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Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road

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"Didn't you hear the call?!," Valruin said, "Lord Aelric is fallen overboard!" "I heard the call man overboard," Etharion said, "but l didn't know that it was Lord Aelric. Is he okay?" "Well, l suppose you can't swim well with armor, so l guess he is sinking to the bottom of the sea now......" Valruin said. "Then why are we standing here," Amari’ suddeny said, "we must rescue him!" "Should we?" Etharion said, "Maybe this our chance to get rid of that evil, maybe he should die, after all he did." "That was not him, that was his sword!" Amari’ shouted. "Then maybe this our change to rescue him from the sword, let it sink to the bottom and save Lord Aelric." Valruin said.
"My Lady" It was Drogba, "There is nothing more we can do now it is dark. I am sorry, My Lady."

"I understand, Drogba. Nothing we can do at all.... " She looked at the young soldier. "I know he is alive and so do you. The sword took him from us. I should have done something, Drogba."

"So should I, My Lady. I knew the sword was becoming stronger but he is my commander and Lord. How could I , how could we act against him?" Drogba was tired, his voice was strained and his gloved hands gripped the ship's rail tightly as he fought to control his grief.

"Drogba, you know what must be done now. The men need a leader, especially with the company we have aboard. You must take over from Lord Aelric."

"No, My Lady."

Vaeltira looked at Drogba in surprise. "No? How so? You cannot leave the men without a commander Drogba and who else would be suitable but you?"

"There is one, My Lady." He looked towards Aragorn, deep in conversation with Roland and Arkantos. "I am not stupid, My Lady. Lord Aelric told me enough for me to deduce who he is."

"We have never thought you stupid! But perhaps we were not as clever as we thought." She looked directly at him, her dark blue eyes boring into his soul. "Tell me truthfully, would the men accept him?"

"I have heard the men talk, they will accept him in the absence of Lord Aelric. Lord Aragorn, " He smiled as he said the name to her, "was the victor and now the shadow has been lifted they can see that the world of Men needs to be united. These men are warriors and they will fight for their beliefs but those beliefs have changed - more so since the elves and dwarves came aboard. Many have seen a different elf to those in our tales. They will fight for Men and for Aragorn."

Drogba gave orders that crew and soldiers be summoned to the main deck. Rumours were rife about Aelric's fate and Drogba first told them as much of the truth as was necessary. Many had seen the sword in action and knew some of the effect it had on their Lord. Drogba announced that Aelric, for the time being, was missing. In the meantime, he told them, a new commander would be named. He stood in front of Aragorn.

"This man is Aragorn son of Arathorn, of the line of Isildur, King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor," Drogba knelt before Aragorn "I offer my alliegance, my loyalty and my service and that of my men to you, My Liege." So saying Drogba offered his sword to Aragorn.
Finished with Amarie, Etharion went on the deck. Seeing the announcment that Aragorn was leader now, he came closer. " I to offer the aliance of the Southern elves to you, my lord. If you are willing to accept us." He bowed down with his sword hilt towards Aragorn. Aragorn was a more decent leader, sword or not, and he would see that the fights among the races would not help them against the enemy.
Aragorn stood beneath the golden light of the many lamps lit upon the ship's main deck. There had been silence until Etharion had stepped forward and then a great whisper rippled through the watching men.

After receiving the pledges of loyalty Aragorn placed a hand on the shoulder of both Drogba and Etharion.

"I am honoured by my own people and that of the Elves. Let all here know that I accept the pledges with my spirit and my heart. Let our differences be put aside, let us unite against the dangers we face both here and at home. We may have more wars to fight before we claim the peace we all desire but we fight for our freedom and our land, for our families and our homes so that all may live in peace.

Lord Aelric is a great man and has been your leader for many years. If he comes back to us as one of us I will, without hesitation, relinquish my authority as your Leader. On this you have my word.

But we are Men and I am your King and your Commander and I expect every man aboard this ship to obey my orders without question.

We were once enemies, Men of Umbar, we fought many battles against each other and there is fuel for hatred and revenge if we allow it. We must not allow that. We must start afresh, as one nation. I am proud to call you my people!"

Many of the men cheered their support. Here was the opportunity for them to prove themselves to the King of Gondor no less and to be accepted as equals with Gondor. Yet some took up the chant of Aelric and Umbar. Who was this new King that they should trust him so? Where was Aelric? Aelric was the man they knew, the man they served with their lives if necessary. But this Ranger who called himself King? Drogba stepped forward once more.

"Lord Aelric is your Commander and your Lord but this man is your King He travelled in friendship with Lord Aelric and although we do not know what evil befell Lord Aelric or where he is now I tell you all that if there is still a chance of saving him then King Elessar is his best hope."

The dissenters were silenced as others took up the chants for Aragorn and Drogba and even for the elves who had pledged their support to Men!
Amari’ and Valruin continued to discuss Aelrics fall when they heard the cheering. They looked at eachother, where they saying what they thought they were saying? "Can you take me up there Valruin?" "Are you sure you are well enough?" "I am, I have to be, if this is what I think it is, then I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Valruins was also eager to see what was going on, he didn't argue. Amari’ put her arm around his neck, it stirred the wound but she ignored the pain the best she could. Valruin lifted her up and carried her her up on deck.

"You can put me down Valruin, I should be able to stand in my own if you give me some support."
The wound ached as she straightend her back, but being on her feet in the fresh sea air felt so good. Amari’ eyes shone with pride as she saw Aragorn the way he was ment to be, standing tall and proud with all eyes on him, not sneaking and hiding in the shadows.

Roland was the first to noticed they had arrived. "Amari’! You are awake! Praised be the Valar!"
As Roland took her hand to lead her forward Drogba stepped in front of them. Holding up his hands he silenced the crowd of men around him.

"My Lady Amarie of Rivendell, on behalf of all of us I thank you for saving the life of our beloved Lady Vaeltira. I trust your wound is healing and that you will be restored to full health. " He bowed. Amarie gasped, for once unable to articulate her feelings. She looked at him directly, her pale face faintly flushed in embarrassment and he smiled briefly, noting her blush. His look of interest did not go unnoticed by Roland.
All eyes were on the group standing in the glow of the lamps. No one noticed the soldier quietly talking to Vaeltira. She nodded at his words, glanced at the others and slipped away. She wondered what Roth had to say to her that was so urgent.

She found him in his cell, sitting in the centre, head bowed.

"I am here. Tell me what you have to say quickly."

