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Guardian of the Golden Wood
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Chapter 17 - Shadows Rising

Celeborn cupped his Lady’s chin and gave her a sweet kiss. They had said their farewells during the long hours of the night; tender pleasure mixed with fear of what doom had once more crept into their world had given it the rare sweetness of love’s farewell.

She held his eyes unblinking, relishing the few moments they could steal from the duty that called the Silver Lord. It had been a long, long while, since she had last seen him clad in the gray and green garment of the wardens, sword girded to his hips and Galadhrim longbow slung over his shoulder.

‘You take care!’ He whispered.’ For I leave my heart and my soul in your keeping.’

Galadriel tried to master her feelings and give him a courageous smile, but nonetheless a teardrop treacherously nestled from her eye and rolled down her fair cheek. The news of the strange creature on the other shore of the Anduin had reached them in the midst of a peaceful family dinner with both Celebrian and Silraen present.

One of the watch posts on the southern fences, by the Great River had observed a dark and stealthy shadow suddenly dragging a deer from the waters into what could only have been an earth hole.

The terrible shrieks of the captured animal had filled the night with such terror, that the wardens had immediately send words to close by Caras Galadhon, not even bothering to contact their superior in the garrison further South where the Celebrant flew into the Anduin and formed, on what once had seen the battle that brought Isildur doom and death, a water frontier between the Elven realm and the ancient Wold of mighty Fangorn.

Haldir’s second-in-command Aiglironion had slightly frowned at the orders to muster a band of stout-hearted and experienced wardens for sunrise. He had argued, that those posted on the frontier between Laurelindórean and the realm of Celeborn’s cousin Thranduil on the other shore of the Anduin where green younglings, still learning their trade and not to be taken serious.

The captain had voiced his suspicion that probably shaken by solitude and darkness in a lonely outpost two inexperienced wardens may have exaggerated a scene for which a perfectly normal explanation would be found in bright sunlight. But he had found himself overruled by an uncommonly authoritarian silver lord almost before he had spoken his thought.

‘He is wrong.’ Galadriel replied thoughtfully. ’Aiglironion is too young to remember!’ And softly she added. ’Haldir would have known immediately, for he still remembers her terrible brood and their cruelty.’

Celeborn nodded. His memories were as lively as those of his foster son. During the War of the Elves against Sauron they had come from the Northern Waste in the following of the Deceiver’s ugly hordes, feasting on elf and orc, on warg and horse alike, pitiless scavengers that would feed on battlefield casualties and the unsuspecting wherever they could make an innocuous catch, but retreating cowardly as soon as they were confronted with a determined band of warriors of either side.

Never had he understood what motivated and controlled the spawn of Ungoliant, for they had wrought havoc in the ranks of both Sauron and the elves of Eregion. But even if the spidery brood had not been drawn to cousin Thranduil’s forest kingdom by a call of some shadow that may loom there, according to Mithrandir, they were clear presage of terrible events soon to come.

‘Even if it pains me to do this without consulting Thranduil; if I feel it is necessary, I shall cross the river. What must have befallen my cousin to allow such creatures of evil to freely roam his lands so close to his capital? How can it be that none of his warriors keeps an eye on the banks of the Anduin and the surroundings?’

His tumb gently caressed the tear from Galadriel’s cheek. Then he turned and descended the stairs to his waiting warriors.

