The Exile of Lorien, by Sauronsbeagle 1 ‘Go on, fuck off!’ roared Annundril as he flung the Breelander out of the door. ‘If I’d wanted fucking poetry I’d have fucked a hobbit.’ He aimed a bare foot at the young man’s equally bare arse, diverting his aim from the bullseye at the last moment. ‘Maybe a good thing I threw him out when I did.’ Annundril muttered to himself as the door slammed, ‘that didn’t look too healthy.’
Moments later he opened the door again to toss a handful of coppers at the would-be poet, who was still fumbling with his breeches in the Inn’s hallway. Less chance of him babbling to anyone about the encounter if he’d been paid. The elf didn’t relish the prospect of being chased out of another town – he’d barely escaped with all of his instruments the last time.
Archet suited him just fine for the moment. It was as far from other elves as he could get without leaving some semblance of civilisation, with the added bonus that hobbits and dwarves weren’t too much in evidence. Men, with their weaknesses of mind, body and spirit were more to his taste. The perfect company for an elf in exile.
‘Beren and Lucien!’ he chuckled to himself as he lay back on the bed, ‘It’s a funny title, I’ll give the little prick that. Shame he wasn’t joking. He should’ve stopped there, nothing less attractive than sub-adolescent poetry, and I should know.’
Annundril had a ‘gift’ for music and poetry, which he’d exploited mercilessly to keep himself alive in recent years. He hated music, and he hated having to come up with the asinine gibberish that people seemed to like smeared on top of their nauseatingly winsome melodies, but it had provided him with an easy life. A long, boring, easy life.
Until he wrote ‘The Lay of Lord Celeborn the Coward’.
That hadn’t gone down well at all, nor had his unrepentant attitude when hauled in front of the Lord and Lady to explain himself. Why couldn’t they see that their long years of inaction had all but handed victory to the Enemy on a plate? Why hadn’t they done something, anything, sooner when the shadow first fell on the Greenwood? Why were they, and virtually everyone else in Lorien, content to wait within its borders for the end of days? Why wouldn’t anyone fight, even if they had already left it too late? Anything was better than an eternity of whining about the fading beauty of Middle Earth. Being ostracised from his own people had almost come as a relief in the end. Over the years that relief had become anger and bitterness.
He often wondered whether there was something wrong with him, whether he’d been born lacking something. His time amongst men had shown him that members of the younger race were often born with deficiencies, whether mental or physical. Perhaps the peculiarities which marked him out from other elves were a result of something similar, but manifested in more subtle ways due to the Firstborn’s differing physiology. Or maybe he was just an arsehole.
A crashing noise from outside roused him from his self pity. Sitting up, he took a swig from the jug of wine on the table next to the bed, wincing as the sour liquid hit the back of his throat, ‘I swear this stuff is getting worse.’ he spat, before hurling the jug at the wall. Another crash from outside answered his own effort, closely followed by the sounds of violence and panic.
Groaning, he dragged himself from the bed to the window and opened the shutters. ‘Oh, that is just typical’ he muttered as he surveyed the scene below, oblivious to the fact that he was still naked. Brigands were rampaging through the town, cutting down anyone who got in their way, burning buildings as they went. The sensation of heat from the buildings already ablaze reminded Annundril that his clothes still lay where he’d thrown them earlier. Not for the first time, he dressed in a hurry and grabbed the tools of his trade.
By the time he made it through the inn to the street Archet was practically in ruins. Across the road a soldier from Gondor who had been in the common room of the Mad Badger the previous evening was being dragged from a burning building. Nearby, the strange young widow he’d seen hanging around with that insufferable Ranger, Amdir, was fighting for her life against several brigands.
His only means of escape barred by the melee in front of him, Annundril sighed and began to pluck on his lute. He’d never understood why, but whenever he played in the vicinity of battle his music seemed to inspire unlikely and heroic deeds in those who would aid him. He began to sing in Sindarin, twisting the words for his own amusement into as many filthy rhymes as he could manage, confident that no-one nearby would understand a word. Even when in mortal danger Annundril was nothing if not puerile.
‘Just what do you think you’re playing at, you insufferable cretin?’ said a voice from the alleyway behind him. It was a familiar voice, an elven voice, and one that made Annundril’s heart sink and leap simultaneously, making him feel altogether queasy. Putting on his most charming smile he turned, just in time to meet the blunt end of a spear which was swinging towards his forehead.
Maegnar was doing him a favour, he just didn’t fully appreciate that as he slipped out of consciousness.
‘You are to be banished from this realm until you have proven yourself worthy to return,’ Lord Celeborn was droning on in that tiresome way of his, ‘I do not even ask for an apology. All I ask is that you conduct yourself in a manner befitting that which you are – an elf of Lothlorien.’
That which you are?! Eru save me from this pompous fool! Annundril thought to himself, prompting his defiant veneer to slip momentarily, a smirk emerging in its place.
‘Take him away’ Celeborn sighed, ‘Release him at the edge of the wood and see that the Wardens are given strict instructions not to let him back in.’
As he was being dragged from the chamber, revelling in the opportunity to spit defiance at the watching elves, the most unexpected thing happened; the Lady Galadriel rose from her throne. ‘Wait.’ she said, quietly, yet the whole court heard her. ‘If Annundril must be driven from this place then I must be also. It was out of love for me that he penned his song, and it is a love which I return with all my heart. And that, Beolaf, is how you teach a bear to fight an enemy in your stead. Clever, eh?’
Hold on! That’s not how it happened at all, thought Annundril, that bitch never gave a shit about me, and I’m sure there wasn’t such a pervasive stench of old sweat and animal faeces in Celeborn’s throne room. And why am I lying on my back? And, oh, my fucking head!