He looked up at her. His face was gaunt and dark, his eyes overbright and staring. "Do you still not recognise me, Lady Vaeltira, wife to Lord Aelric?"

"You are Roth."

"No, Lady Vaeltira, Roth is here with me. But I am so much more. " Roth smiled. "Such a pretty pendant you wear, my lady. As I said to you before, it is the dragon that colours your eyes so beautifully. Do you recall?"

Vaeltira paled. "What you are saying cannot be so." She stepped back, her hand on the open door. The guards were close by, ready to aid her if she asked.

"Oh but it can, My Lady, it can. And now we meet again. I need your help and you need mine. Shall we talk?" Again that smile. "I see you are not convinced. Yes, I am within Roth and I have been within him for many years in Barad Dur. But I wanted my freedom. Ah.... such irony....... And then the Dark Lord summoned me and I was given a body for a while. The terms were simple - I was to ensure your loyalty and that of Aelric with a curse that would allow Our Lord to control you until death. My reward? My freedom from Barad Dur. After long ages imprisoned I would be free. " Roth's laughter was manic and disturbed. "But the Dark Lord was too clever. I gave him the curse, I set it upon you and Aelric at your wedding feast, as you remember - the fear in those lovely eyes was wonderful to behold. Yes, I gave him what he wanted and he gave me..... Roth. He freed me from Barad Dur but left me imprisoned in this madman. How long I have whispered to him, listened to him, fed him with lies and fear. And now we are here together again." He paused and watched Vaeltira. "Oh, we remember you so very well, my Lady."

Vaeltira remained silent.

"My offer is this, you help me escape this madman so that I can live once more and I will remove the curse that binds you to Aelric." He waited. "Do we have an arrangement, my Lady?"

Vaeltira said nothing. She stared at the man sitting in the middle of a bare cell. Then she turned and fled the room, the door slamming shut behind her, his laughter following her.
Drogba offered his hand to lead her over to Aragorn. Amari’ was already holding Rolands arm firmly, knowing she needed the support. This was all such a sudden change, she had came to hear the men cheer for Aragorn, no praise had she expected for herself. She gave Roland a half panicing look, but she didn't want to reject this first sign of kindness from this man. With a nervous smile she took his hand and slowly let go of Rolands, halfway expecting Drogba to drop her.

Drogba led her slowly towards Aragorn, walking wasn't pleasant but she treid her best to block out the pain and hold her head high. Clinging to Drogba and feeling like all eyes were on her made her feel slightly uncomfortable. To Amari’ relief Aragorn walked towards them and reached for her hands. Arkantos followed right behind.

"Amari’, dear friend, I am glad you are awake, but you should be resting. We thought we had lost you." Amari’ smiled softly. "You almost did, I was far away." She lowered her voice so only the closest could hear and added: "Then something happend, and I was with the twins." Aragorn raised his eyebrows. "The twins? How could that be?" "I will tell you later, my Lord. They are doing fine and that they know we are doing our best." She didn't want to revieal anything more, this was private. Drogba had nothing to do with this.

"I understand there are no news about Lord Aelric?" She asked in a normal voice. Aragorn shook his head. "No word, no sightings, nothing." "Where is Vaeltira? I have not seen her. I wanted to talk to her." "She is right over..."

Both Aragorn and Drogbas eyes suddenly sweaped the deck nervously. Amari’ eyes widened. Drogba turned to his men. "Men! The King commands you all to get back on your posts! We have work to do." He grabed hold of a young man who walked by. "Where did lady Vaeltira go?"
The young man saluted. "Sir, I believe a message was delivered to the Lady Vaeltira. The madman Roth wanted to talk to her in private. Should I find her, sir?"

"No, that will be all." Drogba turned to Aragorn. "With your permission, My Lord, I will attend to this." He turned sharply on his heel and marched away.

"Roland, please, if you would. Take me below. I wish to see that Vaeltira is safe. She should not speak to Roth alone."

Steadying herself against Roland's arm she walked hesitantly towards the hatchway.
Nilgaerien had watched the proceedings quietly from her place near the rail, beyond the light of the nearest lamp. The power of the Gem was now quieted, also, giving her extra senses but no headaches. It had been feeding her Roth's emotions for the past hour and she didn't like the emotions she was feeling. That spirit inside Roth hungered for her. For what purpose, she could not imagine. But not only for, as soon as she felt Vaeltira inside that cell, the spirit's hunger had grown large and dark.

She frowned as her attention was suddenly jerked to Amarie working her way past. Nil eyes shot open as her hand grabbed Amarie's arm. The Healer turned her abruptly, frowning as she noticed the silver-blue glint lying in her friend's eyes...the Gem?

"Do not go to Roth, my friend. He would not accept you."

Amarie blinked. "Has he ever? I need to see -"

"You do not." Nil's voice had taken on a husky, far-away quality. "Allow me to go to him. Trust me, please." Amarie hesitated, then seeing her expression, nodded. Nil quickly made her way down, feeling some sort of shock from Vaeltira. As she neared the cell, she felt the spirit respond to her, dark and eager.
Arkantos and Aragorn noticed Nilgaerien talking to Amari’ and going below deck, both were sensed that something was about to happen. Arkantos also saw it as a chance to be near Amari’ and didn't let if pass. "My Lord" he said quietly. "I will go with them, unless you need me here." Aragorn was looking at Amari’s back, he thought he saw blood stains on her, but he could be wrong, they could be from before. Either way he was concerned, she should be resting. He gave a smal nod to Arkantos. "Go with them."

Arkantos bowed to Aragorn and hurried to Amari’s side, offering his arm as support. She gave him a greatful look and a thank you. "Where do you want to go, my lady?" Roland wondered. "I was planning to go to Roths celle, but Nilgaerien went down there and insisted she shoudl go alone. I don't feel like meeting him now anyway. Nilgaerien will find Vaeltira if she is there." She was quiet for a while. Arkantos saw how pale she was. "Are you sure you don't want to go to you room and rest?" Amari’ shook her head. "Let us try Vaeltias and Aelrics quarters. She misses her husband and it is her home on this boat. Will you take me there? I can not rest untill I have found her." The two men nodded and together they supported her towards
Amarie tapped gently on the stout wooden door. The intricate carvings on the handle reflected once again the skill of Numenorean craftsmen. She tried the handle, and the door opened. It was dark in the room, not even a single candle burned but Amarie could see the huddled form on the bed that she knew to be Vaeltira. She turned to her companions. "Please, would you wait for me along the corridor?"