Aiglironion had mustered a half-company –85 highly experienced wardens of the guards regiment that was stationed in Caras Galadhon itself . Since he himself would stay in the capital, during Celeborn’s absence, he had chosen Orophin to go with the Lord. Haldir’s second-in-command watched the ruler of the elven realm grim-faced. Celeborn had no idea what shifting around, recalling and canceling of leave had been involved during last night in order to mount this whimsical expedition. Orophin’s regiment of the North which guarded the most dangerous part of Laurelindórean’s borders needed a crack substitute within the next day or two and Haldir was not there to take the burden of responsibility from his shoulders. Whoever he sent to the garrison there, would be dearly missed in his own unit. He flinched when the Lord clapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder. If ever something should happen during Haldir’s and Celeborn’s absence, all decisions would be upon him…and he did not like that idea very much. Not at all! A strange foreboding of danger and doom seemed to linger over the Golden Wood since its Guardian had left Caras Galadhon a forthnight ago to attend some kind of war council that Glorfindel of Rivendell had called in over the civil war between the three successor states of old Arnor and which seemed to spill across the borders of the elven haven west of the Misty Mountains. Aiglironion swore silently: They would not see their Commander for at least three full moons, considering the distance to Rivendell and the strong chance that such a meeting in the House of Elrond habitually went on for weeks on end.

Celeborn lifted his hand in a last farewell to Galadriel and motioned his warriors to fall in step behind. Then they left at a urgent pace towards the gates of Caras Galadhon and Aiglironion realized that he was all allown with the responsibility for the safety and security of the elven realm.

Silraen watched the warriors’ departure from the heights of the talan that harboured the House of Healing of the Wardens. ‘He looks mightily upset!’ She said with a hint of sarcasm to Rumil, who whipped some of his instruments dry before arranging them in a beautifully carved wodden surgeon’s box that bore his family coat of arms.

‘He hates decision making!’ He let his slender finger run over a mithril forceps, admiring its perfect shape and artful decorations. The instrument had been their father’s and while he no longer used it, having it replaced with more practical clamps, he always kept it in his box as a lucky charm.

‘T’is a mystery, why Haldir chose him as his second-in-command.’ He added, continuing with his cleaning and arranging. None of the almost ninethousand rank and file of the Army of Laurelindórean had understood their commander’s choice, when he had named the most controversial and unpopular officer of the realm and Celeborn himself had boild with rage, when he had put his signature under the commission and not spoken to his foster son for about a forthnight. Rumil still remembered the brawl that had ensued between the two elves and although they had fought behind closed doors, all Caras Galadhon had been able to listen in to the silver lord’s fit of temper.

‘Anysse says, t’is because his sour face frightens the yrch away without a fight.’ Silraen chuckled. She dearly loved Rumil’s wife and her dry sense of humor, but in that specific case, she was not so sure that her friend had pulled a yoke on the hapless officer. She might even have stated the truth.

Low, down under the lush crown of the Mallorn tree that housed the healers, Aiglironion could bee seen stomping towards the barracks. He seemed not to care who would listen to him, for he swore like a Naugrim and graced Haldir and the silver lord with a highly interesting panoplia of names.

‘Did you hear that?’ Rumil chuckled. ‘He called the Lord a son of a dwarf!’

Silraen pushed her fist into her mouth to suppress an outburst of laughter. It was good to not think of her lover and Galadriel’s highly disturbing revelations of the other day. Deep within she blessed grunchy Aiglironion and his foul temper. Although she was no elleth prone to fits of hysteria or over-dramatization, the detailed account of the Lady’s vision in her Mirror that had preceeded Haldir’s and Mithrandir’s departure had given her the creeps.

Galadriel had spoken of the flaming eye that she had perceived in her mirror. An eye so terrible and wilful, that Silraen shuddered unwillingly although the sun was warm and cheerful on the balcony of the house of Healing and gentle, good-natured Rumil stood by her side. And the Lady had told her of a dark, ethereal presence -bodiless still, but growing in strength with every moment that passed- that put al his force and wilfulness into one single aim and this aim was to dominate all of Middle-earth as he had done so before his defeat by Isildur's valiant stroke on the slopes of Mount Doom. She had spoken to Silraen of a carved-out hill full of dark and horrible caverns, where the shadow had already set upon breeding creatures of the night that bowed to him in deference and fear, willing to spread terror over all known lands at a wink of his flaming-red eye. And she spoke of a great and frightful battle, such as had not been seen since Gil-Galad had led his forces against Mordor more then a thousand years ago. Galdriel had told her of her fears for the Galadhrim , but also for their Greenwood bretheren and she had hinted upon many a grieving widow, who would take to the sea and leave the shores of Aman.