‘I sure wish I was as smart as you are, Raiff. All bears ever seem to do is chase me, no matter what I do. Even your bear still looks at me funny whenever your back’s turned,’ said a dull, slow voice. ‘And anyways, I don’t even own a stead.’
‘I’ve told you before, my dear Beolaf, it’s not that bears have it in for you at all, it’s just that they sense your fear whenever you approach. They can smell it on you, once they’ve gotten past your other distinctive, um, odours,’ replied another voice, ‘I say! It appears our guest is coming to his senses.’
Better if I don’t open my eyes – that’s only going to hurt. And besides, it sounds like I’m being held prisoner by a simpleton and his keeper. Maybe if I wait for long enough an opportunity for escape will present itself. I’ll kill that bastard Maegnar when I get my hands on him. No, I’ll just disappear again, that’d piss him off more than dying would! Shit! They must’ve noticed me moving, if I don’t open my eyes they might start pawing at me. Right, here goes…
The small, dimly lit room and its occupants came into focus briefly before everything started to spin. Well, at least one of them is quite comely if you disregard the slack-jawed look on his face, was all Annundril had the time to think to himself before the previous night’s wine made its triumphant return.
Some time later the retching ceased, though the pain from the blow to his head still lingered. Annundril was finally able to sit upright on the edge of the bed and survey the mess he’d made of his once magnificent clothing. At least Maegnar is nowhere in evidence, just his two lackeys, or rather one lackey and a lackwit. No chance of overpowering even the ridiculous looking one with the moustache in my present condition, let alone the well-built oaf standing next to him.
‘You really should lie down again, you know,’ scolded the man with the moustache, ‘All of the leeches I applied have fallen off. Too much of a build up of bad blood in that wound to your head is dangerous. If your humours get out of balance you’ll be done for!’
‘Stick your leeches up your arse,’ Annundril replied, rubbing his temple and trying not to look at the bloated black things on the pillow, ‘In fact, why stop at the leeches? Shove the rodent that’s sleeping on your face up there while you’re at it.’
The oaf giggled like a child, much to the dismay of his friend. ‘Beolaf! Don’t encourage this, this…’ Oh, this ought to be good, ‘…monster!’ Or maybe not. ‘Help me get him back into bed, Maegnar would never forgive us if any harm was to befall your father.’ His what now?! Surely not. The boy is good looking, granted, but I haven’t touched a wench in decades. He does have the look of the woodsmen of Mirkwood about him though, and there was that one time…
‘Ha! Got you, Master Elf,’ the man laughed smugly upon seeing the look on Annundril’s face, ‘You’re not the only one with a sharp tongue and sharper wit around here, my good fellow. Have no fear, young Beolaf here has no more elf in him than I have.’
‘Perhaps he’d like some?’ sneered Annundril as he grabbed one of the bloated leeches from the pillow behind him and flung it at Raiff’s head, narrowly missing. The leech landed in the fireplace behind with a sizzling sound that gave Annundril a great deal of satisfaction, at least until an aroma not dissimilar to blood sausage reached him and brought on another bout of vomiting.
The sound of the door opening brought him back to his senses a moment later. A tall, dark-haired figure swam into view, though Annundril didn’t have to blink the tears from his eyes to know who he was looking at – the sinking feeling in his already sunken stomach was all too familiar.
‘Ah, Maegnar, I was wondering when you’d show up,’ Annundril dragged himself upright, ‘Lovely place you’ve got here, though it appears to have been invaded by a couple of wandering idiots. You didn’t have to render me unconscious to get me into your bed, you know. The offer I made when last we met still stands.’
‘As does the answer I gave to that offer,’ sighed Maegnar, turning to Raiff, ‘How’s the patient? I hope he didn’t give you too much trouble.’
‘He’ll live, though he’d feel an awful lot better an awful lot sooner if he’d only lie back down and get some rest,’ Raiff replied, glaring at the vomit-stained elf on the bed, ‘Did you really have no other option than to beat him around the head in order to get him here?’
‘There were other ways, I suppose, but hitting him just seemed like the best idea at the time!’ laughed Maegnar, ‘The funny thing is, his depraved behaviour probably saved a great many lives in Archet. An angry mob of locals had gotten wind of what he’d been up to and were on their way to the Inn, fully armed, when the brigands attacked. I wasn’t to know who was going to win the battle, I just had to get him out of there as quickly as possible before one side or the other killed him. He’d only have argued with me if I’d asked him nicely, even with slaughter going on all around.’
‘I am still in the room, you know,’ said Annundril. ‘And anyway, what do you care whether I get lynched by a mob of bigots in Archet or eaten by a bear in the wild somewhere? I’d have thought you’d be happy to see the back of me, especially given our last encounter. Surely you didn’t come all the way here to tell me that you’ve changed your mind?’
‘I assure you my being in Eriador has nothing to do with you, Annundril. It was pure coincidence that found me hunting in the Chetwood where I overheard a group of men talking about lynching an elf in Archet. Though I can’t say I was surprised when I found it was you they were talking about. No matter what has happened between us in the past, I couldn’t stand by and leave you to your fate, however well-deserved it may have been. And besides, for once in your miserable life you could be useful.’
A twisted grin appeared on Annundril’s face, ‘Useful? Me? This I have to hear! What in this whole, wide, world of shit makes you think that I’d want to help you, even if I could?’
‘Because,’ Maegnar smiled, ‘Momentous events are afoot, and my friends and I need to find our way to Lothlorien as soon as we can. I don’t know the way to Caras Galadhon from the north, but you do, and you’re going to take us there.’
