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4
A Sacred Place Between Wood and Stone

I must admit that I have wondered myself what the original purpose of the Stone of Erech might have been and why it was brought from Númenor to Middle-earth. So far, I could not come up with any working theory.

Râmalê is Primitive Elvish and means “Great Wing”. Cerveth is the Sindarin name of the month roughly equivalent to our July. The Appendices state that Éomer came back to Minas Tirith for Théoden’s body on July 18, 3019. It took them fifteen days to reach Rohan – I assumed that three riders, not slowed down by the wains, would manage it a lot faster.

Laikwâlassê is, of course, the Primitive Elvish form for Legolas, meaning exactly the same: green leaf. Ngwalaraukô = Primitive Elvish for Balrog.


~~~

Part 03 – A Sacred Place Between Wood and Stone

On the 18th of Cerveth, Éomer Éadig, the new King of Rohan rode into Minas Tirith, escorted by his personal éored, a selected company of the fairest knights of the Mark, to bring home the body of his uncle to be buried as it was a King’s right. In spite of the sad occasion, the reunion between him and King Elessar and the remaining companions of the Ring was a joyous one, as it always is among friends, and the royal court of Gondor began to make preparations for the long journey to Rohan – for it had been decided right after the coronation that they would honour Théoden with joining his funeral procession.

Éomer and his knights rested a day in the White City, enjoying the company of their friends and regaining their strength after a hard and fast ride. On the next day, the golden bier of Théoden-King was borne out of the Rath Dínen, where it had rested, laid upon a great wain, with Riders of Rohan all about it and his banner borne before. Another wain, with the arms of the King, followed it, and on that second wain rode Meriadoc Brandybuck, the smallest knight of Rohan – smallest in size but mayhap greatest in courage and heart.

In the long procession that followed the wain rode Queen Arwen, and Celeborn and Galadriel with their folk, and Elrond and his sons; and the princes of Dol Amroth and of Ithilien, and many captains and knights. Never had any king of the Mark such company upon the road as went with Théoden Thengel's son to the land of his home.

They rode into Anórien along the Great West Road, without haste and at peace. Yet Gandalf, Faramir and Legolas galloped forth at a much faster pace from there on, reaching the green fields of Rohan some ten days earlier than the rest. At the place where the Mering-stream crossed the Road, however, they turned to the West, following the Wall of Rohan through the Eastfold to the northwest, up to the dark and forbidding Dwimorberg.

They passed the eastern outskirts of that mountain, still haunted by the memories of the Dead who were now resting in peace, and descended from the uprising of the river Morthond. There they finally came to the Hill of Erech.

Although the terror of the Dead still lingered upon that hill and upon the empty fields about it, the only emotion filling Faramir’s breast was reverence. For this very place was where Gondor had once begun: with the huge, globular black stone, now half-buried in the ground, that, according to legend, had been brought out of the ruin of Númenor and set there by Isildur at his landing. No records could be found about its true purpose, and Faramir had often wondered why Isildur would bother to drag it with him all the way from the sunk island of Westernesse, instead of filling his ship with survivors – or with more useful things. Despite all his research, he never found an answer, not even in the Hidden Archives.

This was the first time he could set his eyes on the Stone, thus he went closer to take a thorough look at it. Even half-buried, its size was impressive: it must have been at least ten foot in diameter, perfectly smooth and cool to the touch like marble, and deep black in hue. Faramir laid his hands upon the surface and tried to look into the depth of the Stone, almost expecting to see images of far-away places or of events long gone within it.

“You are wasting your time, child of Mithrellas,” said a melodic voice from somewhere on the other side. “This Stone is shrouded. It will show you nothing.”

All three turned to see the source of that voice, expecting to see another grey-clad scout of the Dark Elves, cloaked and hooded and armed to the teeth. Instead, they saw a tall and willowy Elf-woman, clad entirely in black, although her tunic was adorned with colourful little gems and embroidered with silver. Her raven hair was artfully braided away from her pale face, the thin braids woven to an intricate coronet with strings of silver beads, resting on her back like a great sheaf of crop. She was unarmed, save from the throwing knives on her back, and very obviously served as the emissary of her people, at least for the time being.