"Amarie, you must rest", Roland's voice quivered with anxiety. If anything were to happen to Amarie, Aragorn would hold them responsible and she was clearly not well enough to be up and about.

"I will rest when I have spoken to Vaeltira and not a moment before." Her tone was not one to argue with and the two men reluctantly moved along the corridor.

Amarie stepped into the room and shut the door quietly behind her. "Vaeltira," she whispered, "I know you are here and I know you are suffering. Are we not friends? Talk to me about Aelric, for it is he your heart yearns for, I can tell."

There was a muffled sob and the huddled form moved. Even in the darkness Amarie could see the red rimmed eyes that showed Vaeltira had been crying.

"We are lost!" cried Vaeltira, "We are all lost. There is no hope left."

"There is always hope. Tell me what Roth said to you."

"It isn't Roth anymore." Vaeltira pulled herself to a sitting position facing Amarie. "Well, it is and it isn't. The spirit within him controls him more than we thought." She was silent.

"Tell me about him."

Vaeltira shivered. "I knew him as Melvorien, servant of The Dark Lord and a great sorcerer. We met once many years ago...."

"Go on" Amarie prompted gently. She was feeling the strain of sitting and talking and her back ached but she concentrated on Vaeltira, pushing the pain from her mind.

"He came to our wedding feast with gifts from The Dark Lord himself, so he said. One gift was the Sword for Aelric, a sword worthy of the Dark Lord's greatest warrior. The other was the curse; he wove it around us and we were trapped. Aelric was furious, of course, he did not need a curse to keep his loyalty. Melvorien laughed at him. I heard that laugh from Roth tonight....... he is stronger and he is looking for an escape. Amarie.... I don't know what to do. Aelric is lost to the Sword Wraith and I have nothing left to fight with."
The guards eyed her nervously but thankfully Drogba was there. Even he was hesitant to let her pass. Nilgaerien gathered strength before the door, the only thing to seperate her from that...that thing in Roth. She heard voices beyond, somehow different and yet the same:

"Do you hear? Do you feel? She is coming..." A powerful voice.

Then a rasping, tortured one. " promised. harm...comes to her..."

Her eyes darkened and she clenched her fists, summoning the Gem's power to her. Slowly, she pushed the door open. A dark figure huddled in the corner, raising horribly dark eyes to study her.

"I am here. What is it you want?"
"Dear Valetira, you have the one thing that can save Aerlic. Love. Anyone can see the love you have for eac hother. You are the only thing he really cares about. You can bring him back." Vaeltira didn't look up, but she was listening. "Valruin described Aelrics odd behavior befor he went into the sea. It can only mean that he is fighting the Sword Wraight. The Wraight would have taken him quitely so we would not know it had him. There is still hope!"

Vaeltira shifted slightly and wiped her cheek. "You really think so?" Her voice thin like that of a scared child. Amari’ felt sweat trickle on her forehead. She was glad it was to dark for Valetira to see it.

"There is always hope. It is always darkest befor sunrise, the rangers often say. You have Drogba and Urdon. And you have me. And you have Nilgaerien. You have Roland and Arkantos. You have the king himself fighting on your side. You are not alone anymore, we all in this together. You even have two dwarves by your side, and evil does not stick easily on dwarf kind. I suspect these two to be particulary stubborn and strongwilled, even for dwarves."

Amari’ heard a sniffle and saw a swift smile on Vaeltiras lips, but if faded quickly. "For so long Aelric was all I had. He had his men and his army, but we could only trust each other. It is hard to trust someone else again." She reached for the healers hand, the touch was comforting and loving, but something wasn't right. The skin was strangly cold. Vaeltira jumped up and turned on the light, Amari’ tried to object but was too late. Vaeltira gasped as she saw the pale and weary elf sitting there, she had looked better when she was still in deep sleep and nearly dead.
Vaeltira opened the door to call for help and immediately Roland and Arkantos were there, Roland tripping over and pushing Arkantos into the room. In spite of her discomfort and tiredness, Amarie laughed at the two gallant men sprawling in front of her.

"I am glad you still have the strength to laugh, Amarie, but you are not well. Certainly not well enough to be here scolding me. Why didn't you say something to me?"

"I had more urgent matters on my mind. I am sorry, and you are right - I should not have come here but I did. And you, Vaeltira, must heed my words."

"I do. But I also wish you to live long enough to keep scolding me lest I forget your wisdom."

Arkantos regained his composure and offered to carry Amarie back to her room. "Thank you Arkantos," she said in a weak voice, "I must sleep some more...."

"Moving her will only make the wound worse. Please Amarie, stay here and rest. We can dress your wound and then you can sleep."

Amarie could do nothing but agree. She allowed herself to be placed on the bed and as she drifted in and out of sleep she was aware of her wound being cleaned and dressed and voices murmuring.

One voice she heard clearly. It was Aragorn talking quietly to someone else in the room. "We cannot wait any longer. With Aelric gone and his men still on the island we must make haste. Their lives may be in danger. If Amarie has not recovered enough then we must go without her." Then she heard as she drifted away again... "And what of Nilgaerien? How fares she?"

...Upon the churning waves toiled the labouring marines of the Meneltauros, still reluctant to cease in their search for their honoured lord. Drogba, cleaved to the words of Aragorn and Vaeltira that there may yet be hope in the morning. Then he would purpose himself with an extensive search of the shores of the isle that had claimed Aelric's soul and now his body. Clearly, there was little hope of finding him alive, the fact that he was wearing armour and was in a state of dementation would not add to his chances. But Drogba had not yielded his oath to Elessar without condition, Aelric's welfare would be afforded the highest priority amongst him and the crew no matter what the outcome.