‘Perhaps you haven’t heard,’ Annundril laughed, ‘I’m no longer welcome there. Celeborn and I had a little…disagreement.’
‘Oh, I know all about your banishment,’ said Maegnar softly, ‘And I also know that, despite the stupid way you went about expressing your opinion, you were right – the elves of Lothlorien need to fight, and they need to do it soon. I thought you might like to be there when Lord Celeborn is told as much.’
Not that you’re going to end up giving me any choice in the matter, but that does sound mightily attractive. There’s more to this than you’re letting on though, Maegnar my old friend. You could find your way to Lorien more easily than your leech-weilding associate could find his own top lip. ‘I need to piss. Where do you do it around here?’ Annundril got to his feet unsteadily.
‘There’s a bucket out back,’ said Beolaf, clearly pleased with being able to contribute something to the conversation.
‘Thank you, Beolaf! At least someone around here seems like the kind of person I could see myself getting along with,’ Annundril replied, enjoying the smile of gratitude on the young man’s pretty face, ‘You can tell me more about our journey when we get back. I am looking forward to seeing Lord Celeborn again.’
Or I might kill you all in your sleep as soon as we reach the foothills of the mountains. We shall see.
3The dwarf swung gently from the branch. Annundril glanced up at him, irritated even now by the preposterous beard hanging down to the top of its preposterous little boots. He looked back at the man standing in front of him and tilted his head back towards the hanging dwarf.
‘You fancy joining him, friend?’ he said, in what he hoped was his most threatening voice, ‘He put up quite a struggle for a little fellow, but we hoisted him up there eventually. I daresay you’d present significantly less of a challenge.’
The man laughed, the sound echoing around the mountain pass and startling a nearby goat. Half a dozen figures appeared behind him at the edge of the firelight. ‘Who are you kidding, pretty boy? Was us that strung the little bastard up there last night. You and your two friends will be joining him shortly.’
It had been a mistake to stop at the abandoned campsite, Raiff had been right to complain, which was the almost the most galling thing about the whole sorry affair. Almost. That Maegnar had escaped sharing his travelling companions’ fate rankled with Annundril even more. A fat lot of good his going off ‘scouting’ has done for the rest of us.
‘I don’t care that whoever made this campsite might come back, and I don’t give a shit that lighting a fire increases the chances of that happening,’ Annundril had said, as the sun began to sink below the western horizon. ‘I’m sick of eating dried meat and tasteless waybread, and I’m sick of going to sleep cold, damp and miserable. And besides, we’ve barely seen a soul since we started climbing. Excepting our swinging little friend up there, we’re the only ones stupid enough to be up this high so late in the season.’
Raiff had continued to fuss after that, particularly about the dwarf’s killers coming back, but the promise of a warm meal had won Beolaf over to the elf’s side forcing the bookworm to accept defeat ungraciously. The meal itself might have been warm, but strips of meat boiled up with some oats, and whatever else Raiff had sprinkled from one of his many pouches, did little to improve Annundril’s mood.
‘Sing us a song, Annundril!’ chirped Beolaf from the other side of the campfire, once their meal was finished.
Oh, for fuck’s sake, give it a rest, oaf. Annundril sat on a crate, absent-mindedly poking at the fire with the end of Raiff’s staff, waiting for the loremaster to notice. ‘You know the deal, Beolaf. No wine, no songs – and you’re out of credit, unless you’ve been holding out on me for the past week.’
‘Might be I have,’ replied Beolaf shiftily, standing on the other side of the fire with his hands behind his back.
Sneaky bastard! Annundril was on his feet and upon Beolaf in a second, oblivious to Raiff’s squeals of protest at his discarded staff being dropped onto the fire. ‘You’ve got a whole skin of the stuff there, you lying son of a bitch!’ He bounced around the big man, desperately trying to lay a hand on the wineskin behind his back, until Beolaf ended the dance with a short shove to the elf’s chest, leaving him sprawled on his back amongst their travelling gear.
Shit, but the boy’s strong. If he had a brain he’d be dangerous. Maybe he still could be, given the right guidance…
‘I want to hear the song about Raiff’s cat again,’ said Beolaf, waving the skin of wine over Annundril’s upturned face. ‘Then you can have your wine. But this is the last of it, and that’s the truth this time. Honest.’
Raiff chuckled, ‘The song isn’t about Beruthiel my cat, Beolaf – it is an ancient ballad telling the story of Queen Beruthiel and her magical cats. I thought we’d established that the last time Annundril played it to you. Weren’t you listening to the words?’ No he wasn’t, but they were clearly news to you, fool. Who knows what mangled version of the legend you had in your ugly little head before I corrected it.
‘I was listening to the words, Raiff, mostly. The ones I understood anyway. A lot of it was in old talk so I just listened to the melody for those parts. I like cats.’
Annundril sighed and picked up his lute. Anything for some friendly, mind-numbing wine, vinegary though it may well be. And at least it’ll be the last time I have to play this bloody song for a while. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t an arrow sticking out of this before. Oh, fuck…
The fight had lasted a matter of seconds. Raiff had tripped over his own charred staff and had barely escaped landing in the fire himself, while Beolaf charged headlong into the Dunlendings in that uncultured way of his. He was overpowered almost instantly. How on earth am I meant to keep their morale up when they’re flat on their arses? thought Annundril as he was being unceremoniously bundled to the ground for the second time in as many minutes.
Now they sat at the base of the tree, hands and feet bound, watching one of the men fashioning three fresh nooses along the branch from the dead dwarf. The others were sharing Beolaf’s skin of wine and laughing amongst themselves. You’ll pay for that, you bastards. Bad enough you’re going to kill me, but to drink my wine before you do it is just plain rude.
