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Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road

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Vaeltira stormed back to her quarters, slamming the door shut behind her. Those cursed elves! Deceivers, all of them. She placed the Nilgaerien's dagger on the table before her, tracing the delicate engravings and runes, the meaning of which she did not know. She touched the dragon pendant and concentrated.... images flashed in front of her, their meaning unknown.... then suddenly a faint light glimmered within the dagger. The pendant grew cold, she felt her pulse racing.... she couldn't breathe...... darkness.

Vaeltira lay rigid on the floor, barely breathing, her eyes wide open but seeing nothing.
There was a gentle tap on the door befor it opend and Urdon came in, he had a tray with food and drink. "I saw you looked a bit upset my lady, I thought you might want.. my lady" He drops his tray and runs to Vaeltiras side. "Lady Vaeltira! Wake up! Lady! Wake up! I'll go get Lord Aerlic, you hang in there lady!" Shortly after he returns with Aelric. His eyes became black with fury when he saw his lady like this. "Where is the elf named Amari’?!" "She went to her cabin, but the lady.." "Show me!" "Y..yes my lord."

Amari’s was brutally awoken as Aelric burst through the door, grabbed hold of her arm and draged her out of bed and through the door. "You are comming with me!" Amari’ squirmed. "You are hurting me! Let go! What is this?" She had to run to keep up with him. Aleric didn't say another word untill he shoved Amarie into Vaeltiras quarters. Amari’ gasped and ran to her side. "Vaeltira!"

"You call yourself a healer, bring back my wife or no power in this world will save your soul from my anger!"
Amari’ squinted her eyes at him. "If you had told me what was going on instead of draging me here like a dog, I would have brought my things and be prepared. Urdon! In my bag, left pocket, a small leather bag with herbs! And a pot of boiling water! Hurry!" Urdon did as he was told and she could hear his running footsteps in the corridor.

Aerlic looked at her hatefully. "I have to get back on deck, but if she is not her old self again when I come back down, you will beg me to treat you like a dog!" and he turns away and leaves.

"You husband sure know how to treat a lady.." Amari’ said softly. She already knew what was caused this. With firm hands she removed the pendant from around Valetiras neck and threw into on the bed to break the spell. She knew Vaeltira wouldn't like it, but that was the easy way to do it. Slowly Vaeltrias breathing became more normal, increasing as the light in the dagger faded. "Using black magic to uncover the secrets of an old, elven dagger... Not a good idea." Urdon can running with the pot and the small bag. "Thank you, Urdon, you have done what you can. Now leave us. This may take a while." Urdon nodded looking very worried and closed the door behind him. Amari’ picked up a cup that Urdon had dropped from the tray, she poared water in it and put in some of the hearbs. Then she sat back and watched Vaeltira wake up. "Welcome back my lady." she smiled. "Want some tea?"
Vaeltira opened her eyes, the pain had almost gone and her breathing was near normal. She felt as though a steel band had been loosened from around her throat. Amarie was sitting offering her a cup of some pungent smelling hot liquid but she could not move to take it. She shivered. Something had changed and her world felt suddenly harsh. The pendant! It was no longer around her neck. Amarie knelt beside her, holding the cup so she could drink. The tea tasted as unpleasant as it smelt but Vaeltira no longer had the strength to resist. She drank as much as she could and felt the warmth flow through her body. Struggling to sit up she wwhispered "My pendant.. where is it?"

"It is safe and you will have it back when the effects have worn off." Amarie sat back on her heels and watched the woman. "That was not a clever thing to do." She nodded towards the dagger. "And your husband was less than courteous in his treatment of me. I do not take kindly to that."

"Aelric was here? My apologies, Amarie of Rivendell, I can imagine his fury. No doubt he will subject me to the same treatment for being so foolish."

Slowly the feeling returned to Vaeltiras body. With Amarie's help she struggled to her feet and sat on the bed. She could see the pendant and wanted to reach out to it but Amarie touched her lightly, "My Lady, it would be wise to leave it aside for a while, until you are completely recovered." She moved the pendant carefully and laid it on a table.

"Lady Vaeltira, is he a cruel husband as well as a cruel man?"

The question was so blunt that Vaeltira almost choked. "A rather personal question but not wholly unexpected. He is as a husband should be, not cruel by our standards but without question he is My Lord and Head of our Houses. Does he not act as elvish husbands?"

Amarie laughed gently, "Oh My Lady, no. No elf husband would treat his wife so, nor would he treat guests as your husband does."

"My apologies again, I know little of elvish ways. The only elves I have seen were the prisoners and slaves of the Dark Lord."

"You said once that it was death to touch an elf. But what of you and Roth. He is, after all, halfelven."

"And that added to my humiliation. The orcs covered their mistake and had me healed by sorcery before sending me to my husband-to-be. Only the orcs knew what happened, the orcs and Roth of course." She spat his name. "That is one halfelven who would make Aelric seem as a lamb. Think on that before you judge my husband."

"Roth is not as normal elves or even halfelves. His suffering changed much within him. No doubt had he lived within the beauty of elven lands he would be very different. Your dark lord has much to answer for and although he is no longer of this world his legacy will be forever with us. Remember that, when you judge Roth - think of what he lost to your dark lord and perhaps you will find it within your heart to forgive him."

Vaeltira sat in thought for a while then spoke, "Your words are true, Amarie of Rivendell, and I do pity him, for his actions were directed by circumstance and his cruelty beaten into him. But to forgive him....? "

For a while they sat in silence then Amarie took Vaeltira's hand. "My Lady, we are not your enemies. I would hope you are not ours."

"I have had enough enemies in my life, I would make no more willingly. But I would sleep now and talk more tomorrow. I still have My Lord's scolding to endure."

Amarie left her to sleep and returned to her own room. Nilgearien was there at Aragorn's request, he felt it necessary they be together for safety. She felt Amarie's exhaustion and although she wanted to hear what had happened she realised that her friend needed sleep. Explanations could wait until morning.
Vaeltira slept, but once the calming effect of the tea had worn off and as she was no longer protected by the pendant, the dreams returned. So Aelric found her tossing and turning when he came back and she woke to find him standing by the bed and for moment in the darkness of the cabin she saw not her husband but a demon of Morgoth looming over her. She screamed in fear and shrank against the wall.

"My Lady, fear not... it is I, your husband. You are safe. Sleep now." He stroked her hair, and taking her hand he kissed the palm gently. Then he placed the pendant in her hand and she grasped it, resting her head against him. For a while he sat watching her sleep then leaving the room quietly he returned to his duties.
..."Drogba!" Aelric's command was heard above the clamour of activity upon the main decks, his lieutenant and trusted friend issued a task to his subordinate in turn and approached his master.
"Yes Sire, what is the matter?"
Aelric appraised the young noble with a curt glance, so many like him had fallen at Pelagir, some even had fled the field to be hunted for their craveness, not so this one. He had stood with Aelric against the onslaught of the Undead horde dauntless and defiant. It was of great wonder that he survived at all, stouter men would have quailed and their hearts betrayed them. He sighed at the thought of troubling the minds of his men with his concerns for the voyage ahead, it would be made no easier with the followers of Elessar on board. "I would like for you to take personal charge and custody of the elven passengers Drogba, they are wilful and likely to cause problems. I have promised their leader safe passage but i will not tolerate any hinderances to my plans. Is that understood Lieutenant?"
He drew his right arm up sharply across his chest in a military salute, "Indeed sire." and bowed stiffly. "I take it that Lady Vaeltira is travelling also to the cursed Isle?"
Aelric scowled, "Yes she is, though I am little pleased with her being here. Urdon will attend to her there is no need for you to worry good Drogba."

Aelric went to the forecastle of the Meneltauros, and stared out to the southern horizon. He knew that as his ship only his consummate seacraft and knowledge of Star and Sea would allow them even a chance of setting foot upon Ethring.
Vaeltira woke at first light. Lord Aelric had not returned and she knew he had spent the night overseeing the crew. It was as always on sea journeys but this time she felt more alone than usual. She sent Urdon to request that Lady Nilgaerien come to her quarters and before that to ensure the elven dagger was safely stowed. As expected Amarie accompanied Nilgaerien and after formal greetings and breakfast served by Urdon, Vaeltira spoke,

"Amarie of Rivendell, I thank you for your help and healing and for your wise words. I understand that after last night all of you must feel vulnerable but please be assured that you are all safe here as long as you abide by Lord Aelric's commands." At this point she asked Urdon, who had been standing silently watching the elves, ready at his mistress's command, to fetch more refreshment. When he had left she continued,

"I would also offer you this; the sword has little power while we travel the sea. It cannot reach the dark sorcery it feeds on. Lord Aelric may be more.... agreeable, while we remain at sea.

And to you, Lady Nilgaerien, I offer my apologies and assure you that your dagger will be kept safe and returned to you when we reach our destination."

Nilgaerien nodded. A truce was between them for the time being. Then she and Amarie took their leave returning to find Aragorn and the others waiting for them.

Nilgaerien slammed her fist against the wall. "I will NOT bow to that man, I will not be told by him what I can and cannot do." She hit the wall again. "Elessar, she tells us the sword has less power while at sea I demand you deal with him and the sword" I will not...."

"My Lady Nilgaerien, you forget yourself" Aragorn interrupted her ranting. "But do not forget to whom you speak."

"Forgive me, Elessar, I was.. I am angry." She sat, her hands clenched in her lap striving to control the emotions flowing through her. It was only then, when she glanced up, she noticed Roth standing against the wall opposite his eyes narrowed, watching her.