Silraen gave a deep sigh. Many a grieving widow! What should she make from this last sentence of the Lady: Was it a statement, for battle and strife always made grieving widows in elves, men and dwarves alike and she supposed that even the creatures of the shadows were capable to mourn their losses, for she had met Haldir’s curious yrch friends Orthrond and Lurzana, who lived with their clan in a hidden valley close to the borders of Laurelindórean, when they came occasionally into the Naith for some feast or fair and her paths crossed from time to time that of their dark and exotically beautiful daughter Atalantá, whom Tintemir the Basket Weaver had taken for wife when she came to Caras Galadhon from her their dwelling in a glade off Cerin Amroth.

‘What bothers you, dear friend?’ Rumil enquired gently, closing his surgeaon’s box and taking a comfortable seat on a small bench on the platform. He had observed Silraen for a while, who still stared at the wardens’ barracks, although Aiglironion and his display of temper were already out of earshot. Since Haldir’s impromptu departure a forthnight ago he had often seen this sad and thoughtful expression on Silraen’s fair face, and while he had it first attributed only to the Captain’s absence, he was no longer so certain. He himself had had strange dreams for a while, being possessed of a very ancient clearsightedness inherited on his mother’s family’s side and not necessitating a mirror, quell water and silver pinchers. The second sight that ran in his line was what some still called the ancient magic of the Moriquendi and while much was lost or forgotten in other lines of Sylvan folk, his clan had always nurtured the gift.

Silraen settled next to Rumil and took his calloused hand between her slender fingers. Since she had fisrt set foot into the Golden Wood, Orophin’s gentle, younger brother had been a close friend and trusted confident. Wiser in many ways then Orophin, for whom Haldir had great friendship, he was also less hard-nosed and tough-minded then her bethrothed which made it much easier to talk with him about matters that were neither tangible with hand nor good common sense.

‘T’is but a feeling,’ She explained,’…a strangely familiar gloom that seems to grab me from the depths of days long gone bye and dangers gone long ago.’ Silraen had promised to the Lord and Lady not to partake her knowledge with any of her friends and so she chose to simply describe that doom she had seen lingering over their golden forest and Haldir, the moment Galadriel’s messenger had stepped out from the shadows of the elder tree. She wondered, if sensitive and perceptive Rumil had had similar forebodings, for she had known for long that he had the ability to see far and deep without the help of magical contraptions.

The ellon nodded thoughtfully. He knew exactly what his friend was talking of and although he had chosen not to share his fears with anybody, for they were vague and still far away, he felt somewhat relieved with the idea that someone else in the Valley of the Singing Gold saw it, too. ‘I understand you very well, my dear Lady.’ He replied and squeezed her fingers gently.’ Alas I cannot put a name to it and I am almost incline to agree with Aiglironion that perhaps those younglings down by the Anduin saw shadows in the dark and were frightened.’ He smiled and regaled his companion with a little anecdote about a report on a terrible water monster, that had landed from said watchpost on Haldir’s table. The missive had caused quite an uproar in the headquaters of the wardens and the Captain himself had been deeply disturbed by the sighting and the detailed description of the ‘beast’. A dozen of galoppers had been sent off to all the dwellings by the river banks in such a haste that it had taken almost an hour before the dust of their hoves had settled in the streets. Warnings were given to leave the boats ashore and keep the elflings from the water and veterans of the wardens were called from retirement to reinforce the southern watchposts. They had even sent messenger birds to their Greenwood kindred, although none of them dwelt closer to the banks of the Great River then two full days of march. Finally Haldir had ordered to drag the stream over the full leagues of the Laurelindórean borders with nets so tigh that even a silma fish could not escape.

Silraen grinned. She had heard rumours of that affair, but her beloved stubbornly refused to tell her even the trifelest of trifles and every time she brought up the subject, he blushed to a rather Elrondish red. She was highly curious to learn the conclusion of the mystery!