Annundril stared at the men beside the fire, imagining the many ways in which he’d take his revenge on them if only Maegnar would finally show up, when a movement behind them caught his attention. At first he thought it was Beruthiel coming back from her night’s hunting, but soon he could make out a small figure emerging from one of the crates behind his captors.
It crept silently round the campfire and began rummaging in a nearby bush, emerging moments later with what looked like a pile of sticks. Slowly, it moved back to the crate and turned to face the Dunlendings, still oblivious to what was going on behind them as they shared the wine. The figure raised one of the sticks above his head and launched it effortlessly towards the back of the largest Dunlending who fell with a scream that echoed around the mountain pass. It was the most beautiful sound Annundril had heard in weeks.
The small figure had launched another javelin at its next victim before Annundril had time to look up from the gurgling man on the ground. This one fell as quickly as the first, as did another as the figure, moving swiftly into the firelight, gutted him with a spear. The remaining four Dunlendings fell back to the other side of the fire, drawing their weapons as they did so.
‘A hobbit in a box. Just when I was thinking this evening couldn’t get any worse,’ muttered Annundril, nudging Beolaf, ‘Still, he does appear to have improved our chances of survival somewhat. As long as he doesn’t expect any sort of conversation afterwards we should be fine.’
Even Annundril had to admit that the hobbit’s fighting style was impressively hypnotic. The little, grey-haired halfling flowed from one movement to the next in a dance of shield and spear, throwing in a kick or a push if the opportunity presented itself. Time and again he looked to be disappearing under a hail of blows as the Dunlendings attacked him together, but each time he reappeared, jigging around in the firelight, poking his spear into gaps between the men’s shields.
Eventually the spear found a way through to skewer another target, leaving a gap in the wall of shields as the man went down. Almost instantly a hairy foot was stamping down through the gap, breaking another’s leg with a sickening crack followed by a cry of agony. An axe came down in an effort to sever the hobbit’s leg, but he had long since spun away and was already poised for another attack. Soon yet another man lay dying with his guts steaming in the cold mountain air, leaving just the Dunlending leader facing the hobbit.
‘Go on, you little shit, ram that spear right into his stupid face! Then we can go and find my good friend Maegnar and ask him what the fuck he thinks he’s playing at,’ muttered Annundril, then raising his voice, ‘Behind you, halfling! One of them’s still alive!’
The warning came too late. The man with the broken leg had somehow regained enough of his senses to reach out and grab the hobbit by the leg just as he was moving in on his final opponent. He looked down in surprise, letting his guard down long enough for the Dunlending leader to knock him senseless with the flat of his sword. The man walked casually over to where his fallen comrade grinned through obvious agony. The grin turned swiftly to terror as the leader’s sword was driven down hard through the injured man’s neck.
It’s strange what goes through a person’s mind when they’re about to die. In Annundril’s case it was ‘I wonder who dragged all of these crates out here anyway’. There were four in the campsite, one each for himself, Raiff, Beolaf and Pob. Just as Annundril was thinking this unspectacular last thought his crate was kicked from under him. He made a desperate grab for the noose as he began to fall.
He landed on his arse. Pain he’d never imagined possible shot up his spine and exploded in his brain, causing lights to sparkle around the edges of his vision, framing Maegnar, beating his assailant away with his sword while cutting his friends down from the tree with his spear.
‘Where the bloody hell have you been? Aarrghh!’ wept Annundril as Maegnar was wiping the leader’s blood from his sword, ‘The fucking indignity of it. Aaargh! Being partially rescued by a halfling of all things. Aaaaarrrghhhh! Fuck!’
Maegnar looked down impassively at the elf writhing on the ground. ‘I met some dwarves further down the valley looking for one of their comrades. Looks like you’ve already found him,’ he said sadly. ‘Raiff? How’s our friend?’
‘I’ll be fine. Just a lump on the noggin’ is all,’came the reply, ‘Thank you for the rescue, sir.’
‘It is us who should be thanking you…sir. Do you have a name?’
‘It’s, um, Pob. Pob Mossyfoot. Glad to make your acquaintance,’ said the hobbit with a bow and a clatter of wood, ignoring the intermittent gasps and giggles coming from where Annundril lay.
‘Honestly, I don’t know why your kind bother with what passes for a language in The Shire,’ he wheezed.
‘That’s enough, Annundril. You owe our friend here your life,’ chided Maegnar. ‘When you’re able to stand we’ll be heading back down to lower ground. The dwarves told me that the Redhorn Pass is blocked. We’ve arrived too late in the season to travel by that route I’m afraid. We have to head south.’
‘But the Gap of Rohan is hundreds of miles out of the way!’ Annundril complained, ‘Screw that – I’m going back to Bree. This was a terrible idea in the first place.’
‘We’re not going that far south, Annundril,’ Maegnar replied with a grin, ‘The dwarves claim that the way through the Mines is open again.’
‘Do you really think I’m depraved?’ he asked, the confidence missing from his voice for once.
‘Depraved? Did I call you that?’ Maegnar replied in a whisper, as if that would disguise the fact that his surprise was entirely feigned.
‘You know you did. In the house in Breeland. I may have been concussed, but I know I didn’t imagine it.’ Annundril looked up and whispered, ‘It hurt more than the bang on the head.’
Maegnar didn’t take his eyes from the well. For a time the only sound was of soft breathing and the occasional grunt from the corner where Raiff and Beolaf slept, as men will. Soon even that was drowned out by the sound of pumping blood in Annundril’s ears. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, Maegnar spoke.