"How's ya new found friend? Have a nice chat, did ya?" He sneered. Dorin, standing next to him, kicked him on the shins.

Aragorn smiled, "Those little chats may tell us more than you think. Do not dissuade our ladies from befriending Vaeltira. Already she tells us more than she realises. Aelric is vulnerable now, or the sword is and that could be to our advantage."

"My Lord Aragorn," Amarie's voice trembled, "I will not spy on the Lady Vaeltira for you. Any information she gives is given freely."

"I understand and I will not ask you to do that. But such information she gives is valuable to this Quest. I only ask that you be courteous to her. I am confident she realises that anything she tells you will come to me. For the rest of us we must remain vigilant and avoid conflict with Aelric's men. No one is to be alone, not even you Roth.

"We'll keep him with us" Dorin volunteered. "He won't do anything rash with Mori breathing down his neck... or leg." He chuckled, Mori clipped his ear playfully.

Roland stepped forward, catching his foot against a chair, "Owwwww!" He grimaced, "I'll be happy to keep company with Amarie and Nilgaerien" he stuttered "They might need protection."

Dorin laughed. "Aye lad, you say some funny things." He wiped his eyes. "Come on Mori, let's get Roth out of here before he starts breathing fire...." They stood either side of the glowering Roth and gently eased him in the direction of the door. As they left Mori's voice could be heard, "An' if you think you are going to pull the wool over my eyes, My Lord Roth, then think on...."
..." Mori's voice trailed off as the door opened, a broad shadow of a tall, dark complected fellow in light gauzy apparel appeared and addressed the fellowship brusquely, "His Lordship Ael-Minytanir apologises for the interruption, but invites you all to dinner this evening in the Captain's quarters." With that he abruptly turned about and closed the door behind him. His footsteps could be heard trailing off up the long corridor. It was when they could not be heard that Aragorn spoke to group, "Well i suggest we make ourselves look decent for this formal dinner, if that's what it is. I dont suppose anyone thought to bring dinner attire?" he smirked.

Aelric waited at the helm for Drogba to return, his gaze sought out the nadir of the sun on the horizon, it was upon this point that he set his navigation instruments doing so would insure a steady course south by day, by night he would use the stars. He thought how much the sea calmed his restless spirit, and he noted that his mind was perfectly at home here. It had been so long since he had breathed the fresh salt air, and felt the soft spray of the waves crashing against a ship. The departure the night before of the landloving crebain also seemed to settle his nerves, useful as spies as they were, they were a continuous reminder of his servitude to the Lidless Eye. He shuddered at the thought - for long whiles on the mainland he had only thoughts for the Gem, The Throne and the destiny of the Outcast Numenoreans, now his attention turned to matters that were not bound up in this obsession. His journey through life had taken him to dark places but once he had a deep hope, to reconcile the King's Men with the faithful Elendili, this was once his singular childhood dream, a Heretic's vision - sundered by the vile will of Sauron.

He caught himself smiling at the thought, and then he took a hold of himself as he suddenly became aware that Drogba stood close by with Vaeltira just behind him. Both wore expressions of surprise and amusement, "Ah My lord. We did not mean to disturb your peace, you seem well if you dont mind me saying?" Drogba gave a small bow and laughed in spite of himself. "It has been so long since I did see the perilous Aelric allow himself a smile, truly you are not unknown to us just yet." there was a hint of a michief in Drogba's tone and his light remark had the desired effect.
"Drogba, your tongue is as barbed and as impudent as ever, I should have you flogged and the wench I call a wife can wield the whip - the honour and pleasure no doubt would be hers." He flashed Vaeltira a soft playful look, his bright eyes gleamed in the sun.
"Shall I have Urdon bring up some Umbaran Rum, this seems a fine time for a toast does it not husband?"
"Indeed it does, Aye let all, crew, men-at-arms and my honoured guests enjoy Umbar's finest."
It was a long time since she had seen her husband so relaxed, his laughter rich and true. "My Lord, the sea agrees with you. I would we could live here forever" and she smiled matching his laughter in mirth, her usually expressionless face animated and beautiful with joy. "At times like this, husband, I could forgive the Dark Lord for pairing us so."

"Ah my wife, my beautiful, proud and desirable wife. It is not easy being Lady to such a Lord as I but I would have no other and although I question the reasoning that brings you to me I am pleased you are here." He caught Drogba's smile. "I concede I am not always of that mind and that you would be safer elsewhere but I am a man of moods and now my mood is of one who would wish for no other company. Come, make the toast, My Lady".

Vaeltira took the offered rum. "A toast, to the Men of Numenor, wherever they be, to my Lord Aelric" she bowed to him, "and to the faithful men who serve him. May the strength and beauty of our race endure and may we live to see Numenor restored."

The mood of all around was uplifted, the men singing in the riggings above outdid even the white gulls flying high around the masts.

Later, Vaeltira returned below decks to seek out the elf maidens. They were surprised by her change in mood but were soon caught up in her delight. "If you wish to avail yourself of them, there are some dresses in my quarters. They are mostly Umbrian in style but they are excellent quality and clean. Some fine alterations would make them suitable. If you wish, that is."

They did and the three women spent time sorting dresses and making alterations. Neither elf was comfortable with the Umbrian style, especially the low necklines but the quality was good and the cloth richly embroidered. There would be some surprised looks tonight.
The large table in the Captain's room had been laid with many different dishes, something to satisfy even the dwarves. Mead, rum and ale was readily available. Lamps burned along the walls, throwing the rich carvings into flickering relief. Ornate tapestries and mirrors hung against dark wood. There was no sign yet of the three women but the ale was already flowing and the others were seated along the table, talking in hushed tones except for Roth who sat apart from them ignoring the occasional question or remark thrust his way.

The door opened and lamps outside shed light in a halo around the three women entering. There was silence within the room. Nilgaerien and Amarie entered first, their dresses swishing across the floor as they crossed to the table. Roland choked on his ale, Akantos stared, even Roth glanced at the two elves, acknowledging their beauty. Vaeltira followed, her midnight blue dress echoing the deep blue of her eyes. Aelric grinned his appreciation. "Well, my comrades, now we are all here - and deeply grateful for the ladies' efforts, I might add, - let us enjoy the evening. Please," he indicated the laden table, "help yourselves." He bowed to his Lady and held a chair for her next to him. His face was already flushed from the rum and ale. "My Lady," he whispered to her ear, "You will drive me insane. I am already delirious in your presence."

They ate well and drank better.... the dwarves sang, even Roland sang. Aragorn and Aelric talked tactics and strategy - Aelric eager to learn how Aragorn had defeated Sauron. Many things that Aragorn told to Aelric were a surprise to him. It seemed Sauron had kept much information from his armies, information which may have made a difference. Aelric found himself deferring to Aragorn on several matters and in Aragorn's discourse he saw the true nobility of this Ranger. Others at the table remarked on the similarity of the two men.

At one point Aelric rose and speaking softly to Amarie the two of them left the table and went to a far corner. "Lady Amarie, I must take this opportunity to apologise to you for my behaviour earlier. It was not fitting for me to treat you so but was caused by concern for my wife.’ He fidgetted as he spoke obviously uncomfortable. "And I thank you for attending my wife. Even I can see she is fully recovered.

"Lord Aelric, I accept your apology and I am glad to have helped Lady Vaeltira. You are a lucky man to have such a wife."

"Luck has little to do with it, Lady, it was our Lord's will but we are a good match and I could hope for none better. And now, we should return." He led her back and held her chair out for her, waiting until she was settled before returning to his own place beside Vaeltira.

At last the meal was ended, speeches were started and interrupted, the dwarves carried on singing. Aelric stood somewhat unsteadily, bowed to his guests and asked leave for himself and his Lady to retire as they had "some pressing matters to attend to." There was laughter and Vaeltira felt herself blushing.

They left to return to their own quarters, the sound of merriment following them into corridor.