The cool breeze stirred the sentry from his slumber long enough for him to catch the hint of movement from the shoreline. The night had drawn in swiftly, and the tide too was high, so that their camp lay no more than twenty yards from the incoming surf. He squinted in the half-light, still unsure of the noise which would probably be nothing more perilous than a beached turtle, yet his orders were clear, assume the worst and remain at full alert. He was one of seven marines posted on the beach on Drogba's orders earlier in the day, intended to scout out the landing area and assess any threats. "Nothing to report" he mused aloud to himself.
Again the movement and this time a coughing sound, that was no turtle. Cautiously, he advanced toward the beached hulk that lay half concealed in the sand and the sea. It must be a man, and a large individual - then he noted the sheen of the black cuirass (breastplate) upon the still form, no more than half a dozen yards away. Taking his spear high in his right hand he leant toward the prone form and prodded the body with the tip. Nothing, no movement and not a sound. He feared that this could be an Orc ruse so proceeded further with extreme caution. Making back for the campsite he decided to rouse his crewmates, but before he had taken two steps his ankle snagged upon some hidden obstacle. He looked down to see his foot impeded by, by what? His mind hesitated as it struggled to make sense of the oily black appendage that coiled and clung to his feet. The substance seemed to draw the darkness and shadow that lay about the sailor into itself, and with that it's grip became stronger. He felt the panic surge up through his entire body and yet the more he strove to unbind himself the more he felt his leg being fiercely beared down into the sand by this elderitch snare. Then slowly a silhouette of the creature drew itself up to its feet and approached the stricken marine with painful ease. Terrified, he tried to issue a warning, yet only a muted scream came out before his mouth was covered by the cold grasp of this malevolent substance, his eyes now bore witness to the sudden realisation that his tormentor was none other than his Captain, yet changed to some monstrous corruption of him.

Aelric towered over the dying man, his blood-red eyes blazing like molten rubies, the face and skin ,barely recognisable as his own, had an obsidian shine and the sword at his right hand uncoiled itself from the drained corpse of its first "living" victim in nearly two Ages of Middle Earth - Thuringwethil, the Herald of Morgoth was revealed and soon to be reunited with her infernal brood.

The bloodcurdling screams were heard far out to sea, and those aboard the Meneltauros shuddered at what this fell clarion-call may yield in each one their hearts.
Back on the Meneltauros Nilgaerien growled like an animal at the shapes and shadows surrounding her. She had no memory of who she was or where she was. Hands reached out to her and she snarled, biting at them.

For what seemed an age Aragorn had taken turns in watching her and trying to bring her mind back. Since they had found her crawling like a beast outside Roth's door she had given no sign that she knew who they were. Moori and Dorin had spent the longest with her. Their stalwart minds did not appear to irritate Nilgaerien and their patience seemed boundless.

Already more men had left for the island, both to search for Aelric and to make a safe landing area and camp site. As yet Aragorn had no word of Captain Izzariend and his men but this was not wholly unexpected. More pressing was the health and sanity of the two elf maids. He could leave Amarie behind if necessary, although Mordor hath no fury like an elf maid denied, but Nilgaerien was essential to find the Gem. Before long they would have to leave the Meneltauros and brave the island's dangers, with or without the elves. What had happened to Nilgaerien? What had Roth said and done to her. Vaeltira had told him what she knew and piecing the bits together it seemed that this spirit within Roth had more to do with past events than first seen. Was the spirit responsible for the terrible attack on Nilgaerien's village? Had he tricked Roth into leading the orcs there? Until Nilgaerien recovered they would not know. Roth now sat, unmoving and silent and all attempts to force information from him had failed.

Aragorn was roused by the noise above. Beneath the shouts and cries of the men on deck he could hear the drawn out scream of something dying in horrific agony.
Amari’ drifted between deep sleep and regular elf sleep, where her mind wove dreams and what her senses told her together. She heard the comming and going of people, and slowly she connected the feelings and things she had heard while sleeping in the healing room with real people. It felt good to get these things sorted.

Arkantos came in to replace Roland. "How is she?" "She is sleeping peacefully. Aragorn was here to check on her a while ago, she seems to be doing fine and she is not as plale, but there was no change with Nilgaerien he said. I trust you got some well earned sleep?" Arkantos nodded. "I slept as well as I could with all that is going on." "I know how you feel, my friend. I will go and see if I can help Aragorn in any way."

Arkantos took Rolands place by Amari’s bed. She was still with a hint of a smile on her pale lips. She looked so helpless and vulnerable. He wanted to hold her in his arms and protect her from all evil. Instead he stroke away a lock of hair from her face. He sighed. "No, Roland" he thought. "You don't know how I feel..."

In dreams Amari’ felt once again like someone was keeping something from her, but it was so hard to wake up and see. Suddenly the bonechilling scream was heard and she woke up with a gasp and a beating heart. Arkantos looked just as shocked and confused, he gave her hand a quick, comforting squeeze. "Don't worry, I will be right back." He hurried to the door to see if anyone in the hall could explain. As he left Amari’ realized that he was the one who was hiding something. It was Arkentos' presence she had felt so often in the healing room, and it was he who had a secret he couldn't tell her. Of all people... She had expected it to be Vaeltira, or Nilgaerien perhaps. "There is noone out there, I don't know what that scream was, I can..." then he saw Amari’s stunned look and he stopped. "Amari’? Is something wrong?"
With a low snarl, Nilgaerien came off the table, into Dorin's waiting arms that violently pushed her back and, gently as possible, held her down. "There now, lass. There now..."

Moori's sharp eyes surveyed the elf. "We should just kill her and be done with it!"

Dorin's lips crinkled into a grin. "Aye - and then where would we be without the Gem?"

"Least we'd have one less crazy elf among us," Moori retorted. Then her face softened. "It isn't right, for her to suffer so much."

Dorin gave her a sharp look. "Are ya getting soft on me, most beautiful dwarf?"

Moori scowled deeply and growled, "No!"

Then Dorin patted her arm. "I know, lass, I know." They continued to hold her as she writhed beneath them, then the convulses slowed and stopped and she lay half-panting. Slowly, the two dwarves released her and her bright eyes opened yet they were unfocused, inward-looking.

"Dorin...Dorin!" came the very unelf-like voice, half croak, half growl.

"Here, lass, I'm here."

The silver and black rimmed orbs shot in his direction. " must keep him away! Do you hear? He has come...he has come to destroy...them all! I knew...I knew but I...I let him in!"

Moori lifted an eyebrow at Dorin but he shook his head. "Who are ya talking about, lass?"

"The...the..." her body shuddered. "He's come to destroy my family! You cannot...cannot let him do so!"

Moori took firm hold of the elf's slim shoulders. "Your family is dead, Nilgaerien! Do you understand? They are dead! Come back to the present!"

Nil's eyes rolled back and her body went into another series of convulsions before finally she lay still then carefully opened her eyes, eyes that were the familiar icy blue they remembered. They focused first on Moori, then on Dorin, then they closed and a sigh of relief came from her. One hand reached out to them and both grabbed it.

"Thank you," she said in a weak, but normal voice. "I couldn't find my way back."

Both dwarves beamed at her. "We'll be right back, lass," Dorin said. "I'll inform Aragorn of your waking and Moori will get you something to drink." They rushed out but if they had stayed only a little longer, they would have seen Nil's eyes follow them, turning a black color as they did then an awful shake pass through her body and a low moan with the words "Enough! Please, enough...I will do it...I will..."