“Welcome,” she said with an elegant bow. “I am Râmalê, the huntress. I have been sent to be your guide.”

“Where are we going?” asked Legolas. He understood her name, albeit the tongue of the northern Avari had changed much in the Ages that the two kindreds spent apart. ‘Twas a beautiful name, he found; it meant ‘great wing’.

“High up into the Mountains, to a sacred place between wood and stone,” she answered. “But worry not, Laikwâlassê; we shall lead you down the other side, so that you will reach the Golden Hall of the horsemen in time.”

“You know me?” Legolas could not hide his surprise.

“I knew your mother, long ago, when we were both young,” she replied. “You have her eyes.”

Legolas quirked an amused eyebrow. “My mother had brown eyes. Mine are green,” he pointed out.

“And yet they see the same things,” replied the Elf.

Faramir gave her an amazed look. He already knew that Legolas had been born in the late Second Age, at a time when all his older siblings had been grown Elves. That would make him more than three thousand years old, and this Elf-woman… his mind boggled by the imagination. Knowing that Elves could live for unlimited times without aging was one thing. Seeing such a youthful creature who was, in fact, older than Ages, an entirely different one.

She must have guessed what was on his mind, for she grinned at him in amusement.

“Follow me,” she then said. “If your horses are sure-footed, they will be able to tread the mountain paths.”

“Shadowfax will manage,” said Gandalf. “and so will Legolas’ steed, Arod, I deem. I am not certain about Faramir’s, though.”

Faramir stroked the mane of his horse. “No need to worry, Mithrandir. She has been bred and trained in Dol Amroth, in my uncle’s stables. She will go wherever I ask her to go.”

“Let us go, then,” said the Elf. “For your time is limited, and I wish not to make you be late for the old King’s burial ceremony.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And thus she led them up to the northwest of the White Mountains, near to the place where, at the head of Harrowdale, the ragged peak of the mighty Starkhorn loomed up above its vast buttresses swathed in cloud. Its peak, however, clothed in everlasting snow, gleamed far above the blanket of clouds, blue-shadowed upon the East, red-stained by the sunset in the West.

Instead of turning in to Harrowdale, though, they turned onto a steep mountain path further to the West, where the rocky fringes of the Mountains ere indented by the river Lefnui that rose among those sheer cliffs, having carved out a deep, narrow valley during the past Ages. ‘Twas an impressive canyon with a gorge of some three hundred feet deep. The side of the valley stretched for about a mile from the northeast to the southwest and indented with several entrances to grottos or caverns.

At first sight, it seemed a completely natural arrangement of cliffs and carved rock aces. But when they took a last turn, it seemed to Faramir as if a shimmering curtain of grey rain had been suddenly pulled aside, and before their stunned eyes lay the most amazing settlement any of them had ever seen. That included Legolas, who had truly seen a lot in his long life.

The dwellings of the settlement had been carved into the sheer rock walls, with narrow walkways and steep stairways between the various levels, and terraced gardens between the dwellings. Right before them, on the left side, stood a separate cluster of small stone buildings, encircled by a high wall. The top of a slender tower peeked out above the wall.

“The Houses of Healing,” explained the Elf. “’Tis outside the city, so that any sick or injured can be taken in, without the need to drag them up any narrow stairways. Come. We shall enter the city through the Fig Tree Gate.”

She led them along a winding path to a narrow stone gate featured in the likeness of two trees entwining their branches in a high arch. On the left side of the gate a small, square stone tower stood, only two storeys high, and behind it tilled fields and orchards could be seen.

“That is the watchpost of the Outer Guard,” said Râmalê. “The Guard protects our fields and orchards… although they have more trouble with the game than any other intruders.”

“What other intruders?” asked Faramir.