Roland was singing with the dwarves. Roth, thumped the table in time with the song, joining in the chorus. Aragorn watched them and smiled. They deserved this respite from the strain of the last weeks. As for Aelric, one could almost like the man!
Amari’s eyes sparkled as she was chatting away with Nilgaerien and Arkentos could hardly take his eyes of her. This was the Amari’ he had fallen in love with in Rivendell, full of life and laughter. He emptied his glass of rom. This time he wouldn't chicken out. He rose from his seat and went over to Amari’, bowed as gracefully as the alcohol would let him, held out his hand and asked. "Would you do me the honour of dancing with me, fair lady?" Amari’ looked at him with surprise, but then smiled from ear to ear. "Oh, I would, my dear ranger. I love to dance!" Nilgaerien thought dancing was a wonderful idea, she hadn't danced in ages but now she felt light as a feather. She grabbed hold of Roland and they joined to two others. The dwarves kept singing, Aragorn laughed and Arkentos was in seventh heaven swirling together with a laughing Amari’. Roland was singing and stepping on Nilgaeriens toes. This was a good night.
Nilgaerien let loose a rare, merry laugh that so startled Roland he stumbled back against a near table, nearly pulling her with him. She was able to right both of them and send him off to another round of drinks with a pat on his shoulder. She looked around the room and her gaze caught that of Roth's. A slight hesitation, a sudden impulse desicion and she was moving across the room to come to stand before him.
"Roth." She made a slight curtsy of rare respect to him.
"Nilgaerien," he nodded. His eyes, bright from the wine and merriment around them, glanced down the sleek curves of her dress then came back up to rest on her face. "And what do ya wish of me?"
Again, the hesitation, then she took the plunge: "I would have you dance with me."
"Would ya now?" A sudden grin spread his lips.
"It would turn the heads of those who hjave witnessed our...disputes. An uncommon thing for both of us to do, eh?"
"Very uncommon and it would turn heads..." The cup of wine held in one hand was deposited on a near table then the same hand was offered to her. "I am ready to shock a few of our comrades. Shall we?"
She took the proffered hand and together they walked to the center of the room where the dancing couples were. As his arm encirlced her waist, she felt the emotions around ehr come to sudden surprise as the others noticed the new couple among them. She hid the smile that came to her mouth when Amarie's shock rolled over her and concentrated on the face that had huanted her life fro so many years and was now only inches from her own and didn't look disspleased to be there.
A suddden thought washed over her mind like a bucket of cold water: she rather thought she enjoyed his closness.
Roland came back with the drinks and sat down besides Aragorn. "Looks like you have been replaced, my friend." Roland grinned. "Well more wine for me then!" He looked at Nilgaerien and Roth. "A strange couple, but it makes a nice change from them trying to kill eachother!" Aragorn let out a short laugh. "There is a thin line between love and hate, it is often crossed with the help of alcohol!" Roland laughed out loud. "Yes my lord, you are right as always." And he raised his glass. "For our generous host Lord Aelric, who seems very decent when he is not plotting to kill us all, and to Amari’, whom I really hope has some remedies in her bags to help our poor, acing heads in the morning!" "Oh I'll drink to that!" declared Aragorn and emptied his glass. He then stood up and clapped his hands. Everybody stopped and looked at him. And the room became silent.

"Our dear dwarven friends have entertained us well tonight, now it is time for us to entertain them, and lto et them dance! Amari’, Arkentos, come over here and we will show them how to party the Rivendell way. Well start with Frodos 'cow over the moon' song and go on from there shall we?" Amarie laughed, took Arkentos' hand and ran over to Aragorn. "What a great idea!"

Frodos song put the mood right back on, and Nilgaerien and Roth continued to dance. Arkentos would rather have danced as well, if felt so good to have her in his arms, so close. But her enthusiasm soon spread to him and the three of them sang together elven songs that really triggered the urge to dance. Dorin stood up and bowed so deeply that his beard swept the floor. "Mori Bladeswinger, finest warrior and the lovliest maiden of all dwarf kind, thicker and finer beard have I yet not seen, may I have this dance?" Mori giggled and soon they were spinning around on the floor with the other two. Roland ginned from ear to ear and tried to hid it behind a beer mug. Giggling and dancing dwarves, now he had seen it all. Though he had to admit they were surprisingly graceful despite the armour.
...Vaeltira led her staggering and chuckling husband to the bedchambers, but just as they came to the door Aelric abruptly pulled her too him and kissed her deeply. As they lightly drew apart, their eyes locked on the others, it seemed to Vaeltira that this was the first time that he had allowed such happpiness in those unfathomable orbs. She swooned and fell softly into his strong arms, nuzzling into his broad chest. Just then their serene moment was eclipsed by a holloring from above decks, "Ship Ahoy! To Sail To Sail!"
Aelric came to his senses almost instantly, yet still a little worse for where with alcohol, he gently eased Vaeltira to the door and said, "My dear wife, I will not forget this moment - but now I must insist that you stay here in your quarters while I investigate." He kissed her forehead and turned on his heel, marching awkwardly toward the stairs to the decks above.

Drogba, sobre and a vigilant, stood ready at the forecastle. Upon seeing his lord he motioned him toward the sighting of the vessels upon the horizon. It was still dusk, the sea was calm and the skies streaked with high red-blue cloud, there was a stiff breeze from the north-west and the the conditions were perfect for a fast sail. The Meneltauros' sails were already unfurled and taking wind, the speed and heading efficiently judged by his subordinate, Drogba.
Aelric took the eye-glass from him and scanned the southern horizon, then he saw the two foreign vessels, one seemed to be much smaller and lighter, possibly a merchant craft, the other larger ship was a frigate or converted junk - a distinctly haradrim design. "Pirates!" he thought aloud. "Drogba, make a course to intercept, and bring up the marines and make ready all crew for assault. Also allow their ranger leader and his entourage to take up their arms, tell the quartermaster they are the captain's orders. Go!"
"Right away Sir!" smiling, Drogba sprinted to the main decks issuing his commander's orders loudly and clearly.
The crew busied themselves with expert speed and manned the ship's main weapons, bristling along the sides were three and four men ballistae capable of hurling great bolts that could pierce the hulls of ships and caused consternation among enemy crews. Then situated fore and aft upon the man-o-war's castles were modified siege engines designed to throw incendiaries or huge stones at the masts and sails, which would not only slow down the opposition but cause fiery hell & havoc. Drogba had them ready for the first assault and then the subsequent boarding action, he wondered to himself if the Captain would be leading the assault himself, maybe the sword had made his master less bold, somehow he doubted that.
The Company were surprised at Drogba's shouted orders. The approaching danger sobered them all. The two elf maiden's ran to their quarters to change into suitable clothing while the quartermaster delivered their weapons. Nilgaerien fingered her dagger. It was good to have it back.

Already the dwarves together with Roland, Arkantos and Roth had followed Aragorn above deck. Shouts from crew hanging from the rigging could be heard. Aelric's men, their armour glistening, were ready for orders.

The warship tacked against the wind bringing it side onto the pirate vessel. The merchant vessel listed in the water the damage from slingshots clearly visible. Having seen the warship, black sails billowing, bearing down upon them, the pirates tried desperately to pull round and make their escape. They were no match for the Numernoreans and retreat was their only chance. But the Meneltauros was faster and despite it's size more manouvreable Within minutes the pirate ship was trapped against the huge side of the Meneltauros, a company of Numenoreans leapt onto its decks, swords drawn while archers in the riggings picked off the pirate crew. Aragorn spoke to the Company "We are obligated to fight in defence of this ship and there is no doubt these are pirates and murderers. But take care that we do not kill the innocent should there be any." Then he led them across one of the great boarding planks.

Amarie hesitated and looking upwards she saw for the first time the white gulls and heard their cry. The Longing! At once she both dreaded it and embraced it. "Amarie!" Nilgaerien recognised the look on Amarie's face. "We don't have time now! Amarie!"
...Aragorn and Arkentos led the passengers in the next wave of the assault, the dwarves just behind like whirling dervishes they waded into the fray with gusto and wild abandon. The Numenorean household guard were already despatching all that opposed them, the haradrim quailed at the sight of these hulks in their black and gold plate-chain and giltedged longswords, Drogba was fighting alongside Aelric and both men cut a bloody swathe as they opposed all that had the stomach to stand or else lacked the will to run.

At length, only the Haradrim captain and a handful of his followers made any substantial effort to resist the intense onslught, but this was for naught. The combined weight of Aelric, Drogba and Aragorn's troupe came upon them in full wrath and in mere moments all had fallen to sword or axe. Aelric bore up the severed head of the haradrim captain in triumph, then tossed it unceremoniusly overboard, his men cheered at the victory, bouyant and not one of their number slain, although there were wounded. All but two of the pirates that hadn't immediately jumped overboard were given quarter, one was a female the other no more than a boy of fourteen. Aelric with fire in his eyes flashed them a grim look, focusing upon the woman alone he demanded, "Where are your spoils witch? Tell me and you will be spared much pain!"
Hesitantly she replied all the while looking skittishly about at the hopeless plight she had found herself in, "We are a slave-ship only two days out of port, the ship we destroyed had few crew, all took their own lives except one that we managed to overwhelm. Stinking elves they were, you must have love in your heart for Eldar filth ..." at that their was a slap across her face as Drogba struck her.
"Silence or thou wilt lose thy poisoned tongue" , he was flushed with indignation at her words that were intended to smart the honour of his captain.
Aelric steadied his hand before he lashed out again."Have the ship searched thoroughly for loot and this elf, if he is found have him brought aboard and quartered in the doctor's room at once, I doubt he has been well cared for by such wretched folk as these."
Aelric pondered the hope that maybe this survivor, was beyond medical attention, could he really afford to have more elves aboard the craft. His conscience overcame his resurgent ruthless streak as he summoned Amarie to make herself ready to attend to a fellow elf. He was aware that some of his most loyal men were wondering at this compassionate Aelric, with mixed feelings, some hated elves above all creatures and knew well that their captain and lord felt likewise - so what was behind this baffling about-turn, was he bewitched?
A hideous scream of agony was what had broken though to Amari’. What was she doing? She had work to do! She didn't see where Nilgaerien went, so she ran toward where she saw the archers, her bow would shoot further and more precise then theirs. There was a strange peace in her heart despite the vicious killing going on. Never had Valinor seemed so close and so real, death did not scare her now. The battle was over quite fast, the haradrim had no chance. She hadn't even used all her arrows. Now she stood look anxiously out at the boat where Aerlics men was searching for the elf. The haradrim woman was hissing at her but she ignored her. But her eyes was drawn to the boy. He spat at her, but missed and the guard gave him a solid smack in the face. Amari’ felt sad. So young and so full of hate.
"Lord Aelric", it was Amarie; obviously she had heard about the elf on board. She elbowed her way towards him, face flushed, "If there is an elf aboard this cursed vessel then allow me to attend him. As for finding him, Lady Nilgaerien already senses his pain. "

"As I thought. When he is found you are to take charge. But understand, I must know who he is and what business brought him here." The two women hurried off, picking their way around the pirate corpses. Amarie followed Nilgaerien, pushing past the Numenoreans into the lowest part of the boat. Here, foul water sloshed around the wooden floors. The women approached a heavily reinforced door. Amarie shouted for help breaking the door down and turned expecting to see a Numenorean but instead found Roth, axe in hand, sweating and breathing heavily.