And below Nil's room hunched Roth, shaking his head miserably while an eerie voice from his mouth flaunted its triumph.

A fluid black shape alighted upon the corpse. Its form was black against the black of night and it's presence noted only by the rippling of dark flesh thinly stretched across a wingspan to match that of a Great Eagle. It folded the great wings into its body looked towards where Thuringwethil/Aelric stood and opened its great mouth to utter one word. "Mother."
Amari’ blinked a couple of times. "If something is wrong?" she thought for herself "You tell me Arkantos, you tell me.." But she shook her head slowly. "No, I am fine. Better." She moved the arm she wasn't lying on in a small circular motion. "Did Aragorn give me something for the pain?" He hesitaded. "No.. I don't think so. Not while I was here.." He then looked around as if he hoped to find some proof of what he said was true. Amari’ had to smile at him, he was obviously feeling a bit lost. Secret or no secret, he was sweet to worry so much. "Then I am doing a lot better. Aragorn knows what he is doing." Arkantos smiled softly, her blue eyes had gotten back much of the light he remembered. "You look a lot better too."

Suddenly Dorin burst through the door and scanned the room. "Ay ay.. mister Arkantos, we have lost our Nilgaerien. Ahh miss Amari’! You look a lot better! So did Nilgaerien, but now she's gone! I failed! I failed! We need your help Arkantos"

Arkantos turned to Amari’. "Maybe I should..." Amari’ nodded. "You should. Go find her. I will stay her like a good little patient and heal. I promise." She was worried for Nilgaerien, but the thought of being left behind was not pleasant either.

He made a movement with his hand to stroke her cheek, but seemed to change his mind half way, and the movement became some awkvard attempt to pat her head. Amari’ was left to wonder what he suddenly found so repulsive about her that he could hardly bear to touch her.

For a while she lay there dosing off, staring out in the room thinking about all and nothing. Then she heard steps outside and a knock on the door. It was Drogba. "I am sorry to disturb you, my lady. May I come in?" She nodded, the curiosity about why he was there was stronger than her distrust. He stepped over to the bed. "You look good my lady." Amari’ smiled grimly. She had not washed for days now and didn't feel like she 'looked good'. "Yes a pale and tired face with dark rings under the eyes is always attractive." "It takes more than that to hide your beauty, my lady."Amari’ blushed again and felt silly. How starved was she for compliments anyway? She changed the subject. "Any news about Nilgaerien?"

"Well... yes and no... can I sit down?" Amari’ nodded again. He sat down and leaned forward. "We haven't found her yet." "Have you checked in the stables?" "Yes she wasn't there." "She would go there if she was upset. Check again, in every dark corner. I knew she shouldn't have gone to see Roth on her own.."

"There is something else.. Roth is missing too." Amari’s eyes widend and the little colour that had returned to her cheeks vanished. "What do you mean 'missing'? He was guarded! Locked inside! He is dangerous!" "I know! We came down and found the guards almost insane with some sort of headache, the keys were gone and the cell empty.." "He.. headache? Oh no... Nil.." This was the first time she didn't use her full name. "Why did I let her go? I should have known.. I should have known..." Amari’ curled up like a baby, cluching the sheets, igoring everything around her, struck with fear and grief. "What did he do to you? Where are you? Melima mellon, dear friend, where are you?" Drogba went pale as well. Had the elf maiden set the crazy man free? And the healer was crying! He was not good at dealing with feelings, what was he suppose to do now?
Nilgaerien surfaced from the black water, gasping for air. Before she could fully recover, a hand grasped her arm in a painful grip, pulling her with it. Her feet soon rubbed against hard ground then she was being jerked out of the water, sand underfoot. She took a shuddering breath and heard Roth do the same. The spirit was pushing both of them for all they were worth and this small rest would be nothing of the sort. In less than ten minutes, she had destroyed two men's minds, practically given up her own, and dove off a very large ship. Her skin still tingled at the impact on the water.

Flipping wet, limp curls out of her face, she glared at Roth's eyes, the spirit's favorite way to make himself known. "You nearly killed me back there! Elves aren't fish!"

Roth met her eyes, his own brimming with malevolence. "I knew your limits. Spoiled elvish brats are never pushed to their limits, so I did it for you."

His hand tightened and Nil jerked. "Unhand me! I agreed, now let go!" The hand became a tight clamp bringing tears to her eyes then abruptly released her. Suddenly, it was no longer an ancient spirit looking at her but the weary, strained half-elf she had known most of her life.

"I'm sorry," Roth wheezed. He lifted the same hand that had just grasped her then let it fall as he glanced at the bruise already forming on her arm. Nil turned away in disgust and looked at the same beach she had set foot on nearly half a century ago. Memories tried to sweep over her but before they got far, the spirit snatched them from her and replaced them with the horrible fire, burning, burning away her life...

She flinched and opened her eyes. A tear slipped past her defenses. Then the Gem called its greeting, in recognition of her contact with its home. A wave swept pass her then a hand was touching her again, though this time it was barely there, as if afraid to touch her.

"He's demandin' we leave the shore," Roth said quietly. She glanced at him, noting the strain on his face, breaking his voice - the strain of fighting for some amount of control over himself.

She frowned. "He demands..."

"Please, Nilgaerien, none of yer stubbornness -"

A pain hit her head and spread through her mind, sweeping destruction across it. She gasped and gripped her head with both hands, seeing again the terror..."All right!" she managed to get out of straight lips. "I'm going!" She stepped away from Roth, whom she must have stumbled against when the pain came and with all senses heightened, took a step.

"Not that way," came that weird, second voice of Roth's that was the spirit. "Choose a direction that is less or not at all traveled."

She gritted her teeth but disobedience was not in her mind this time. With a very low mental nudge to a mind on the ship out in the harbor - a nudge that she knew the spirit could not feel - she changed direction and the two figures slipped silently into the trees, a low, evil chuckle following them.

On ship, Gondolin pricked his ears forward then began a campaign to free himself of his stablings.

Then, Valruin entered the stable. He saw Gondolin trying to free himself and he walked to the horse. Valruin whispered some words in the horse's ears and the horse neighed softly. Valruin looked shocked "Thank you Gondolin, l will look for her." he said. lmmediatly the horse relaxed. Then Valruin turned and ran away from the stable and looked away to the sea. Suddenly he saw two dots laying in the water. "Gondolin was right, she is in the sea........ but who is with her?" Valruin said to himself. Then he yelled: "People overboard!!! Come quickly!!!!!"