‘I shouldn’t have called you that, Annundril…I’m sorry. If I chose my words carelessly it was only because I was angry at having to save you from yourself yet again. It doesn’t matter what I think about what you get up to, it’s the rest of the world you should be worried about – they were going to kill you…’ he broke off.
‘What's the point of living if you don't come close to death every so often, Maegnar? You know how easily I get bored. I’ve never understood how the vast majority of our people, yourself included, can spend year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium, doing the same things over and over. You know I was a scholar for a time? Still am I suppose. A proper one, mind, unlike our hirsute companion snoring in the corner over there. There’s barely a historical text in Lorien and Rivendell that I haven’t studied backwards, and do you know what?’
Maegnar shook his head, without looking up.
‘Everything even slightly untoward that our people have ever done has either gone unrecorded or has been explained away with the same excuse. Every time! The same tired old reason; ‘Evil reached out a hand and made us do it.’ It’s pathetic really. None of us, not the historians, not the people involved in the crimes – Galadriel for instance – have ever had the guts to stand up and say ‘Do you know what? I did something bad, and it was all my fault.’ Well, fuck that. I found a cure for my boredom right there, at least for a while. I set out to misbehave, and misbehave I have! And I take all of the credit, blame, call it what you will.’
‘That’s possibly the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard,’ muttered Maegnar.
‘Maybe, but it gave me a purpose; restoring even a little bit of balance to the tale of our folk. I even enjoyed it for a time, even when it landed me in sticky spots. I never asked you to protect me, you know. I never have. Yet every so often when I do something stupid you appear, bail me out, and leave me feeling even more wretched about myself than ever. You did it when I attacked those idiots in Lorien who laughed at me, and you did it again in Archet. Why?’
Maegnar looked up, finally, ‘You really haven’t worked it out yet?’ he asked, fixing Annundril with those eyes, so familiar yet suddenly more fearful than he’d ever seen them.
Annundril’s heart leapt, though his head knew that it was fooling itself. He’d long since given up hope that Maegnar’s recurring presence in his life has anything to do with love, or even lust. That hope had turned first to despair, and eventually to a form of impotent hatred. Everywhere but in his heart.
‘Worked what out?’ he asked cautiously, ‘That you enjoy seeing me suffer? That you love the feeling of superiority that you get when you save wretched old Annundril from himself for the thousandth time? The same Annundril you spurned all those years ago? Is it pity? Is that it?’
Those eyes bore into him again, the fear now joined with sadness. ‘Is that what you think – that I pity you? If I was going to pity anyone it’d be me. I never asked to be part of your life, but some ties are too strong to break, no matter how much you might wish they would.’
Yet again Annundril’s body was trying to get the better of his mind, the rush of blood in his head briefly overpowering his ability to string his thoughts together. ‘What are you saying? What ties? As far as I remember you showed up in Lothlorien one day and I haven’t been able to escape you since, no matter how awkward I make things. I never asked for any ties between us. It was you who sought me out…..oh!’
‘Yes. Oh,’ Maegnar smiled weakly.
Maybe his body wasn’t the betrayer after all. His heart was pounding, more strongly than ever, as if trying to save his mind from itself by annihilating this appalling new revelation, but as ever his heart lost the battle. Usually mental clarity was his friend, a weapon to abuse others with, but not this time. We’re blood? Is that what he’s saying? He’s the father I never knew – the one who abandoned Mother with an abomination in her womb? That’s why he keeps intervening in my life as if he’s helping. Well fuck him…Shit! I already tried that. No wonder he was so mortified!
‘Why now, after so long? Have you been that busy in these last few millennia? Is this some belated attempt to do the right thing and accept some responsibility for the fruit of a dirty little fumble in the woods all those years ago? Well you needn’t have bothered. I’ve long since gotten used to the fact that my father was too selfish to be interested in me. Seems you taught me everything I know without even being there!’
Maegnar’s smile wasn’t so weak any more. In fact it looks like he enjoys being told what a sack of shit father he is. ‘Are you quite finished?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes, for now. Let’s hear your pathetic reasons for abandoning poor, little old me for all those years. Let me guess, you never knew I existed until recently?’ sneered Annundril, loudly enough to make Beolaf sit bolt upright in the corner.
Maegnar waited until the ex-idiot settled back down before continuing, ‘You’re right in one regard; I didn’t know who…what you were until relatively recently,’ he said, ignoring the look of disgust on the other elf’s face, ‘But I think you’d better get down from your high horse for a bit.’
‘And why might that be?’ hissed Annundril.
‘Because I’m not as old as you seem to think I am,’ Maegnar replied, ‘I’m not your father - you’re mine.’
5Annundril walked in a daze.
Since the Chamber of the Crossroads, and Maegnar’s horrific revelation, none of his companions had been able to elicit so much as a grunt from him. Even Raiff’s usual irritating banter couldn’t provoke a response.
The Dwarrowdelf, the broken Bridge of Khazad-Dum, the Dimrill Gate, all had drifted by as he stumbled along. Only the Mirrormere had drawn him out of himself for a moment; the haggard visage that stared back from its surface startled him. The mere was as flat and clear as its name suggested, yet his face had a fractured look, so much so that he scarcely recognised himself.
How? All of these years building walls to shut the world out, and still it comes back to bite me on the arse. Why can’t they all just leave me alone? Why am I even still following these people – him - into...into…
He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up.
He peered through the glass at the water within, wondering at the strange cloudiness near the female in the corner, nudging the table slightly as he did so, startling the fish into action. As the last fragment of the cloud was being sucked into the fish’s mouth he chuckled to himself.
‘Another brood of fry so soon? I’m going to have to get some more bowls made if you two carry on like this. Assuming you don’t end up eating them all again this time.’