"Ya wan' some help with tha?" He moved forward, axe raised, ignoring Nilgaerien who ducked out of his way. Three swings of his axe severed the thick timber and he stood back, allowing Amarie and Nilgaerien to enter the cramped, stinking cell.

Their elvish sight allowed them to see immediately the wretched creature chained hand and foot to a large iron ring sunk into the thick ceiling timbers. He sat, almost upright but was supported mainly by the iron chains attaching him to the ceiling. His face was bruised and bloodied, his garments soiled with filth and blood. He did not look up as Amarie ran to him and took his head in her hands.

Then after a while the wretched thing opened his eyes and looked into the eyes of Amari’. "Help me!" the Elf moaned and he fainted again. Amari’ softly began to sing and wounds of the Elf healed. After being healed the Elf opened his eyes again, and when he didn't see the faces of his enemies, but the face of a fair Elf, he smiled. Then, he began to speak: "Greetings, my name is Valruin and l was on my way to Valinor when my ship was attacked by these pirates. l was with a small crew but all of them sprang in the Sea, l tried to fight back but l was overwhelmed and captured. When l was captured they immediatly began beating me up so l became unconscious. Then l was chained. l don't know why you are here but l want to thank you for healing me. Could you unchain me too?"

Amari’ looked at Nilgaerien and asked: "What do you think, can we trust him?" Then Valruin begged to be set free. "Please! l will do anything you want!" Nilgaerien looked upon Valruin and felt pity for him. "Yes, we set him free," she answered. Then Roth grapped his axe and with one hit the chains broke and Valruin fel down.
Amari’ kneeled down beside him in the stinking water. "Can you walk? Come help me Roth." Roth hitched the axe on his side, and he and Amari’ helped him to his feet and suppored him. Valruin groaned. "Yes I think I can walk." He lifted his head and saw two of Aelrics men by the door. He gasped and staggered backwards and fell. Roth smiled grimly as he and Amari’ pulled him to his feet again. "Well it seems we forgot to add that you have been saved by a crew of Black Numenorians." Nilgaerien shooed away the men to make room for the elves. "We found him, they are bringing him out. Make room!"

Valruin was baffled as they walked passed Aerlics men unhindered. "Black Numenorians.. but you are elves.. and not prisoners?" "Yes" said Amari’ "We are guests, we... we'll explain it to you later ok?" They made their way up on deck, Valruin blinked at the bright light after spending time in that dark hole. Then he saw the huge battle ship. "Elbereth!" he gasped. What kind of elves were this, what kind of rescuing was this? He would rather die than become a slave on that ship!
Nilgaerien frowned at the emotions she felt running through the elf, just before he began to struggle against Roth and Amarie. Amarie tried to calm him but his eyes were fastened on the Numenorians and their ship. Nil stepped towards them and looked at Roth. He nodded, sensing her intent then gave the elf a swift clap to the head, knocking him unconscious.
"Roth!" Amarie gasped as their ward sagged against her. "Shame on you, Nil, for suggesting such a thing!"
Nil's eyebrows drew together. Somehow, the healer could sense her thoughts more readily now that Nil's mind was on its way to healing. "It was for his own good, Amarie. What if he had said the things I felt in his mind to the men standing about? Or would you rather one of them had hit him over the head? He would probably be bleeding instead of merely unconscious in that case."
Amarie sighed in unwilling agreement and allowed Roth to take on the full weight of the elf. "Let's take him where I can examine him more fully." She and Roth headed below deck while Nil stayed by the rail and cleaned her bloody dagger. A sickly, pale glow emanated from the heart of it, slowly fading as she cleaned it. Yes, there was more to this weapon than met the eye and Nil wasn't sure she wanted to uncover its possible dark secrets.
She abruptly put a hand to her head. It spun dizzily and she had to shake it a couple times before it cleared. Too much wine after too long without it had done a number on her - she didn't even want to think of how she'd feel later, when the afteraffects really set in.
A sticky wetness caught her attention and she lifted her arm to see a gash in it, bleeding profusely. She headed to Amarie's room where she found the healer bent over the still Valduin, bandaging some nasty cuts on his legs. Roth was standing beside the door, arms folded against his chest.
"Not to be a bother, but I need something for my arm, Amarie, when you've got a minute," Nil said.
Amarie turned and winced at the gash. "That needs attention immediately." She started to stand then glanced back at her first patient.
"Finish with him. All I need is bandages," Nil advised. Amarie nodded towards a pile of rags and some ointment on a table then bent back to her chore. Nilgaerien hissed in pain as she cleaned the wound but Amarie barely glanced up, so engrossed was she in her work. Nil picked up the bandages then realized she had a slight problem - she needed two hands to properly wrap the cloth. Biting her lower lip in concentration, she began wrapping, only to sigh in exasperation, untangle her mess, and start over. Twice she did this, then two hands joined her own. She looked up at Roth's face, questioning. He merely smiled grimly then moved away after he was finished, just as a groan came from Valduin.
There was a cough and Nilgaerien looked round to see Dorin standing at the open doorway. "Lord Aelric wants to know if you have found anything out. How is the elf? We heard he was more dead than alive."

"If I could have some peace and some room I might be able to heal him. Tell Lord Aelric that when he is well enough I will talk with him."

Dorin left, chuckling and Amarie turned back to her patient. He was staring after Dorin. "Black Numenoreans AND dwarves" he whispered. "Where in the Halls of Mandos am I?"

"You are under the protection of Lord Aelric of Umbar. You are safe, for although he does not enjoy the company of our race he has given his word and so far has been true to it. Rest a while and we will talk later. Roth would you keep guard outside, I fear I must attend to other injuries as well and then rest. Nilgaerien, would you stay here awhile and tend our guest?"

She hurried out, searching for Urdon. "Urdon, take me to your healer's quarters, I may be of service to him." He did as asked and soon she was put to work healing the wounds of Numenoreans none pleased to be touched by an elf but obeying their Lord's commands they accepted it without comment.

Someone was humming one of the dwarf songs from the earlier festivities... she glanced up to see Arkantos watching her. "Ar..Strider thought maybe you could do with a hand.... but if I'm in the way... I don't w..w..w..." he stuttered and as Amarie laughed he blushed deeply.

"My apologies, Arkantos, I wasn't laughing at you, your help would be appreciated but more than that your friendly smile will help lift my spirits." She lowered her voice, "I feel a little out of place here."

Arkantos followed Amarie around as she moved from man to man, easing pain and healing light wounds. When at last she could do no more he guided her back to hisown quarters and having seen she was comfortable upon the bed he settled himself in a large chair and kept watch over her while she rested, replenishing the strength drained from her by healing so many.
Amari’ slept with a smile on her face, she felt safe knowing Arkantos was there. She dreamt of seagulls flying high on a blue sky, then suddenly she was back in Moria with the snakes and Arkantos dying from the snakes venom. The venom ment for her. No no no not again! Let him be! She sat up with a gasp, her heart pounding. Arkantos had fallen asleep but he heard her and jumped out of the chair and was beside the bed in a second. "Amari’, what is it?" Amari’ swallowed and wiped the tears from here eyes. "N..nothing, just a bad dream, but it is over now." Arkantos sat down on the bed looking worried. "Are you sure?" Amari’ sniffled, looked at him and smiled sadly. "Yes I'll be fine in a minute, just a bad dream." Then she got serious and streched out a hand and touched his face. "I haven't told you how much it means for me to have you here, on this boat, on this quest. You make me feel better, just by being there. Thank you." Arkantos touched her soft hand with his. A tear could stil be seen on her cheek. He didn't know what to say. "I will be here for you, Amari’ of Rivendell, as longs as faith allows it. Now go back to sleep, I will stay with you." Amari’ nodded and curled up like a child and fell asleep. Arkentos went back to his chair. He watched her sleep, the peacefull smile once again on her lips. He couldn't sleep anymore, his thoughts and feelings were spinning.
At some point he had fallen asleep again, and when Amari’ woke up again and streched under the covers, he was fast asleep. She felt rested and well, but Arkantos didn't look very comfortable. She smiled grimly as she thought of her emotinal state earlier, he must think she was so fragile, crying over a bad dream. She couldn't tell him what it really was, no need to remind him of that. He would probably fel bad about making her feel sad. She smiled to herself, he was almost too nice. Giving up his bed, sitting there watching over her, making sure she was alright..

She dressed without a sound, then got a blanket from the bed and put over him. "Sleep well my dear friend." she wispered. He mumbled something but didn't wake up. She closed the door as quitetly she could, but it still gave out a little squeek, then she went to check on her patients.

