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Writing Challenge Entries

Title: Oubliette
Challenge: Writing - Note
Summary: Turn the page...

Title: The Sign of Power
Challenge: Writing: Notice/Sign/Inscription
Summary: He shall bear the mark of power…

Title: Fire in the hole
Challenge: Writing: List
Summary: Fire in our hearts and fire in our souls…

Title: The Capture of the Nightingale
Challenge: Writing: Notice/Sign/Inscription
Summary: On the ownership of words – the unhappy tale of Middle-earth’s first copyright infringement case.
Note: Happy birthday, Starlight! Since you’ve been enjoying the writing challenge so much, this one’s for you!

Title: News from the front
Challenge: Writing: Code or Cypher
Summary: They fled north, hoping to bring word… Double drabble.

Title: The heat in the kitchen
Challenge: Writing: Recipe
Summary: On duty in the camp kitchens of Gondor’s army, there are no short-cuts.

Title: Against the Shadow in the East
Challenge: Writing: Letter
Summary: It never rains but it pours in Bree. Post-Strider.

Title: The life of letters
Challenge: Writing: Poem or Poetry
Summary: On the benefits of dynamic equivalence.

Title: King of All Crowns
Challenge: Writing: Post-script
Summary: Hail to the king, baby…
Note: In honor of Huinarë’s awesome Khazad-dûm series for this challenge, which I have been reading with such pleasure.



Éowyn has never seen so many books. The Steward’s library holds the knowledge of ages, redolent of ink, oil and leather. She reaches for one, glances at her betrothed, who smiles permission.

Its cover opens upon graceful gold script. “So beautiful,” she murmurs, but frowns. “So many! Have you forgotten so much?”

Faramir thinks of all his years forcing field reports into notes pigeons could carry, while memory’s storehouse opened wide: kitchen for what sustains men, laundry for discipline, library for orders. The mausoleum for casualties. The slaughterhouse for tactics.

That garden of buried horrors…

“Not nearly enough,” he answers.


The sign of power

The Orcs came massed: the battle for Eastemnet’s herds was vicious – for some, nearly lost.

“Couldn’t stick a frog with that,” opined Éothain. Éomer, battered but alive, swore over his sword-shard. Éothain raised his waterskin. “Better battle-friends!”

“That you’ll have,” the craftmasters promised. Chalk-slates ready, they took Éomer’s measure, examined his gear, then went to their shops.

Weeks later, Éomer inspected their work: swung the blade, admired its balance – then frowned.

“Why ‘thorn’?” He tapped the shoulder-rune.

“For battle-friendship,” the graver said.

“That is ‘G’…”

The unlettered man shrugged. “Signs are for beauty, power, and that sickle-sign – that says: Death!”


Fire in the hole

Túrin kept returning – every eve he came to Mîm, asking of his craft, his days, asking counsel for Men astray.

A young, lordly Dwarf he seemed. Bitter years begged release, so Mîm spoke: of land and craft… of the Dwarf-wars and the Great Dispossession.

And he revealed the Knot-cords.

“What are they?” Túrin asked.

“Though slaves, we needed no Elvish letters! ” Mîm vaunted. “In the darkest depths, our hands enlightened our hearts when we hadn’t one match!”

Practiced, exiled fingers draw the cords, recite: “Sing the martyrs of Nulukhizdûn, lest Elves and the Seven extinguish them – Shabîn, Uda, Tîl…’”


The Capture of the Nightingale

The Sindar had always made signs – etched lined images of things precious into wood and stone. Fingers traced starlit marks and knew that slant, that slit, that gouge-mark like unto their things.

Noldorin marks had no thing-likeness – pleasing to eyes, not hands, they captured invisible sounds…

Daeron labored long, crafted letters to etch Sindarin and gave them away. But he kept a wood-slat trove, etching the name again and again…

When Lúthien found them, her cry bent the airs, her hands clapped thunder – his slats shattered!

“Touch me again,” she warned, and he quailed, “and thy name I shall obliterate!”


News from the front

Amon Sûl loomed above the dell, its yellowed grass red with sunset.

In that green scoop, Narendil Vorondilion, chest heaving, dumped his last armload of firewood, and hastily began kindling it. His companion, arrow nocked, squinted anxiously west from beneath his hood. Gaunt and harried men, their mood grew grimmer as dusk’s shade fell.

“Any sign?” Tharandur demanded, tautly, and Narendil, exhausted, shook his head.

“None. We may yet tell our tale!”

“Be certain of it,” Tharandur replied, tone dark.

“Once we are safeguarded,” Narendil panted, blowing to coax sparks. “Then I shall store the wood and see to it…”


The familiar dell was much as described. Aragorn surveyed it, noting three sets of prints, then went swiftly whither firewood lay against the rock-fall and began shifting faggots. Sure enough, behind them lay chalked cirth:


Six killed at Sarn Ford – news two weeks old, by the marks – and Narendil homeward bound by the name order.

Aragorn bowed his head, breathed deeply. Nine wraiths at Sarn Ford and five hard by…

For the hours you’ve bought, he thought, laying a heavy hand upon the stone, may we match you tonight!


The heat in the kitchen

When her husband joined Imloth Melui’s levy, so did Gaildis – with better native advantage. He’d no war-gear, but she brought her well-loved knives.

Armies move on their stomachs, digesting men from many lands: she’d never met so many strangers!

But all loved her rose sauces. “How do you make this?” they’d ask; officers asked to write recipes for their wives.

To all she answered: “Do you learn bladework from books? No more’s my art for pages! You learn cooking from cooking with cooks.”