The female mouthbrooder retreated to the safety of the plants at the back of the large glass vessel and unceremoniously spat its young back into the water, where they continued swimming around as if nothing had happened. Their father, meanwhile, was busy corralling all of the other fish in the container into its furthest corner with sharp, aggressive movements.
‘Try not to kill any of them this time,’ muttered the young elf. ‘It’s a painstaking process gathering more.’
This was his escape from the long hours of study in Lothlorien’s libraries. His life as a scholar was going well, so well in fact that he was considered an authority on several aspects of his people’s long history. Yet his studies often left him feeling depressed or angry. An interest in natural history provided an uplifting diversion.
So, while others tended bees, or birds, or four-legged beasts, the young scholar kept fish. Elves had long been friends of the beasts of the air and the land -they had even managed to teach the trees to talk - yet they had never shown much interest in the animals that lived in the water. Never one to miss a gap in the knowledge of his kin, the young elf decided to fill it. (A pun he never tired of repeating to anyone who showed an interest in his hobby.)
He kept his fish outwith the walls on his flet; a large platform overlooked by several others in adjacent trees, near the south bank of the Celebrant. His glass tank, specially made by one of Lorien’s master glassworkers, was heavily planted like an underwater jungle, and housed his mouthbrooders and his livebearers. Most fish spawned by laying eggs much like lizards, he’d found, but the livebearers carried their young in much the same way as mammals did, and gave birth to free-swimming fry. Crouched beside the tank he could see several of these young hiding amongst the fronds of the plants in an effort to escape predation from the adult fish.
Just as he was about to stand back up there was a rush of air over his shoulder, followed by a thump. Instinct made him throw himself sideways as the tank exploded, showering the flet with broken glass and several tonnes of water. The elf, already perilously close to the edge of the platform, scrabbled desperately to stay on the flat surface, lacerating his hands in the process. His floundering was greeted by howls of laughter from the nearest flet.
‘Swim for your life, fish-face!’
As the flow of water subsided he was finally able to haul himself upright amongst the shards of glass and aquatic plants. He sat gasping on the wooden floor, staring uncomprehending at his torn hands.
‘So sorry, Annundril. I appear to have scratched your vessel a touch,’ came a female voice from the nearby flet, followed by more laughter. Annundril glanced at the wreckage around him before looking up sadly.
A tall, dark haired elf stood a few yards across from him, and a few feet higher in the branches of the trees. She had a long bow in her hand and a couple of grinning fools behind her. Tinuwe. Why would she do this? She’s always had a cruel streak to her, but I’ve always tried to stay out of her way as much as possible. This is madness!
‘You appear confused, my friend. No doubt your poor little mind is trying desperately to work out why I might have come all of the way out here to see you? My sister told me to send you her love, so here I am!’
‘Rumilas?’ growled Annundril, ‘Why would she send you here? I only saw her a few weeks ago, and will again when I visit Caras Galadhon in a few days time. She knows that. What the hell do you think you’re playing at?’
‘You wont be seeing her again, worm,’ spat Tinuwe, ‘She’s gone, and she isn’t coming back, and you’re to blame for that. You’re lucky I didn’t spit you with that arrow, you bastard.’Gone? Rumilas? Aw, no. Her father must’ve found out about what we’d been up to and packed her off to spare himself the scandal, the old fool. But how could he have known? We were painstakingly careful not to be discovered. And what a waste of time and effort that turned out to be – I doubt it was an experience either of us would want to repeat in a hurry.
‘Brothers, I do believe our slow-witted friend finally understands the situation, let’s leave him to wallow in his filth. You cost us a sister, worm. We wont forget that,’ she spun and made to follow her brothers down through the centre of the neighbouring flet.
‘And I wont forget this either, you bitch!’ yelled Annundril, leaping to his feet and hurling a chunk of glass at the disappearing head of one of Tinuwe’s slack-jawed brothers. ‘I don’t care how long it takes, I’ll make you pay for what you just did. You hear?’
More laughter drifted up from below, then slowly grew faint as his tormentors made their way back towards the Celebrant. Annundril stood on the flet, trembling now as the reality of his situation began to sink in, his musician’s hands dripping bloody blooms into the watery pools on the wooden planks at his feet. Rumilas, his only real friend, was gone. The fruit of his short life’s work lay broken around him. Everything he loved seemed to have crumbled into ruin in a matter of moments.
A single fish still flopped around on the floor, gulping desperately at the strange waterless environment in which it now found itself, as if aping the elf’s own spirit. Its bulging belly told Annundril that it was a pregnant female, a livebearer; a fragile potential continuation of his many years of effort and care. A desperate, gasping glimmer of hope, crying wordlessly for a rescuing hand.
Annundril’s foot came down hard, putting the fish out of its misery.
I should have gathered it up and kept it safe, until the vessel that had housed it could be repaired, thought Annundril, as he trudged onwards towards the familiar tree-line ahead. I should’ve done the same for the fish.Up ahead Maegnar had reached the edge of the forest. An elf emerged to greet him warmly. Laughter drifted on the wind to where Annundril now stood, stopping abruptly as the elf turned from Maegnar to his companions. The look of surprise on the marchwarden's face as he saw Beolaf and Raiff slowly shifted to disbelief, and then anger, as he spotted the elf behind them. 'Take one more step and you die,' he called to Annundril, raising his bow to eye level. 'Fuck you,' muttered Annundril, as he kept on walking.
6‘You have done well, Maegnar,’ said Celeborn, gesturing towards the seat next to his own, ‘Much as it grieves me to let Annundril back within these borders, we need him. As a tool he is, ah, unique.’
‘Thank you, my Lord,’ replied Maegnar with a shallow bow, before taking the seat. ‘Though I wish there had been a way of coaxing him home without resorting to lying.’