Arkentos opened his eyes, not sure of what woke him up. Drowsy from sleep he wondered about the blanket, then saw that Amari’ and her things were gone. He felt a little disapointed, but he wasn't sure what he had expected. He shuffled his way over to the bed, took of his clothes and crawled under the covers. She probably wouldn't be back anyway. The bed was still warm where Amarie had lain. "Mmm" he though as he slipped away into dreams. "This is nice:"
Nil kicked at the room's sole chair then flinched and glanced at the bed but Valruin slept on, not the least disturbed by her show of impatience. This had to be the most boring job Amarie could have given her! A sudden chuckle escaped her - that was probably the point. Suddenly, something in her mind trembled and grew to a warm pounding. Nil became alert, freezing in her pacing...she knew that feeling, though it had been many many years since it had last entered her mind: the Gem! But something was not right...
Nil walked to Valduin, checked him, then thus assured, went to the door and opened it. A hand grabbed her arm as she tried to escape into the corridor.
"Just where do ya think yer off to?" Roth growled at her.
Nil frowned. She had forgotten Amarie's guard - she was beginning to think he was there to guard her as well as Valduin. "I need to get..." she trailed off. He knew she was about to lie; there was the gleam in his eyes. Well, what was the harm in the truth? "I felt something but I'm not sure if I was right. I need to go on deck to be sure."
He studied her then released her arm. "Be back in ten minutes or I'm gonna bring ya back myself." She nodded and hurried away. The last thing she wanted was to be "brought back" by Roth; it would probably involve her arm being wrenched out of its socket or being slung over a shoulder.
Once on deck, Nil immediately headed for the prow of the ship and climbed onto the tip jetting over the dark water below, much to the disgust of the men trying to do their jobs. She ignored them and turned her face to the open sea, the wind blowing her hair before her. She closed her eyes, lost in the feeling of the salty wind, the cries of the gulls wheeling about, the sound of the restless waves...all of it brought back memroies of ehr first journey to the sea with her father. That first time had opened that part of her where the sea-longing was held and it had never gone away...
A call between two men on deck brought her back to the here and now, reminding her of the job she had to do; if she didn't hurry, it would be Roth, instead of her own legs, carrying her back to Amarie's quarters.
Keeping her eyes closed, she concentrated, using every bit of energy she possessed and finding every memory she had of the Gem. There! A faint shiver of power...still many days away but now close enough to trigger her long-buried guardianship. She turned her head towards the feeling and opened her eyes. Then her eyes grew shadowed with concern. They were offcourse - the Gem lay slightly to the northwest of their current direction. Nil bit her lip. There was only one way to solve the dilemma and it wasn't one she would have chosen. Aelric could be hard to deal with. She quickly made her mind, however, and jumped onto the deck once again, grabbing the first man that walked past.
"Where is Lord Aelric?"
The man gestured. "At the helm." She nodded her thanks and ran to the helm. Sure enough, there was Aelric, with several men gathered about him.
Drogba invaded her path. "My lady. What may I do for you?"
Nil stopped barely a foot from him. "I have need to speak with Lord Aelric."
"He is busy at the moment. If you have a request, I will give it to him as soon as - "
"It is for his ears only, Drogba. Now, please, let me pass." She was around him and stepping towards Aelric before Drogba could utter another word. He made a grab at her but she scooted around two more men, coming to stand right in front of Aelric.
Drogba's hand finally found her arm at that moment. "I am sorry, my lord. She insisted - "
"It is fine, Drogba. Release her."
He obeyed his lord's command and Nilgaerien gave him a dirty look before turning back to Aelric. "Aelric, I..." She looked at those standing around them. "Uh...may I speak to you alone?"
He studied her then nodded to the men. They parted and he led Nilgaerien a small distance away. "What is it, elf maid? As you can see, I am quite busy."
She swallowed. "You are offcourse." At the sudden anger that seemed to leap upon his brow, she hurried on. "I am not saying that you have a made a mistake. Perhaps our contact with the pirates ship threw us off enough. But...the Gem is slightly to the northwest."
"And how would you know where the Gem lies?"
Nil cast her bright gaze to the horizon, wondering if this next statement was really wise in light of the man she was talking to. "I am now the sole guardian of it," she admitted quietly.
Aelric raised an eyebrow. "Oh really?" He led her back to the men. "Drogba, it seems we need to adjust our course 'slightly to the northwest'. Would you be so kind my dear so show us how much 'slightly to the northwest ' is?"
He was laughing on the inside. So this was why Aragorn had brought along this female. A guide they had called her, she wasn't just a guide, she was the key! Yes this was interesting indeed. Nilgaerien hesitated but pointed out the approximate direction. Aleric had gotten a unpleasent gleam in his eye. Drogba noticed it too.

Suddenly she felt Roths presence, he was not happy. He had come up on deck befor her time was up, he suspected she wouldn't be back in time. He scanned the deck and saw her talking to Aelric and pointing. He grumbled and walked towards them shoving away anone in his way. What had that foolish girl done this time? He was stopped befor he could reach them. "Nilgaerien, your time is up." He looked at Aelric and spoke with a chilly, forced, polite voice. "Lord, I am sorry to break up this friendly get-togheter, but I am afraid Nilgaerien is needed below deck." Lord Aleric didn't bother to look at him. "That is alright, I have no need for her right now." The men opened up so Nilgaerien could leave. She wasn't sure if she really wanted to go with Roth now, but Roth got up to her, grabbed har arm and forced her to walk. There was some laugher among the men.

Roth didn't speak untill they were back downstairs infront of Amari’s room and out of hearing range from the men. "I gave you 10 minutes, and what do you do during these 10 minutes? You go chatting with the man who wants us all dead and start pointing out new courses without notifying any of us. Team work isn't your strong side is it?"

"We were off course, I had to tell him!"
"And what did you say when he asked how you knew he had to change the course?"
"I told the truth!"
"Oh great, and when his sword starts taking controll again, then what? You may have killed us all and eventually yourself in the prosess. Go find Aragorn and fill him in."

Roth shoved Nilgaerien in the direction of Aragorns quarters. Nilgaerien gave him a icy glare but he didn't look at her. He opened the door to see if Valruin had woken up, but he hadn't. Roth returned to his place guarding the door. Nilgaerien knocked on Aragorns door. Roth was right in one thing, Aragorn needed to know what she knew and what Aelric knew.
Aragorn answered before she was even done with her first knock. "Nilgaerien!" he said with some surprise.
She tried a shaky smile. "Lord Aragorn...may I talk to you? In private?"
More surprise showed on his face and threaded its way through his emotions but he stepped back from the doorway. "Of course - come in." She took the necessary steps to clear the door then froze, even when he tried to offer her a seat. "No, I feel more comfortable standing."
"It seems you have something of great importance on your mind. What is it?"
She fixed her gaze on a point near his feet and began what felt like a recitation: "I sensed the Gem but it felt wrong so I went on deck. We were heading the wrong way so I...I..." she cleared her throat. "I told Aelric." She risked a glance at Arogorn's face then wished she hadn't. A minor storm was brewing in his grey eyes.
"You told Aelric," he repeated. "What did you tell him?"
"That we were offcourse."
"And did he change course?"
"Yes," her voice was barely more than a whisper.
Aragorn stepped up to her and lifted her chin so that she was forced to meet his eyes. "And how did Lord Aelric, of all people, accept this?"
"I...I told him the truth. That I'm...I'm the guardian." A slight shiver went through her at the sudden shock and anger that swept through his emotions. Not Roth's anger, to be sure, but anger nonetheless. He released her chin and she took a step back, trying to avoid his gaze boring into her. She knew that look and it made her feel like an insolent child, or worse, a whipped puppy. Suddenly, she met his eyes with her pleading ones. "I had to! Aragorn, you know the power of the thing! It makes its guardians..." she trailed off, knowing this would not win him to what she had done. "Aragorn, it was the only way. If we had continued, we would have gone right pass the island. I won't do - or say - anything like that again without consulting you first, I promise! Just..."
He sighed heavily and put a hand on her shoulder. "Rest easy, elf maid. He would have found out soon enough when we began to take directions from you." Then he drilled her with a hard glare. "But do not let this happen again or I'll have to have someone watch you constantly." She nodded, feeling more and more like a disobedient child.
"I need to find Amarie," he said, motioning for her to remain and left the room. Nil breathed a little easier when he had gone then thought uncomfortably about that odd look in Aelric's eye when she had told him. Oh, how she wished she could sense his toughts as easily as some of the other's! Curse the strong Numenorian mind!
Emotions blossomed in her mind and the door opened to allow Arkantos entrance. "Oh! Nilgaerien! I'm sorry - I didn't realize you were here...I was...I was looking for Aragorn..." But Nil was listening. She was staring, wide-eyed, because of his thoughts. Amarie! Arkantos loved Amarie!
"Nilgaerien?" His worried voice caught her attention.
"I'm..I'm sorry, Arkantos. I wasn't...I have alot on my mind at the moment," she stopped then a sly idea entered her mind and her lips mimicked her inward smile. "As do you."
His eyes grew wide and he grabbed his head with one hand as if that would stop her. " saw...uh..."
She giggled crazily, making him even more uncomfortable. "You love Amarie."
Arkantos groaned. Of all the people who could find out, it had to be her. From the look on her face, he could tell he would never hear the end of it. "I am very glad you find it amusing." he said and made a move to leave. Nilgaerien grabbed hold of him to stop him from leaving. "No don't go Arkantos. I thought it was good news, wonderful news, why isn't it good news?" "Becasue..!" he looked out in the hall to make sure no one had heard them, then closed the door. "Because it is not news at all." Nilgaerien lit up. "Really? I can't belive she didn't tell me! You two are so sneaky! Why keep it a secret? You would make a wonderful couple!" "What? No, you don't understand, she doesn't know."