People started to run to the deck and a rowing boat was lowered down. Valruin entered the boat with some other men and started rowing to the location where Valruin saw the dots last.
Drogbas confusion about Amaries silent tears was interupted by a young man who obviously had run to get there. "Sir, the elf Valarin.. or.. or something saw something floating in the sea, we have... boats on their way to check it , he belives it to be the missing elves. Probably... dead, sir." Drogba cast a quick glimps on Amari’, she was dead silent now. "I will be up shortly. Anything else?" "Yes, the girls horse is acting all crazy again, Vauin... the elf man calmed it down the first time, but it is a danger to itself and the crew." "Does the king know of this?" "He is on deck with the elves and the two men, he does not know of the horse."

Drogba nodded and the man left. He turned towards Amari’ again. "My lady, I am sorry, I..."
Amari’ grabed hold of his arm and pierced his grey eyes with her dark blue. It was like wathing the evening sky just as the stars become visible. Did all elves have eyes like that? "It will not be them in the water. It is like with Lord Aelric, long gone, but she is not dead. She is calling her horse. He will find her. We need to get him on shore." Amari’ was talking rapidly, she sensed hope and would not let go of it.

"My lady, you are not making much sense, are you sure you are alright?"

"We need to lower him into the sea so he can swim. The elves will explain to him and calm him down. And a boat to accompany him, a rope around his neck to hold his head above the water and help him save strength."

"I know how to transport an animal to shore, but honestly, my lady, this is.."

"Please, sir Drogba. Just tell Aragorn what I have said. He knows the connection between the two. I beg of you! Please!!" Her eyes were pleading and filling with tears again.

"Yes, yes, I will tell him, just don't cry! Don't cry anymore, ok?!"

"Yes sir." she smiled softly and let go. "Let me know how it goes?"

"Yes, yes, I will" He hurried up to deck shaking his head. "Explain it to the horse" he thought . "They are all insane, I will tell Aragorn so he can see how sick she must be. Too bad, she is such a pretty girl."


Up on deck the boats had gotten to the floating bodies and were dragging them behind them to the ship, blocking the view so the people on deck couldn't see. When they got close it was easy to see why they had not pulled them into the boat. It was not a pretty sight. Roland stood next to Aragorn. but moved away form the railing to make room for Drogba, he had seen enough anyway.

"It is two of our men, Lord Aragorn!" the boats called "We can't see who... They are... they appear to be... It is hideous!"

Drogba got a thoughtful frown. "My king, Lady Amari’ said to me befor I left that these bodies would not be of the missing elves. I see that she was right, but the she said more, can I speak to you alone?" Stepping away from the crowd, Drogba told what Amari’ had said and was surpriced to see the king seemed to agree with her. "The lady might be right, the horse will find his mistress if she calls for him. We can not afford to pass up on any chance of getting Nilgaerein back. Drogba, prepare a boat for this. Arkantos, Etharion, Valruin and myself will be on it, we know how to calm him down."

A baffled Drogba obeyed and began shouting orders to his men, while Aragorn filled in the two elves and the two men and the two elves hurried down to the stables. Roland was ordered to see if he could assist Drogba.

Amari’ was lying still on the bed cluching the brooch with both hands. There was only one thought in her head. Healing. She had to get well, she was of no use lying here. If she could only use her powers on herself. Focus! Focus!
"Amarie?" It was Vaeltira, pale and red eyed, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Vaeltira, I need to be completely healed."

Without hesitation Vaeltira sat beside Amarie and they joined once again through the pendant and Amarie's brooch. Amarie felt the warmth flowing through her and sighed. How long could Vaeltira keep this up. The pendant was taking strength from her and Amarie could feel her grip lessening. With a sigh Vaeltira let go of Amarie.

"It is all I can go for now. But we can try again later.."

"That was good." Amarie's voice was stronger now. Her back still ached but the pain had gone and the tiredness. She looked at Vaeltira and smiled. "I must go and find Lord Elessar quicklly. " She glanced back at Vaeltira, resting, her dark hair spread around her, her face as pale as the white bed linen. "Rest here, my lady - and thank you."

Vaeltira dismissed the thanks with a wave of her pale hand. "It was nothing compared to what you did for me. Go, hurry.... there is not much time."

Amarie hurried up to the deck. Drogba's look of surprise to see her almost running towards them was amusing but she had more important matters to attend.

Amari’ took Drogbas hand and gave him a small linen pouch. Her eyes had gotten back a lot if their usual light and life. "Dear Drogba, please ask Urdon to boil some water and then let this soak in the pot for a minute or two and give our Lady Vaeltira a cup or two, it will make her feel better. She is in her room." Then she went to the elves who were taking calmly to the nervous staillion.They smiled when they saw her beaming at them. She gave the horse a comforting pat on the neck and wispered a few words. She then turned to the men who was ready to lower the boat. "Is there room for one more?" she asked, adjusting her bag to hang more comfortable over her shoulder.
"I said I'm not taking another step!" Nilgaerien's feet were firmly planted in place and to any normal person, the cold fire in her eyes would have immediately turned them away. But she was talking to no normal person.

"And I said you will, elf maid!" the spirit screeched back at her.

"You can't expect me to go with no rest at all! You'll kill that body you're in, too! I refuse to go any further this night!"

"Now! Walk now!"

She lifted her chin and with cool, faked nonchalance, let her knees bend and lower her to the ground, her arms folding across her chest. "I may lose my way if I'm not allowed a rest now," she threatened coldly.

Roth's face, possessed by the spirit at the moment, twisted evilly, then with a horrible growl, he spun away to stalk across the clearing. Soon though, the tall form slumped to the foot of a tree as Roth was re-given control.

Nilgaerien relaxed against the tree she was sitting beneath and swallowed through a dry mouth and throat. Every muscle trembled at the prolonged strain the spirit had pushed her through. She couldn't believe Roth's body had put up with that pace for so long. For two hours, she had slowly picked out the trail but only half of that was a fake slowness for the Gem's sake. The woods were overgrown and held a sickly evilness in them, threatening her steps and Roth's, to the spirit's disgust.