‘Not all lies are evil, if they achieve the right ends. This way Annundril might finally do some good for a change, rather than degrading himself in Arnor for the rest of his life. For all of his many faults, he hates the enemy as much as the rest of us. I truly believe he will thank you for this, in the end.’
‘I wish I shared your confidence, Lord Celeborn,’ Maegnar sighed, sadly.
‘Where is he right now?’
Maegnar chuckled, ‘He’s where he has been since he walked straight past your border guards – sitting on his old flet, south of the Celebrant, drinking heavily and swearing loudly at anyone foolish enough to get too close.’
‘I think it’s time I had a chat with our friend. I’m sure he’ll enjoy the opportunity to have his say with me!’ Celeborn smiled, ‘I’ll send for you when he arrives.’
The Lord of Lothlorien rose and gazed out over the treetops. The sun was just beginning to break through the tops of the tallest trees to the east. Maegnar bowed once more and began the long climb back to the ground.
Annundril’s head ached. He was on his knees before the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, trying his best to look defiant whilst concentrating on not soiling himself. The faces of a handful of guards gazed upon him from around the room, most full of disgust, or worse, pity.
Well, this is depressingly familiar. I wonder what the tiresome old bastard’s opening gambit will be this time. And what’s Maegnar doing lurking in the corner, pretending not to be involved in this farce? Does he expect me to deliver his message now, as if he didn’t do it the minute he arrived?
‘Welcome home, Annundril. Have you come to apologise?’
Smug prick. I wonder what his reaction would be if I puked on his shoes. Annundril smirked, ‘Only if you’ve grown a pair, and have stopped hiding up your tree while the world burns around you.’
There were gasps from the guards stationed around the room. Several moved towards Annundril as if to strike him for his insolence. Celeborn stopped them with a wave of his slender hand.
‘Then you’ll be pleased to hear that we are at war,’ said Celeborn, calmly, ‘Orcs have been attacking from the mountains and from across the river. We are part of the war now, whether we wish it or not.’
‘So, you’re under siege?’ Annundril sneered, ‘Well done, my Lord. A tactical masterstroke! Sauron must be quaking in his big, black boots.’
‘Careful, Annundril,’ said Galadriel softly.
Annundril was stopped in mid-flow, suddenly unable or unwilling to continue his tirade, his mouth flapping. How does she do that?
‘We have been doing more than you know, for longer than you realise,’ Celeborn continued, ‘With one Enemy we were already hard pressed - now that Isengard stands against us we stand on the brink of doom. Saruman’s treason is absolute.’
‘Ah, yes, Saruman. You’d think someone would have noticed his breeding an army of orcs, wouldn’t you, especially in these pressing times? Don’t you wise types visit each other occasionally, or at least send messengers? I’d have thought that communicating with our allies would be an essential part of any competent leader’s planning. But what do I know?’
‘This may surprise you, Annundril, but I agree,’ said Celeborn.
‘I mean, a whole army! You can’t do that quietly. The supplies alone…’ Annundril’s mouth flapped again, ‘You what?’
‘I said I agree with you. It is unforgivable that Saruman’s treason slipped beneath our notice, and I want to begin making amends for that. We must answer his treachery with some of our own. That’s where you come in.’
‘Where I come in?’ Annundril laughed as he got to his feet, ‘Thanks for thinking of me, but I respectfully decline. Good luck with the war!’ He turned on his heel and walked towards the stairs leading down the mallorn’s enormous trunk. Two guards moved to block his way.
‘I remind you that you’re a prisoner here, Annundril,’ came Celeborn’s voice from behind him, ‘That our marchwardens let you make your way back to your old home, rather than putting an arrow in your leg, is thanks to Maegnar’s powers of persuasion. Should you try to leave Lothlorien you will be detained, and in far less comfortable circumstances than you have enjoyed thus far.’
Annundril turned, ‘So let me get this straight. I’ve been exiled, but I’m not allowed to leave?’
‘You were exiled,’ Galadriel spoke, ‘but you came back. You were told that you could only do so if you made amends for the behaviour which led to your exile in the first place. Have you done so?’
‘Of course I bloody haven’t! I didn’t even want to come back here!’ shouted Annundril, desperately, sensing the jaws of the trap closing around him, ‘I was…I was tricked!’
‘How so?’ asked Galadriel.
‘I never meant to come back. Honestly! I was going to give Maegnar the slip and head north as soon as we were through the mountains, but he distracted me. Please, allow me to leave and I’ll never bother you again,’ he pleaded.
‘It matters not whether you came back willingly, or as a result of whatever trickery or distraction you claim was used. Simply by being here you are agreeing to make amends for your crime,’ Celeborn intoned, ‘The alternative is imprisonment. Now, do you wish to hear what we would ask?’
Annundril looked at Maegnar pleadingly, in the vain hope that his new-found son would speak up in his defence. Maegnar simply shrugged and remained silent.
Son of a bastard! I’ve been totally stitched up here, and Maegnar’s been in on the deception from the very start. Hunting in the Chetwood, my arse! He was sent to find me, and like an idiot I followed him all the way back here. What the fuck was I thinking? More to the point, what the hell have I gotten myself into? For his Lordship to go to so much bother to bring me back, this has to be a task nobody else was stupid enough to volunteer for.
Dejected, he trudged back towards the dais to await his fate. ‘Tell me what it is that you want me to do, and I’ll do it. And if I survive I swear you’ll never see me again,’ he looked over to the corner where Maegnar lurked, ‘None of you.’
7 Beolaf stared sullenly into the fire. They were still well inside the borders of Lothlorien, having set out late in the afternoon from the city in the trees, and already Annundril and Maegnar were at each other’s throats.