Nilgaerien looked at him. "She doesn't know? And it is not news..? Arkantos, how long have you felt this way? Days? Weeks? Months?" Arkantos sighed and sat down on the bed and hid his face in his hands, she wasn't going to let him be befor she knew. "Try years." "Years?" she cried. "How..?" "Because I'm pathetic that's why!" He lay back on the bed. "When is Aragorn coming back, and what are you doing in here anyway?"

She sat down besides him. She felt ho this was tearing him up. "Soon I guess, I don't know. I did something that wasn't so smart and he told me to stay... But you are not pathetic, you just need a little.. female insight. I can help you I guess." Arkantos was quiet for a little while. "Why would you do that?" Nilgaerien shrugged. "Don't know. There are not many good things happening to us right now. Amari’ is great and she thinks the world of you. This could be a good thing, you know?"
Arkantos rolled to his side and looked her in the eye. "You think this is good?"
Nil nodded, her maniac giggling ceasing and her face becoming more serious. "Amarie would be proud to have you by her side, I think. I...wait - this is why you did it!"
"Did what?"
"Died for her!"
Arkantos stared then made a face and rolled away from her. "Remind me to wear some sort of protective head covering around you from now on. Don't you have anything better to do than tramp around in people's minds?"
She shrugged cheerfully. "Nope."
He sighed. "Didn't think so."
"All right, seriously now - I think I can help you."
Now it was his turn to chuckle wryly. "No offense, Nilgaerien, but your own mind hasn't done so well in the time I've known you. I mean, you almost paralyzed me the first time we met..."
"I know. By the way, I'm sorry about that - I don't think I ever apologized. But this you can trust me on."
"Uh huh - how?"
"I had my own love years ago...before my life was torn apart." She grinned at him. "Come on, Arkantos. What could be the harm in listening to me?"
He sighed then raised himself to a sitting position and turned to her. "I'm going to regret this," he mumbled. Nil giggled and he shook his head. "All right, all right - teach, O Wise One."
"First lesson - no talking while I'm teaching. You take notes and ask questions after. Second - no chickening out of what I tell you to do." He made another face but nodded all the same. "Good. Then the first thing you need to do is show her you love her. You just, just...oh! I don't know what it is you're doing but it certainly isn't getting you anywhere!"
Arkantos gaped. "But I - I danced with her! And as close as I was holding her..."
Nil rolled her eyes. "She was drunk, Arkantos. We all were. Amazing how we still managed to fight the pirates. You need to find her sober to get her to remember anything important."
"Like what?"
"Like...a small romantic dinner somewhere. Yes! That's it! Ask her to a dinner just with you!"
His eyes looked as if they were going to burst out of their sockets. "What?! No - no! You can't just ask -"
"And why not?"
"Because it's's just not -" Before he could finish, the door opened to admit Amarie and Aragorn. Arkantos and Nil slid off the bed.
"Arkantos! I didn't know you were here!" Amarie said with a smile.
"Uh, yes, I..I'm here," he answered. Nil frowned and gave him a kick in the shins, nodding towards Amarie. Arkantos gave a little yelp and Aragorn frowned at Nil.
", Amarie, may I have a moment with you? Uh, alone?"
"Sure." She looked confused, giving the smug Nil a bewildered stare, then followed him out the door.
Amari’ stoped right outside the door. "What is it Arkantos? Is something wrong? Aragorn said he had somehting we needed to discuss" "No, there is nothing wrong I just wondered.. ehh."He glanced at the door. He could almost see Nilgaerien straining her ears to hear what they said. Roland came walking towards them with the dwarves close behind, and Arkantos got an excuse to move himself and Amari’ away form the door, giving them more than enough space to enter as well as getting some air between them and Nilgaerien. Roland nodded a greeting to the two and began talking to Aragorn as he closed the door behind him. "The dwarves won't be quiet for long." Arkantos thought. "That might distract Nilgaerein." He felt a bit better. "I just wanted to know ask if.. um you would.." He drew his breath. Amari’ waited patiently. "Join me for a picnic up on deck later on? Just.. you and me?"

Amari’ loked at thim with surprise."A picnic?" Then she smiled radiantly. "I haven't been on a picnic for a long time! I'd love to!" Arkantos lit up, he felt like ton of bricks had been lifted from his shoulders. Dinner had seemed so formal and intimidating, he wasn't sure where the picnic idea came from, but Amari’ seemed to like it. "Great!" he said. "I'll umm.. talk to Urdon after the meeting and get back to you when things are ready?" "Ok" She giggled. "I have to go check on Valruin and tell Roth there is a meeting." Arkantos nodded. As she walked away he heard her sing one of the songs they had danced to. He waited a while til his heart had calmed down a bit. Maybe he could use all the feelings in the room to hide his own and maybe wipe that smirk of Nilgaeriens face. .

Roth stood on outside the door and raised an eyebrown when she came. "You sure look cheerful, ms healer?" Amari’ smiled. "I feel cheerful too! Now how is our patient?" Roth followed her in where she looked at Valruins wounds and bruises. They were healing nicely, there was nothing more to do than to wait for him to wake up. "He has been sleeping for long now, did you give him the same you gave me?" "Pretty much. He heals quicker if he is calm, and he wont feel the tickling and itching from the wounds closing themselves. Come now, Aragron called for a meeting. We can leave him alone for a while."

They walked towards Aragorns room, but Roth stoped outside the door. "Amari’.. Thank you for helping me. For stoping me befor I did anything.. I had no controll. Nilgaerein and I.. You knew what we needed. I just want to say thank you." Amari’ smiled softly. "It is what I am here for, you are my friends and your pain is my pain." Roth miled grimly. "Hopefully we will cause you less pain from now on." "And maybe in time you will tell us about the spirit you carry inside you?" Roth looked at her with surprise, then he opened the door and held it open for her. "Yes, maybe in time.."
Nilgaerien, grinning her face off, was intently studying Arkantos' face, trying to glean anything else from his mind. He had looked to ignore her when he stepped back in but seemed to give up on that idea and had quickly whispered to her his plan. This was going to be splendid! He was even getting ideas of his own now! She just wanted to be sure nothing else had been said but that was becoming increasingly difficult with all the people in the room and so many minds to divide herself between.
But then the door opened and Amarie and Roth stepped in and Nil's concentration was completely broken. She hurriedly turned away and squeezed herself between the dwarves, trying to reach the far wall. She felt some confusion from Amarie but she didn't have any answers for the healer...nor herself. All she knew was she wanted to be as far as possible from Roth at the moment. Finally the wall touched her back and she sighed, relieved.
"All right, everyone - quiet down!" Aragorn waited while those around him did so then said, "I called you all here to inform you of a rather sudden change of events..." He then proceded to explain what Nil had done. When he was finished, all eyes were on her and she was feeling worse than when she had challenged Aragorn's leadership in front of Aelric.
Unexpectedly, it was Moori who took up for her. "And what of that? Aelric would have found out sooner than we would liked anyhow. It's best this way, I say - makes him think Nil trusts him. Could come in handy, that."
Dorin beamed at the wisdom of his fellow dwarf and raised an arm. "What did I tell you? Finest, wisest dwarf woman in all -" He was stopped by Moori's glare, though she still looked pleased at his announcement. Nil felt a strange warmth steal through her at the wink Moori sent her way - she was finally again retaining normal emotions!
Aragorn, trying his best to hide a smile at this pronouncement, nodded to the group. "I agree and perhaps it is for the better this way. But," here he wagged a finger at Nil. "No more unless you discuss it with us first." She nodded her agreement and he looked at the others. "Any other comments?"
Amari’ raised her hand. "Yes, Amari’?"
"I've got a small comment and two other things we should discuss." Aragorn nodded.
"I agree that it is good that Lord Aerlic thinks that Nilgaerien trusts him. But the real problem isn't really him, it is his sword. The closer we get to land the stronger it gets. It poisons him. It will cause a lot of trouble for us, for the twins and for Lady Valetira as well. But she will not betray him.

Also, Valruin is about to wake up soon. Lord Aerlic wants to question him. How much do we tell Valruin?"
"It seems likely that our new guest will have to accompany us, therefore we should tell him what lies before us. If he chooses to take another path then that is up to him but I do not forsee Aelric providing the means for his travels. I think, my friends, we have another member of this Quest. We must find out his intentions. Often things happen by chance apparently, yet I feel he may have a part to play in this."

As Aragorn spoke the ship heaved. Drogba stood gripping the doorway, "A storm approaches" he shouted to them, "Stay below decks, it is not safe above." With that he was gone. The ship heaved again. They could hear water sloshing along the corridors outside.

"Stay here," Aragorn commanded the others, "Arkentos and I will offer assistance to Aelric." Leaving them the two men went above to where the storm raged violently. Aelric found them, "I ordered you to stay below, the storm is sudden as though Ulmo himself attacks us. Go below!"

"We are not unused to ships and storms, and we may be of use." The wind whipped his words viciously away.

"You can be of no use here. My men will do all that needs to be done. Go below! Your comrades would not wish to lose their leader and their...." he stopped abrubtly. "Go below!"

Seeing that their help would not be accepted the two men returned below to find Vaeltira waiting for them. "Lord Aelric wishes me to question the elf on his behalf."

"I shall inform you as soon as he wakes."

"Apologies, My Lord, but Aelric demands he be questioned now. The storm has unsettled the men. and Aelric wishes to be clear that this elf has nothing to do with it. Perhaps he has angered his sea god. Please," she indicated ahead of her, "I must speak to him now with or without your presence."