The Elf shrugged. “Cave trolls, mostly; and Wargs that have come too far up the Mountains on the track of their prey. We had not have Men bothering us for hundreds of years. They say the Mountains are haunted here; and they fear the Dead.”

“That might change in the future,” said Faramir, “now that the Dead are gone.”

“Not all of them are,” she replied with a cryptic smile and ushered them through the gate.

The settlement seemed to have only one street on the bottom of the valley, framed by the rock walls in which the dwellings had been carved. It meandered this way and that in some places, following the natural layout of the narrow canyon, and leading, ultimately, to a small fortress on the other end of the valley, also carved into a living rock peak. The whole place seemed abandoned. There were no lights in the empty windows, no sound, and they saw no living soul anywhere. Not even Legolas could feel the presence of other Elves.

Roughly in the middle of the canyon, they came to a great, walled stairway. Unlike the others in the rock walls, this one was long and wide, winding its way up to what seemed naught but a cluster of naked rocks. Yet it had to be a place of great importance, if the Dark Elves had made the effort to build such a grand entranceway to it.

As they held on their horses, another Dark Elf appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. ‘Twas a male, clad in similar fashion as Râmalê. He bowed and gave the visitors an earnest smile, but he did not ask their names or intentions, just held out a hand for the bridle of Faramir’s horse, which happened to be the closest.

“You can leave your horses in Galadhiondo’s care,” said Râmalê. “He is a hunter like myself and has his way with all good beasts.”

“With a name like that, I am not surprised,” grinned Legolas, dismounting and patting Arod on the flank. “Though I would rather expect to find that name among my own kind.”

Faramir recalled what he knew about Elven languages. The name, though unfamiliar, did remind him of Elven words that he had heard before. “It means son-of-a-tree, does it not?” he asked.

The Elf nodded. “It does. We are not that different from our northern kindred,” he added with a sideway glance at Legolas.

Faramir looked from one Elf to another and found that statement a wrong one. Legolas was half a head taller than the other two – no doubt due to his Sindarin heritage – lightly tanned, and he had that peculiar, thick auburn mane so characteristic for the Wood-Elves and the northern Avari that changed its colour with the change of the seasons. Right now, at the height of summer, it had a lot of gold in it, but Faramir remembered that in early spring it had still been a rich, dark brown, almost black, like the frozen soil. It had been changing slowly into a lighter brown during the recent months, and would turn almost red in the autumn – at least according to Gimli, the Dwarf.

Nay, Faramir could find very little likeness between the high-spirited woodland prince and the pale, reserved, raven-haired and black-eyed Dark Elves of the Mountains. He said so. Fortunately, they took no offence.

“’Tis a common weakness of mortal Men that they only see that which is on the surface,” said Râmalê, after Galadhiondo had led away their horses. “Perchance your stay in our city will change your perception. Come now. We have a long climb before us. If you want to be there ere the sun sets, we must hurry.”

“To be where?” asked Faramir.

“The Stone Flower of Ramandur; the inner sanctum of our city,” she answered. “That is where you are expected.”

“Expected by whom?” pressed Faramir.

“’Tis not mine to tell,” said the Elf. “I am only your guide.”

Faramir wanted to keep asking, but Gandalf laid a restraining hand upon his forearm.

“Leave it, Faramir,” he said. “She will say no more – she is not allowed to. Let us master this last hindrance, and we shall get our answers, I deem.”

The Elf nodded. “That you will.”

Gandalf looked dup at the seemingly endless stairs with a sigh. “How many steps are there?” he asked resignedly.

“Two hundred and forty-three,” said the Elf matter-of-factly. “Not nearly as many as you had to fight your way up in Moria, chasing the Ngwalaraukô.”

“Somehow I do not feel greatly comforted,” grumbled the wizard, shuddering with unpleasant memories. Then he adjusted his heavy white robe and began to climb.

After a moment of hesitation, Faramir and Legolas followed him.

~TBC~

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