Shortly after they had entered the woods, the spirit had suddenly grown alert. Nil had had the chance to sense an even greater evil close by, on the beach, then the spirit was pushing her for every last strength she still held, utilizing Roth's arm to drag her along every time she fell behind. That hurried trek accounted for the gash on her arm and the multitude of scrapes and bruises spread over her body. But her cuts didn't worry her as much as that brief connection to that evil - it had called to her, wanted her to come to it...and some part of her mind had responded.
Urdon entered the darkened room where Vaeltira still lay exhausted. He lit the lamps on the dark wooden table, taking pleasure in the way the light reflected in the waxed surface highlighting the wood grain. He poured the strange smelling brew into a cup and took it to his Lady.

"There you go, m'lady, young Amarie insisted you drank this."

His mistress took the cup, displeasure showing on her face. "Not this stuff again" she grumbled.

"Drink it all, m'lady, you know it will help. " He paused a moment and a frown crossed his face. "M'lady, do you think they'll find Lord Aelric?"

"If they don't, I will." She finished the tea. "Have they left already?"

"Why yes, m'lady, they were busy lowering that great horse into the water, taking it to the island by all accounts. Strange affair that, talking to horses and taking them swimming. " He shook his head. "I have to say m'lady, these elves and other folk you travel with have some strange customs but they seem to know what they are doing."

"I will not abandon Aelric, Urdon. You know that."

"I do indeed, m'lady. And he wouldn't abandon you if it were up to him. But that thing inside him, that's a bad 'un and no mistake, making him do all sorts of things he wouldn't do normally."

"Urdon, is Drogba still here?"

"Why yes, he'll be waiting for you I expect. He knows you'll not stay behind for long. Just you give that brew a little time to work."

"I don't understand why he revealed himself to me when it was Nilgaerien he needed? Why risk that?"

"I couldn't say, m'lady, perhaps he has more than one plan - more than one way to skin an elf, if you'll pardon the expression."

"Don't say that! " Her voice held a hint of anger.

"Apologies, m'lady"

Vaeltira slammed the cup down on the table as she stood up, her strength was returning and there was no time to waste. " Fetch my knives, Urdon, and tell Drogba I will be ready to leave within the hour."
...Vaeltira turned toward the small window in her quarters while she waited for her equipment and weapons. Through it she could see the outline of the island against an ominous darkening blood-red sky,a chill dusk wind issued into the small room and Vaeltira instinctively drew her cloak about her shoulders. "He's alive, i would know it if it were otherwise - and he's in pain, but why can't i reach out to him?" She wondered. For the relatively short time they had been married, they had been beset by the pressures of politics, court intrigue and war, they had little or no time to be husband and wife until the last three weeks of the journey. From the little she knew of the wraithblade, and the effect it had upon Aelric in battle, she could only guess at its power now that it had completely overcome his will. Vaeltira recalled a time when they were happy and her husband was not immersed in affairs of state or this obsession with the cursed Isle and its treasure.

Deepseated feelings of dread and sudden alarm swept over her as she brought his memory into her mind's eye, she suddenly felt the pendant at her chest grow unbearably cold against her pale skin, and then it hit her - this wasnt a memory it was an urgent psychic cry for help - Nilgaerien!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The spirit Melvorion, urged his host and the captive elf onward, it was getting dark and he knew that this was the time when the brood would be active and hungry. He didnt concern himself yet with the Yrch vermin that infested this island as they would hopefully serve to distract the greater danger. He had to press on to the interior where he knew he would find the ancient lair of Thuringwethil herself, if all was going well with the black numenorean then they should rendezvous by morning.

The elf bloodhound was flagging with each step, her frail constitution was not equal to the task, and this continued to grate with the impatient Necromancer. Just then his eyes were drawn skyward, as a great long shadow eerily drew a void-like blanket across the stars. "Too soon, too soon, she hath come and she is hungry - i must placate her appetite." He scratched at the arms of Roth drawing blood as he wrestled with this dilemma. On no account must She be permitted to slay the seeker, but how could he make her listen if she were ravenous? He must think swiftly for about him and the elf the swirling eddies of substantive night was manifesting about them into something verging on humanoid.

Thuringwethil's shadow stretched into the skies above, yet in the centre the corporeal armoured form of a man was barely visible. This spoke in the black speech of Melkor each word wounding the exhausted Nilgaerien as she struggled to control her terror and maintain a shred of sanity.
"Melvorion, I need flesh, I crave blood - I demand to have a drop of herssssssss." it hissed.
"Mistress, tis not the appointed hour - your hunger would betray us and yield not the Gem, patience..." hesitantly he ventured "maybe a taste, but that's is all we can risk for now, there are others who will come for this one, they could serve just as well in your victory feast no?"
"Very well then, it has been so long since i have had elf vitae",
With that the great horror bent low and pinned the stricken Nilgaerien with its presence alone and took a morsel of her lifeforce. It's great eyes blazed in delight and it took to the air leaving the Necromancer & his quarry to their own devices...for now.
It took Vaeltira less than an hour to get ready. She knew none of the crew was anxious to get to the island after seeing the two corpses, but she knew Drogba would come. She cast a last glance around the room to make sure she had everything and with her head held high she hurried out the door. She was going to that island, even if she had to row there herself.

Leaving her room she walked into something short and compact and had to take a couple step sideways so she wouldn't fall. To her surprice she saw it was Dorin, now sitting on the floor with his helmet tilted sideways. "My apologies my lady! I was just comming to see if you were ready, the boat is waiting."

"I thought you had left?"
Dorin got up and adjusted the helmet. "Oh no, my lady! The elves and the D’nedain went with the horse, talking and singing. You'd never see a dwarf sing to a horse! That you can be sure of! Thought it was quite pleasant to listen to. Let me take your bag, my lady. Hurry now, it is getting dark."

Vaeltira followed him up on deck where Roland, Moori and Drogba waited. Drogba helped her on board the boat hanging on the side of the ship, ready to be lowered. "They were singing, my lady. I have never heard anything like it. And then Lady Amari’s joined them. Now that is something special."

"I won't agrue with that." Vaeltira thougt of the last time she had heard Amari’s sing, shortly after she and Aelric had met them, the melody intruding in her head where it didn't belong, stirring memories. She had almost forgotten about that. It felt so long ago now.


Etharion and Aragorn held a firm grip on the rope around Gonolins neck, holding his head above the water. Arkantos and Valruin did the rowing while Amari’ did what she could to keep the horse calm without putting to much strain on her back. The horse was snorting and you could see the white in his eye, but Amari’s song had the effect she wanted and you could almost smell the grass she was singing about.

But when Gondolin finally felt firm ground beneath his feet he became uncontrolable, causing Etharion to be dragged out of the boat and throught the water. Aragorn jumped after and with a joined effort they manged to get the ropes of the stallion befor he stormed into the woods.