They followed her to where the elf slept, Nilgaerien and Amarie with him and Roth standing guard outside. He barred the way not looking at Aragorn but staring at Vaeltira. "If you would move, we have business with the elves." She refused to meet his stare, instead staring ahead into the room. He said nothing. "Roth," Aragorn's voice was stern, "Move aside and let us in." For a few moments Roth remained still the suddenly he turned aside and moved away down the corridor. They could hear him muttering as he went.

The elf still slept but at Vaeltira's request they shook him gently.
Valruin woke up and his memory came back to him immediately, the fight with the pirates, how he was imprisoned and set free and was knocked down by other pirates. He looked around and he found that his wounds were healed. Then suddenly the ship began to heave. He fell out his bed. Vaeltira lifted him and set him back on bed. The two men, who stood near the bed, both grapped a chair and sat near the bed. The two men introduced themselves. "Greetings, Elf, we are here on behalf of Lord Aelric to question you." Valruin replied: "l will tell you nothing if you are pirates, and if you wish to kill me then, go ahead for l don't wish to live anymore." "We are no pirates, but you shall speak, for we saved you from doom and we wish to know more of you." "Then go ahead and ask what you wish." Valruin replied.
"We would know where you were going?" Aragorn asked gently.

"We were searching for Valinor, sailing to the West but with no success. I fear it is lost to us."

"Alas" cried Amarie, "The ways to Valinor are closed to us now. There is but one hope of finding the Straight Road and that is our Qu..."

"Hush, Lady," Aragorn's voice was low but commanding, "Let us find out more about our friend. Please, Valruin, please tell where you are from. Perhaps we have kin amonst us?"

The elf glanced at Amarie. "Very well" he said, "You know my name, my kin are from...."
"...Belfalas, where they had thrived for years, though at one time they removed themselves to the borders of South Ithilien and Lebennin."

"Why there?" Aragorn asked.

Valruin shrugged but then shifted his attention to Nilgaerien, who had stepped closer to the bed. Aragorn turned to gently order her back to her spot then stopped as he saw her face. If she had been dead it could not have been any whiter. Her eyes were cold and pale, her lips pressed together in a white line, and her hands clenched to prevent the trembling still seen there.

"Your...your kin...did they band together with another small league of elves when they left Belfalas?" she asked, her voice shaking.

Valruin nodded. "Yes. If I remember correctly, it was the leader of those others that proposed leaving for - " he stopped when Nil seemed to grow whiter and began to back away from the bed. Amarie put out a hand to her but the moment they touched, Nil turned, almost knocking an astonished Vaeltira over in her haste, and fled the room.

Nil ran down the corridor, her mind wrestling with the ideas and revelations stirred up, but before getting very far, she slammed right into another body, whose arms reached out to stop her fall.

"And what's wrong with you? I thought all of ya were havin' a meeting." It was Roth's voice and Nil pushed vainly against him, trying to escape. He abruptly shook her. "Nil, stop it! Did that Vaeltira woman - "

"No! No...not her..." She looked up at him, shaking her head. "'s Valruin. He's..if I sensed correctly...h-he's..."

"Stop mumbling! What are ya going on about?"

Tears were streaming from her eyes now, partly from her scattered thoughts and partly from the extreme pressure Roth was placing on her arms. "Roth, not everyone was destroyed that day! I - I think he was from...from my village."
"Then what are ya doing here, stupid girl! Get back and talk to him!" As she made to reply shouts were heard above the crashing seas from the top deck, "Ha, I'm needed for sure." And he leapt away up the stairs leaving Nilgaerian alone. On deck he was met by the surging waves washing over the prow of the ship. The shouts directed his look to just off the starboard side where an immense serpent-like creature swayed, its head more than 30 feet above the ship. Roth ran back down following the corridors to the quartermaster's room. Not stopping to knock he kicked at the door until it opened and seeing his axe stowed against a rack of weapons he grapped it up and ran back to the deck. The creature's head had lowered until it was a mere 10 feet away, it's sinewy, sleek body almost touching the ship's side. Numenoreans and sailors were flailing at its body with swords but none made the slightest wound in the beast. Roth let out a great cry and ran towards the beast, his great axe swinging. He slashed the beast's side and a great gash opened. The men fell back, leaving Roth screaming in fury as he slashed back and forth across the great snake's underside. It writhed as each stroke fell, but still it loomed over the ship, it's mouth dripping sea water and slime, great teeth bared as it targetted its prey. "Yer nothing...but..." he slashed again and again, "a great....belly....full o' guts" and with a final bite of the axe the belly of the creature split open and its black guts spilled out over the decks and Roth, spraying those who stayed near enough with slime and foul smelling ooze.

Glints of gold and other metal could be seen amongst the slippery mess on the decks. "His hoard," the men cried, "His hoard was in his stomach." The glint indeed came from what treasures the beast had swallowed during its reign of terror in the seas and now brought once more into daylight.

Aelric was there now, shouting commands at his men. The treasures were to be collected and cleaned and stock taken of them. In the sea beyond the boat the body of the serpent floated, discharging black filth into the water while carrion eaters gorged themselves on its corpse.

"Do what ya like with 'em" Roth muttered, "Treasure is not my concern but..." he shook his head, the voice within insistent, "OK, OK, I'll take that trinket." and he reached into the slimy mess and picked out a small elven dagger. "The rest ya can throw to the fish for all I care."

"Very well, Roth, and I give you my thanks for your deeds today. But...." Aelric paused "I must ask you to return your weapons to the quartermaster. Perhaps you would then care to take a bath - to be blunt you stink."
Aelric returned to giving orders to his men to clear up the mess and separate the gold and other objects so that they could be examined. Roth snarled and stomped back down to the quartermaster's room where he found cloths to clean the bloody axe blades. He also cleaned the small dagger, caressing it and talking softly. The voice in his head murmured to him, this blade was more than just at trinket and he would keep it safe until such time he understood it's worth. He was sheathing the blade in his boot when Nilgearien appeared at the doorway. "I understand you have been heroic... again." He ignored the comment. "Roth, are you well?" He ignored the question. "Roth!" Her voice was commanding and this time he lifted his head and looked at her directly. "Roth" she repeated softly, "Are you troubled still?" He smiled, his eyes cold. "I am only troubled by elves who know not when ta leave me alone."

"When you awoke you had the voice and manner of someone else, someone older, someone trapped. Your voice was that of an old man, pleading with us. He said he listens to you. Who is he Roth? Is he real, part of you or a dream of yours?"

"He's a dream, a memory of old. Nowt for ye ta worry about. Ya should be worryin' about that other elf and his connection to you. Have ya spoken to him yet?"

"No, I was about to. Come with me Roth."

"I'll not go where that woman is."

"Why do you hate her so much when you are at fault? Remember Roth I have seen your memories and hers and I have felt the hate from both of you."

"Fault?" He spat at her. "My fault that I was tortured and twisted? My fault they dangled her in front of me? It was none of it MY FAULT but that witch won't see that! She'll haunt me until one of us dies!" He moved towards Nilgaerien, his eyes narrowed, his breathing hard. "And it won't be me." He pushed past her leaving her alone, thinking on his words.
Aragorn put out an arm to stop Amarie following Nilgaerien.

"Your friend has a strange skill, I believe. She senses something within me kindred to us both. I will say no more until she returns but if she is who I think then you have my loyalty and service."

Aragorn nodded towards Valruin. "We will see what she says when she returns but in the meantime I accept your offer for our quest is one which will benefit elvenkind." Aragorn then told Valruin about their quest for the Gem of Eldamar, the sickness of Elrond's sons and their journey from Lothlorien. Of Nilgaerien's purpose he said nothing but when he told Valruin his true name the elf's eyes widened.

"My Lord Ellesar, "he cried, "If I had my sword I would swear on it now! But alas, the pirates took it from me."

"Your sword was recovered; being an elven blade made it easy to recognise as yours and it is now in safe keeping. There will be a time later for this. One other thing, while we are on this ship and among Numenoreans," he glanced at Vaeltira, "I mean no disrespect to you, My Lady nor to Lord Aelric, but you must refer to me only as 'Strider'." The elf nodded.

"My apologies, Valruin." Nilgaerien had returned calmer and in control of herself. "Shall we continue?"

>MAN OVERBOARD !!!< The shout is barely heard from the waves. >Its a miracle he survived until now! He should have drowned. But he is breathing! Captain, its a elf. Do you know him?< The elf is unconcius and obviusly wet. He is dresed in robes and has a staff and longsword straped to his backpack.
Not another cursed elf, Aelric thought as he watched his men drag him aboard. The men were asking questions and soon they would be demanding answers. He ordered one them to go and fetch Amarie. This elf would be kept away from the others until he knew more about him and the other one but Amarie was essential to provide healing.

"Take him below, confine him and set guards. No one apart from the elfmaid, Amarie, is to see him. Remove her as soon as she has finished."