‘Well,’ said Rumil with a roughish grin,’After a full week of hard labour they had dragged out the monster…and it proved to be a very long and very hollow beech trunk upon which a gigantic host of slippery young river eels had taken up residence between algae and water weed that entangled the long dead branches.’

Silraen laughed heartily, almost forgetting her earlier gloomy thoughts, imagining her brave Captain batteling with a rotten old tree trunk and Laurelindórean’s famed delicacy that was served either smoked or in a pie on many occasions.

It leapt upon him before he could react. The lonely hunter felt the weight of the creature crushing him, driving him to his knees, his bow knocked out of his grip. It lay, shining dimly on the mossy ground of the silent forest grove, far from his reach. Still, he whirled about, unsheathing his hunting knife from his belt, feeling a strong pair of hairy long legs clamp about his back, sharp pincers clicking about his neck. He reached behind him in a tremendous effort to hurt whatever it was with his knife and hopefully drive it away from him. The silent struggle continued for long moments as the hunter tried to wrest out of his attacker's grip. With the hairy creature still clinging to his back, he managed somehow to come to his feet. He stood rooted to the ground, legs wide apart in order to give him greater leverage and momentum. Suddenly the creature at his back made a strange, whooshing sound as if drawing breath between clenched teeth and the hunter took the opportunity, bucked his knees, dropping, falling backward so as to pin the creature between his muscular body and the ground. The manoeuvre worked. The hunter twisted quickly about, keeping his weight upon the hairy, many-legged thing, bringing his arms around and knocking the two hornlike pincers away from his neck. He looked down and nearly choked with horror.

Eight darkish-blue eyes looked up at him full of malice and undisguised fury. Directly underneath the spider’s eyes the hunter saw its most dangerous weapon, the chelicerae, a pair of appendages that the monster would use to seize and kill its prey. He understood immediately he could give no quarter to this enemy. Swiftly he brought a knee to the creature's cephalothorax and pinned it down violently, as he reached for his short sword. In the hunter’s experienced hand it suddenly flared into life, bringing forth a great light, for it was an ancient Elvish blade from the smithies of Eregion that had served his family for ages. From the spider creature came a loud shriek of pain when the cold steel pierced its soft abdomen.

The hunter leaped back with the agility of a swordfighter, out of reach of the pincers that snapped convulsively during the monster’s death struggle. He stared down upon the twisting legs and a sudden desire to spill all his stomach’s contents came over him. Never before in his long life in this forest had the hunter seen such an infernal monster, but he was an old elf whom the traumatizing experiences of the battlefields of Eregion had driven through the mines of Moria, through Laurelindórean, across the great river Anduin and deep into the forests of the Great Greenwood, where ever since he had left a solitary life of wandering. Only on the rare occasions of an annual trade fair or a great market would he leave the protection of the trees and seek out either his kinfolk or their friends, the men of Dale, to barter some skins and furs for the few necessities he needed for his sustenance.

The hunter gave a deep sigh of relief, when the dead struggle of the monster finally came to its ends. He remembered these horrors most vividly. They had followed the host of Sauron’s army into the lands of Eregion to cruelly feast on elves and yrch alike. They had spread more terror with his kin then the goblin axes, troll maces and yrch arrows of Sauron’s army, for they were the evil spawn of the Gloomweaver Ungoliath, who had survived the ages hidden in the great northern wasteland …and now they had come from their evil abode once again to invade the realm of the wood elves.

The hunter picked up his bow, pulled his short sword from the spider’s belly and cleaned it on a tuff of grass. It was not the time of the summer fair on the Amon Lanc yet, but he felt that it was most urgent to overcome his reticence for company and seek out his kin. Throwing a last, spiteful glance upon the stinking carcass, he sheathed his heirloom, slung his bow over his strong shoulders and jogged out of the glade into the trees. He was strong and courageous. With a little bit of luck he would cover the distance to King Thranduil’s capital in three days. He was determined to see the Captain of the Wardens and to tell him about his horrible discovery.


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