Then many laughed, but some learned – a little life amid deadly deeds. So did Gaildis her duty.


Against the Shadow in the East

Mr. Butterbur sighed contentedly, surveying his domain: a parlour filled with wagging tongues. Clouds rain silver, said Bree wisdom: crime and recent strange happenings made The Pony Bree-land’s hub.

But Storms breed storms, too: the door banged open, admitting farmers carrying a wounded, delirious Ranger.

“Stabbed,” Havo, the pony-leech, pronounced. “Badly, too.”

“By whom?” Butterbur demanded.

Havo shrugged. “Don’t know – he ain’t babbling Westron.”

Mordor whispered Strider. Fear threaded memory, drawing along Mr. Underhill – Baggins, from Gandalf’s letter… Gandalf, whose business was strangers… Aha!

“I’ve my letters,” he said. “I’ll write it all down, for if Mr. Gandalf comes through…”


The life of letters

Éowyn had never studied books. When young, she’d learned her letters swiftly, well, then closed the books because things needed doing.

But Faramir loved book-lore, so she became their student: read out poems, worrying how they sounded, suffered the swordcraft manuals’ frozen figures and stilted description…

Perplexed, she cornered her husband, made him recite those verses ‘til love stole his words, fought him sword and shield to hard, happy defeats.

Poetry moved, was only in motion – in him, the words walked. Strange magic!

“I never loved books so, before,” she confessed, disarming after practice.

Eying her, he laughed. “Nor I!”


King of All Crowns

Khazad-dûm has failed – we will lose no more in this venture.

Dori watched Dwalin and Glóin pass Dáin’s response to their latest plea, watched them scowl to the roots of their beards.

“Our kin, lying who knows where, or trapped and helpless, and not only will Dáin not help, but we mayn’t even seek them?” Dwalin demanded.

“We must act,” Glóin growled.

“But if the king forbids his subjects entry there…”

“The king commands us,” Dori said. “But he does not rule all. And he who has silver commands in realms far from hearth and home. Listen: I’ve an idea…”


In Dale, Broddí opened the embossed letter, which bore Dori’s emblem and payment for the latest iron wain going west to the Blue Mountains. And appended, in gold ink, a post-script:

Broddí – Many years you’ve been my agent in matters of foreign trade. I trust your discretion, and respect for blood-ties: find us a Man to go to Khazad-dûm. We shall make it worthwhile.

“Well, then,” he harrumphed, and looked up at the two silver stars standing at his door, awaiting that iron wain – the best sell-swords money could buy. “Strider, Hal – I’ve a commission for you – worth your time.”


The Sign of Power - Notes: The graver used the angerthas rune # 10 for “th” (I’m assuming it’s a “thorn”-analogue), which does look sort of like a stylized sickle. Éomer’s sword is called “Gúthwinë,” which means “battle-friend.” Thank you, Éomer, for making this drabble possible…

The Rohirrim and the Dwarves are almost the only users of the Cirth in the Third Age, and it is primarily made to suit the needs of carvers and gravers who cut letters into material, rather than painting or writing.

The “shoulder-rune” is an attempt to say where the graver put the rune, because “ricasso” …. just doesn’t sound like it belongs in Rohan, let’s say.

Fire in the Hole - Notes: Dwarven knot-cords based on the idea of the Incan quipu as a possible notational system for more than numbers.

Title and summary come from Fire in the Hole, by Hazel Dickens.

“the martyrs of Nulukhizdûn” – PoME makes it sound as though the other houses of Dwarves in the area of what would become Nargothrond forced the Petty Dwarves from their dwelling there and took it over to give to the newly arrived Noldor.

New from the Front - Notes: “Rangers use runes, and they come here sometimes” – Aragorn, LOTR, “A Knife in the Dark”.

No one else in the Third Age besides Dwarves uses runes regularly, so that Aragorn says Rangers do seems significant. That would already remove the message from general understanding. Runes were meant to be etched or cut, or used on hard surfaces, which would suit Rangers who need to leave secret messages for each other in the wild at specific message “drop points,” where paper or velum has little chance of remaining in place and intact. Add a few protocols, abbreviations, and letter substitutions, and they’ve got working code.

The Cirth spell out the following:


“Badger” is obviously English – I like it, I can’t find a word for it on a wordlist, alas. YVE stands for “Yavannië” (September); TSA for Tirith Sarn Athrad (Sarn Ford Guard as near as I can make it). “&” for “plus” D (ninth letter); “GW” for gwain (plural for “departed” in the sense of “dead”) M (sixth letter).

Against the Shadow in the East - Notes:

“’It’s addressed plain enough,’ said Mr. Butterbur, producing a letter from his pocket, and reading out the address slowly and proudly (he valued his reputation as a lettered man):


“’A letter for me from Gandalf!’ cried Frodo.” – “Strider,” FotR.

“[The Ringwraiths] found [the borders of the Shire] guarded, for the Rangers barred their way. But this was a task beyond the power of the Dúnedain; and maybe it would still have proved so even if their captain, Aragorn, had been with them. […] Some fled northward, hoping to bear news to Aragorn, but they were pursued and slain or driven away into the wild. Some still dared to bar the ford, and held it while the day lasted, but at night the Lord of Morgul swept them away, and the Black Riders passed into the Shire […]” - Unfinished Tales.

Hey, why not a Ranger stumbling into Bree-land late after the attack on the Fords?

King of All Crowns - Notes: ‘“I, too, once passed the Dimrill Gate,” said Aragorn quietly; “but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil.”’ – “A Journey in the Dark,” FOTR

"Hail to the king, baby" - Ash, Housewares


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