"Your apologies are accepted, Nilgaerien, although l don't know why you're apologizing," Valruin replied after Nilgaerien's apologies, "everybody has sometimes a hard time, but tell me why were you so upset?" "lt is hard to say, but l think you are from my village, but l thought that everybody was destroyed." Nilgaerien said with a weak voice. "What did you say?!" Valruin shouted, "You are from my village?! But how, how is that even possible!? How did you survive?!"
"NO" she cried, "Don't make me remember it again, not so soon!" As the ship heaved again she lost her footing and fell against Vaeltira grasping her arm. Vaeltira screamed in pain and recoiled from Nilgaerien's touch, her head felt as though it was bursting. Aragorn steadied the two women, separating them and feeling the tingle of energy sparking through his body. Quickly he let go. "Nilgaerian, you must control yourself." It was a command. "I will.... I can....... " She sat down on a low stool. "Valruin, I know we are kin. I feel it. Do you remember me - I was the strange child that Gandalf taught. I was there when the Orcs came...... Gandalf found me, they searched for survivors but none survived except me, or so we thought...... where were you? "

By this time Valruin was sitting upright and still, his feet touching the floor, his hands on his knees, his head bowed. "All these years we thought we were the only ones. We were far away when it happened...... I had left the village with a long time before, together with some of my kin. We travelled far and saw much. When we returned nothing remained of the village. The dead had been buried and forgotten. There was nothing...... If we had stayed, if we had been there when the orcs came we could have helped. We had warriors among us, we were so brave and so full of our travelling............ we stayed together for a long time........ then gradually........ some lost...... gone..... the others........ " He put his head in his hands and was quiet.

Drogba's voice broke the silence, "The Lady Amarie, if you please. You are required to go with me." He stopped Aragorn's questions with his hand, "Lord Strider, these are Aelrics orders and I assure you no harm is intended. I can say no more of it to you. The Lady's healing skills are required, that is all."

He escorted Amarie from the room and shut the door behind him.
Drogba led Amarie to where the almost drowned elf lay on a wooden pallet, blood seeping from a head wound. She gasped in amazement. Another elf, another survivor perhaps from Valruin's ship. Relieved she still had her bag of herbs with her she set about cleaning his wounds and healing him. She sat holding his hand, feeling her energy drain into him. At last he opened his eyes and looked at her. His eyes widened... "Yavanna" he whispered... then he slept.

"Come with me... please." Lord Aelric took Amarie to a small room nearbye. Wine and food had been laid upon a small table. "He may need your help again. You will stay here until he is well and I have decided what to do. " The door was shut and bolted. Amarie was stunned by this treatment. How dare he! The arrogance of the man!
Amari’ gave the door a fierce kick. A strong fist hit the door form the outside in reply. "Be quiet in there, she-elf!" Amari’ was steaming. Keeping her locked in here, expecting her to sit quietly and wait for Lord Aelric to come fetch her, like some obedient puppy. They could at least have let her stay with the patient. The man thought he had died! He had thought she was a Valari. She smiled grimly, he was in for a greatndissapointment there. If he survived that is. She doubted the men watching him would be too sensitive to his needs. She could hear them walk over to him from time to time though, at least that was something. The rest of the time she could hear them gossip and telling bad jokes, mostly about elves.

Another big wave hit the ship, the table moved and the cup of wine fell over. She heard the men outside taking a few steps to retrieve their balance. She sighed and picked up a piece of bread, now soaked in wine, and ate it. Could it be that Ulmo was intentionally trying to keep them away from land? To buy them some time to get Alerics sword perhaps? No, that was probably to much to hope for. She sent an ice cold glare towards the door. "I have heard better jokes told by ORCS!! " she yelled. Then she heard another set of footsteps approaching.
The unconcius elf opened his eyes. Shapes moved in front of him, but he coudnt understand them. He monaed>Wha...where am i ? Is this another ship?<
Nilgaerien had edged closer to the bed while everyone's attention was on Drgoba and Amarie. "Valruin..." she said in a low voice. His hands left his face and he suddenly his eyes were wide, staring at her as if she were a ghost.
"The Guardian's daughter...your father was the leader..."
She nodded eagerly. "Yes! Yes, you remember!"
Color was returning to his face in the sudden excitement. "Gandalf took you away for several years then brought you back. You were changed...your mind didn't invade everyone else's so often..." By this time, the others in the room were looking on this conversation in high curiosity.
Nil's face suddenly fell. "But it and your family left before it got bad. The...the Gem tore it apart. That, and seeing - watching - my family's murders."
Valruin reached a hand towards her. "You actually saw it?"
"Yes...and I could do nothing but sit by the Gem, guarding, as I had been taught, my mind falling apart with every stroke of every orc's sword." Her face was twisted with grief and without, thinking, she took his outstretched hand. Both of their minds exploded at the touch, releasing memories and emotions...but, strangely enough, pain did not enter either one's mind. Nil gasped and released his hand. "You...I - I didn't hurt you!"
He shook his head, one hand reaching up to rub his left temple. "No...just overloaded, I think."
"But I didn't hurt you! You saw - Aragorn and Vaeltira both felt it - but nothing happened to you!" She was grinning, so wide that her cheeks were aching, but she hardly felt it. "Don't you see? Any doubts we have are gone! Everyone in the village was so closeknit because of the Gem that- "
" - you were never able to cause pain to any of us," Valruin finished for her. Both stared at each other as if looking at something they had never seen before. Across the room, Aragorn and Vaeltira exchanged glances.
Aelric stood in front of the elf ,distaste in his eyes. Another one. As if he needed another elf aboard this ship. The sooner they found the island the better.

"Tell me who you are and how you came here."

The elf raised himself onto his elbow. "I'll tell you nothing."

With a sudden movement Aelric brought his hand down hard across the elf's face. "You are aboard ship crewed by Numenoreans. It is in your own interests to tell me."

From her room nearbye Amarie could make out some of the words and if not the words she could understand Aelric's tone. If she called out then she would be silenced. If she did nothing then Aelric would, no doubt, beat the information out of the elf, information he would willing give to other elves but not to Numenoreans such as Aelric. She heard the sound of another slap. Unable to contain her anger any longer she shouted to Aelric to cease his brutality. He laughed at her. Amarie knew the elf could and would endure far more than Aelric had so far delivered and she wondered why Aelric had gone to such trouble to have her nearbye while he questioned the elf.
She heard the elf curse Aelric in Sindarin and then the sound of another slap. She heard the two guards snickering, then footsteps from more men arriving, cheering on Aerlic. "What is this?" she thought "He is torturing me as well, he knows that, what is the piont of this needless violence?" Then a thought entered her mind as another cheer could be heard. Could that be what he was trying to do? Torture two elves with one rock so to speak? If he really wanted to torment an elf by beating up another, he would have picked Nilgaerien. Was it all just tactics to prove to his men he could be trusted? Was she here because she was the only one who could help the elf after the interrigation was done? It was a slim hope. She sent a prayer to Nienna. "Oh gentle healer and giver of strenght in hard times, look upon us and help us stand tall through this!"

"You sure are brave Lord Aelric! Beating up a dying man!" she yelled. Then she bit her lip. She had never lied befor, the elf sounded strong to her, but the others didn't know that. She was hoping the elf would forgive her. If her guess was right, Aelric had to seem as heartless and hatefull towards the elves as possible. Not that he really needed any help on that...

Aelric laughed out loud. "He will surly die if he doesn't talk!" Then he slammed the elf down on the pallet. Amari’ winced. She heard him groan and start coughing. She closed her eyes tightly trying not to cry. All she could do was to yell angrily at Lord Aelric. Then the elf would know he was not alone, and if she acted like the beating was worse than it was, maybe she could save his life. And if she was wrong then at least she wouldn't have sat here quietly while Aelric beat the elf to death. Hopefully it would all be over soon.
Amarie was desperate to help but unable to do anything other than listen. The voices lowered but she could hear Aelric's commanding tone. Footsteps sounded going away and there was silence. The door was unbolted and Aelric stood there alone.

"The elf requires your help." He motioned for her to go to him which she did, gasping at the sight of his bruised face. "There was no need for such treatment," she shouted at him, "He would have told us without this."

"Think what you will, elfmaid, but I may have saved his life. I have done nothing that you cannot heal and such discomfort as he suffered is nothing compared to what some aboard this ship might inflict. Are none of you aware of the effect such a company has on my men? "

Despite the elf's obvious hurt, Amarie couldn't help smiling. So she had been right but she also had no doubt that Aelric had taken pleasure in torturing the elf.

The elf looked at Amarie, gratitude in his eyes. Already her healing power was f lowing through him, the bruising and pain eased. Aelric had been right, this was nothing that Amarie couldn't put right.

"Who are these people?" he asked her. "Is there madness here?"

"You are safe with us although it is difficult to believe after your treatment here. There are other elves here as well as men and dwarves."

"Are you prisoners of this man?"

"No, we are not, although I doubt not he would take satisfaction in that." She glanced at Aelric who stood silent, watching the two elves. "I am curious about you" she turned her attention back, "Your speech is not that of any elf I have met. Where are you from?"

"Far to the south east of here," he replied, "We travel to find trade and friendship and I had taken passage aboard a craft. We were attacked by pirates. I was below decks when they struck and saw nothing of what happened. The sea took me and I awoke here."

"There is one other survivor; Valruin, the captain of your boat...."

The elf was on his feet before Amarie had finished. "Valruin survived? Take me to him.... I must talk with him."

"You go nowhere until I say so." Aelric called Drogba, instructing the man to fetch the elf, Valruin. "If he can vouch for you then you may join the others." They waited until Drogba returned with Valruin, the elf looking puzzled at this sudden summons. As he entered the room his expression turned to that of amazement, "My friend, you live! Blessed Valar!"

"Very well" Aelric was satisfied but allowed no further conversation between the elves, "You will be taken to the common room together with the rest of your company, including the mad Roth." He addressed Amarie, "Make sure they are aware of the situation and the need for secrecy. And Drogba, have my wife sent to me immediately."
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