He had no idea why Annundril was so annoyed, but it was making him miserable. He’d been having so much fun travelling with his friends all the way from Breeland to the other side of the mountains. Soon they’d be able to see that big, spooky forest he’d travelled through on his way to Bree from Dale all those months ago. That thought, along with the arguments, made him feel homesick for the first time since he’d left his village.
Even Raiff looked miserable, probably because he’d left all those clever people and books behind in the elf city. Beolaf had no idea how Raiff could understand what the books said, but he couldn’t help feeling excited himself whenever his friend talked about what was in them. Now Raiff sat huddled beneath his cloak, staring at the stars and puffing on a pipe that had gone out hours ago.
‘Well, fuck you then, you conniving prick!’ rasped Annundril at Maegnar, before throwing himself to the ground and wrapping himself in his bedding. ‘I told that bastard Celeborn that I’d do what he asked. I don’t see why I need to have you arseholes along for the journey.’
Beolaf had never seen Maegnar look so angry. Usually he made fun of Annundril’s little tantrums but, for reasons Beolaf didn’t understand, Maegnar seemed to have left his sense of humour behind in the tree city. For a moment it looked as if he might lash out at the elf on the ground, but instead he turned and walked away from the campfire. ‘Beolaf. Raiff. Make sure Annundril stays where he is. I think I’ll take a last wander in these woods before we head into the wild.’
The two men looked at each other for a moment before returning to their reveries. Soon Beolaf could hear the muffled sound of Raiff snoring through his moustache. It wasn’t long before he followed his friend into sleep.
Annundril ran for most of the night.
At last he began to catch glimpses of the river as he ran through the trees and low morning sunlight. It was still a good way off, but the sight of his goal gave fresh impetus to his flight, so much so that he almost blundered into the orcs before he saw them.
Fortunately the creatures were distracted as Annundril skidded to a halt at the edge of a clearing. There were five of them, all with their backs to him, their guttural laughter drowning out any noise which may have revealed the elf’s abrupt emergence from the trees. As Annundril crept back towards the tree-line he spotted the reason for the orcs’ distraction – a dark haired elf, pinned against a tree, struggling and screaming as the orcs pawed at her.
He quickly slipped over and behind an old, fallen tree at the edge of the clearing, stifling a shriek as he landed squarely on top of a recently deceased elf. Rolling off onto his back, he lay there for a while, whimpering to himself. Just my fucking luck. I can’t even escape from the safest elven haven in all of Middle-earth without running into a troop of fucking orcs. What the hell are they doing on the Western bank? Celeborn’s been even more complacent than I thought. Where are the marchwardens?
A glance around the clearing and its edges gave him his answer. An invasion force would have to be sizable to make it even a few yards into Lorien, let alone threaten the wardens on their telain, but judging by the corpses strewn all around the clearing there had been orcs enough to overwhelm the elves in the trees, if only just. This troop wasn’t going to make it any further into the woods, but the five that remained had found some sport as consolation.
Annundril kicked at the corpse next to him in frustration, causing it to roll over onto its front, and spill its longbow onto the ground. How was I meant to concentrate with those dead eyes staring at me? It’s bad enough with the noises coming from the clearing. I’ve got to get out of here before the wailing brings Maegnar, or worse, down on me.
‘Get your hands off me, filth!’ came the elf's voice from the clearing. It was a familiar voice, despite the terror that threatened to strangle it. It was a voice which Annundril could never forget, despite the centuries that had passed since the last time he had heard it. ‘She’s gone... and you’re to blame’. It was a voice he found he couldn’t ignore now, much as he wanted to.
Picking up the fallen bow, and plucking an arrow from the quiver on the dead elf’s back, Annundril slowly got to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he nocked the arrow and drew the bow back as far as he was able. I was never any good as this sort of thing, no matter how much practice I could be bothered to put in. Normally I couldn’t hit an oliphant’s arse from ten yards. The captured elf had spotted him now, so before her incredulity betrayed his presence he took aim, closed his eyes, and let the arrow fly.
The shot flew far more truly than he had any right to expect, though a little higher than he had intended. The group of orcs sprang back in a mixture of surprise and outrage, as the elf slumped, pinned to the tree through an eye socket.
Goodbye Tinuwe. I always wished you a slower, more painful death. When you find her, give my love to your sister.
Turning to flee before the orcs could find their bearings and mount a pursuit, Annundril stopped dead in his tracks. On the other side of the clearing, midway along its circumference between himself and the orcs, stood Beolaf. The poor fool gaped alternately between the dead elf on the tree and Annundril, his lips moving wordlessly in utter confusion and dismay.
Annundril shrugged at the idiot, threw down the bow, and ran for the Anduin.
8 The trees rose in a wall in front of him, in a manner than men would have described as forbidding. Annundril chuckled and strode into the darkness within.
‘Hrrmm, harum-hmm. Well bugger me with root and branch, you certainly know how to treat an old fellow, young Annundril,’ came what could barely be described as a voice, ‘Puts the heat into these stiff old feet of mine.’
‘You’re a dirty old pervert, Conkerballs,’ laughed Annundril, tucking himself away and stepping back to look up at the ent.
‘Anyhow, my woody friend, I was wondering if I could beg a favour. I’ve had to leave Lothlorien, for good this time, and was wondering if you could speed my passage towards the other side of the forest?’
Derndingle was a wide round hollow, surrounded by a thick border of evergreens. Three tall silver birches grew at the centre of the depression, which was otherwise clear of trees. Ents of various shapes and sizes, as diverse as the forest’s trees themselves, had already begun to congregate.