak he sounded like the tired old man from the night before. “I’ve lived a quiet life for many years, letting the world pass me by. I was content to sit by and watch the turn of the world. And then you show up to my door, uncalled for, with magic Rings and tales of man-horses and demons. You want me to aid a long lost people at the other end of the world. You want to drag me along to chase vampires and frost giants? You want me to give up home and hearth for danger and toil and a fool’s hope? Why, of course I’ll come!”

If Pallando and Alatar had been younger they would have laughed out together. But now they just sat together, silent, with little smiles on their faces. To be alone together and not say a word you must be very close friends. Alatar and Pallando were the closest.

Old Friends

Far from Wayland Smith there rose the city of Shi Taiyang, certainly the greatest city of the East, perhaps the greatest in all the world. Like any large city it had it’s share of inns and taverns and of these the Blue Minstrel in the northeast corner was perhaps the most renowned. Though the Blue Minstrel stayed open very late it was closed by the time a tall stranger in a dark cloak and hood walked down the street and up to its front door. It was hard to see what he looked like under the light of the tiny sliver of moon. If anyone had been looking they would have seen nothing but a wave of dark cloth that seemed to fade into the night fog. But there was no one looking. So this cloaked and hooded stranger stood for a full minute before the door and then with his fist knocked three sharp knocks on the door. When no one answered, he knocked again this time with the staff he had been clutching in his other hand. If anyone had been looking carefully they might have seen small blue sparks flying from where the staff struck the door. But there was no one looking.

Just as the stranger was about to knock again a light stirred inside. Moments later the door opened and a stooped old man holding a lamp opened the door. Maric Whitehood was the proprietor of the Blue Minstrel and many believed him to be the oldest man in the city. Certainly no one was alive today who remembered him being young. Maric poked his head out of the door and his headful of bright white hair seemed to shine in the moonlight. Not for nothing was he called Whitehood. He saw the dark hooded figure standing just outside his door and spoke in a gruff voice “I’m sorry, we’re closed for the night. Please come back tomorrow.”

Without a second thought he began to close the door but the stranger stopped it with his staff. “Come now, good sir. Is that any way to treat an old friend?”

Maric opened the door again and prepared to raise his voice and give the stranger a stern talking to. No friend of his walked about the city at this hour. But by the time he opened the door, the stranger’s hood was down. In the light of the moon and the lamp Maric found himself looking on a handsome, yet stern face framed by dark, flowing fair and a shorter well-groomed beard. Whatever Maric was going to say, he decided otherwise. Something about him did seem oddly familiar.

“We have a spare room for the night if you’ll be needing it. Come on in.”

He walked inside and the stranger followed. As Maric turned and put the lamp down on a table they finally had a chance to look at each other. A stranger walking in at that moment would have been forgiven for thinking that he had walked in on a father and son meeting after a long time. Maric found a chair and sat down while the stranger stood. “So, young man, do I know you?”

“You really don’t remember? We used to travel together. A long time ago.”

“Travel? Ha. That must have been long ago indeed. Why I haven’t left this town in…, well, in a very long time.”

“Yes, it was a long long time ago. And far far away. We sailed together for a while. And then we rode east until we could ride no more.”

“Hmm… riding I’ve done. But sailing… now that I don’t remember. Where did we go sailing? Was it down the river? I feel like I would have liked that.”

“No, not on the river. Over the sea. The Great Western Sea. We came across the sea a long time ago, with three others. Do you remember them? Do you remember me?”

For a while neither of them said anything, they simply looked into one another’s eyes. From time to time Maric muttered something to himself, words that sounded like “The Sea” and “the five of us”. And then at last Maric spoke, “Pallando… is that you?”

Under the stranger’s beard you could just about make his lips curl into a small smile. “Yes, my friend. It’s been a while.”

“It has been a very long, long time. How many lifetimes of Men has it been since we last walked and rode together? The world has changed since then.”

“The world continues to change. Perhaps faster now than ever before. I’ve been traveling far and wide, waiting, watching, acting if I had to. But it’s getting too much for me. The tide is rising and a storm is coming. And I can’t hold it back. I need your help.”

At this he sat down across the table from Maric. All of a sudden he seemed tired and old. His shoulders were hunched. The lamp showed the wrinkles and lines across his face, the streaks of grey in his dark hair and beard. He placed his hands on the table and stared at them. They were stained with many miles of travels and a dozen small scratches and bruises. Maric looked at him with eyes of pity and sadness.

“You’ve come to ask for my help? But I’m just an old man selling beer and offering room and board to tired travelers. Whatever we came to do, whatever we have done, I washed my hands of it all a long time ago. I am content to let time pass me by. I will forget the world and the world will forget me. Is that too much to ask?”

Pallando did not raise his eyes. The tiredness in his shoulders crept into his voice. “I spent a few years roaming the West. I went so far West that I was only a days’ ride from the Havens. There are still ships there, you know. For me, for us. I had almost made up my mind to board one, to go sailing again and never come. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There’s still work to be done, I feel it. You felt it too, I know. We stayed, both of us, even when he didn’t have to because we loved this world too much. And then we got caught up in its affairs, in things that shouldn’t have concerned us. But maybe we stayed because we knew there would be a time when we would be needed, when we would truly be tested. I think that time is now.”

Pallando reached into his cloak and pulled out a small cloth bag that he put before Maric. He took it and opened it slowly, as if he expected something dangerous to leap out of it. But as the light from the lamp showed him what was inside his eyes suddenly widened and just as quickly closed it and threw it across the table. Then he said, or rather, barely whispered “That is not possible. They were taken away, their power was broken. But these…”

“These are not them. These are copies, or rather, recreations. Not as potent as the originals, but still powerful in their own right.”

“What does it mean, Pallando? Why now? And what is our part in all this?”

“It means that there are still surprises in this world. Things that neither you nor me have seen before. As for your other questions, I’m afraid they’ll have to wait till morning, it’s been a long journey. About that room…”

And so it was that a small tavern in a far Eastern city played host to a reunion of two old friends. In the days to come, their friendship would determine the fate of the world they had both tried to forget.

The Passage of Time

There is no more magic in the world. Jewels and Rings have no power beyond their shine and beauty. The time of the Elves has long since ended. The Wizards have sailed away. The Trees no longer move or sing. Goblins, Orcs and Trolls exist only in children’s tales. Even the Dwarf-lords and their halls of stone have been forgotten. The strength of Men is splintered and divided. There is no High King, the Reunited Kingdom has fallen. There are fiefdoms and city-states, Princes and Protectors, wandering chieftains long bereft of land and lordship. The Ship-Kings out of the West are a faint memory, a distant glimmer of Ages long past. The blood of heroes is all but spent.

How did the Dominion of Man come to this? No grand battles on foreign fields. No artifacts of great power holding sway over the future. No great shadow threatening to cover the lands. There is simply the passage of time, the slow, unending progress of the ages, the gradual fading of all things. There is no power left to slow the passage of time. History has become legend and legend has become myth. There is no more magic in the world.

Or, is there?