For a moment they looked into the shadows where he had dissapeared before they helped pull the boat up on the shore and covered it up. Darkness was falling and they went to find a safer location than the beach to wait for the others.
A low rumble sounded in her ears, throbbing its way to her brain. She tossed away from it but it continued to push in, to intrude. She decided to open her eyes to find the disturbance and make it stop. Dim shapes and faint sounds met her waking but the source of that awful rumbling could not be found. There! A flicker! Of what? The moon...the moon shining through the dense canopy of leaves she could now discern above her head.

A shape moved in front of that small light and bent down. Cold eyes and a hard-lined face focused in her vision. "There you are. I was sure an elf could take more than that...obviously your brand of elves aren't made like those brought to Sauron's dungeons." It was a taunting, cruel voice...had she heard it somewhere before?

Suddenly his eyes narrowed, boring into her own, then a hand came up and brushed against her cheek. She flinched as dreadul cold burned its way into her mind. "I thought She might have this influence on you. Come now, speak. Tell me your name."

Speak? Could she speak? And a name...did she have one? Her brow furrowed in concentration then... "Nil...Nilgaerien?"

He nodded. "Good. Who am I?"

She concentrated twice as hard this time but could find no name. "I...I don't know."

His eyebrows lowered then a strange smile formed on his lips. "Where are you?" She shook her head as the answer to this question evaded her also. The smile grew. "What are you to do here?"

Ah - this she knew! "Find the Gem."

A low, horrible laugh came out of his mouth. "Very good...very, very good."
The only thing breaking the eerie silence on the island were the sound of waves breaking and rhythmical sound of oars hitting water. The keel scraped agains the rocky sand, Drogba and Roland jumped out and pulled the boat further up befor the dwarves and lady Vaeltira got out. Together they dragged the boat up betweenthe trees. Where the others had hid ther boat they were not sure of anymore. Shadows had grown long and night was falling.They wispered to eachother as they got their bags and hurried into the shadows of the trees, which at the moment felt safer than the open beach. Where would they go now?

"Follow me." Dorin jumped at the nearby voice. They stared baffled into the shadows befor Etharion removed his grey hood with a slightly amused look. "I have been waiting. Come now, we found a cave. The shadows are waking up." By the cave they found Amari’ wrapped in her own elven cloak, welcoming them with a soft but sad smile. After they were all inside, she sat down by the entrance. Her eyes and ears trying to pierce through the darkness for any sign of her lost friend.
"Is there any news?" Vaeltira's voice shook as she asked, hoping beyond hope that there was something to hold onto, that Aelric wasn't lost to her.

"Nothing as yet." Aragorn appeared at the mouth of the cave. "Shadows walk and there is fear all around. And evil." He added. "Etharion and I will stand watch. Be on your guard at all times. Night is not the time for sleeping here."

Etharion followed Aragorn into the shadowed woods beyond the cave and the others settled themselves as deep into the cave as possible, discussing in hushed voices the fate of their two companions as well as that of the numenorean soldiers whose bodies had washed out to sea.

Outside all was eerily quiet. No nightbirds sang, no animals called. Aragorn stood silent and motionless, both he and Etharion blended into the shadows. A slight rustling some way to his right caught his attention. Some small animal perhaps? Etharion too had heard the sound, his heightened elf senses detected a strange smell, human possibly but tainted by something else.

Whatever it was was making its way silently towards the cave entrance. Etharion waited until whatever creature it was had passed Aragorn then he moved quietly ahead of it with Aragorn now behind. As he raised his sword the creature whimpered. Aragorn was standing behind it, his sword touching the creature's back forcing it flat against the ground. A few prods of the sword encouraged the creature to stand, unsteadily at first and they saw it was human, a woman clothed in ragged remnants, her hair dark and matted. Huge eyes stared at them from a half-starved face. With a quick movement she drew a dagger and backed away from them spitting unintelligable words. Aragorn lowered his sword, motioning Etharion to do the same. The speech she used was familiar, a bastardised version of the Dunedain speech from the north but she was near hysterical and her words made little sense.

Dorin came out of the cave, his axe in hand staring in astonishment at what was before him. Etharion and Aragorn, swords lowered and a wild creature waving a dagger at both of them.

"Dorin, hold." Aragorn ordered as the dwarf made to lunge towards the woman. "She is scared for her life and half starved. Do not harm her." To the woman he said, in the Dunedain speech, "Fear not, we will not hurt you." She seemed to understand his words although she kept the dagger pointed at him. "Put down your weapon," he said slowly. "We have food." At this her eyes widened. "Food?"

"Yes, food. Come." He sheathed his sword and reached out a hand to her. She looked at it and then at the dagger, unsure whether to trust this man. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, King Elessar of Gondor and Anan. We will not harm you. Come."

At this the ragged woman burst into tears and fell to her knees.
Etharion looked around nervously. "The shadows, my lord." Aragorn urged the ragged woman and Ethrion to go inside the cave where she ran straight into Drogba, her eyes widended as ghosts from her childhood took the fysical form in this man. It was a trap! Tumbling back she ended up in Aragorns arms and panicked, she fell to the floor and tried desperatly to crawl away. "Please miss, we mean you no harm!"

Vaeltira stood up. "Let her be, she doesn't understand!" Amari’ was there in a heartbeat. She kneeled down, tried to hold the womans eyes and spoke softly in sindarin. Vaeltria kneeled down beside them, the words didn't mean much to her, but it was pleasant to listen to, soft and melodic. Valetira signaled for all to leave them alone. Dorin nodded knowingly to Arkantos. "Ah.. Girltalk." Moori rolled her eyes. "How observant of you." "You love that about me, don't you, most beautiful dwarf." She wacked him over the head and he sighed happily, adjusting his helmet. Drogba looked at them oddly.
Dorin slapped Drogba on the back, "You don't get out much do you, young Drogba? Not met many dwarves. Come to that you've not met many elves either, well not elves that you didn't want to kill, present company excepted I trust."

Drogba looked down at the dwarf. "I... er... I... that is..." His glance at Amarie did not go unnoticed by Dorin.

"Aha, so that's the lie of the land, is it laddie?"

"No.. I mean.. I don't know what you mean...." The two of them stood by the cave entrance, Drogba's forehead furrowed in embarrassment, Dorin grinning.

"I know, laddie, I know. I feel that way about the lovely Moori." He sighed. "And the way she treats me makes me hope she feels the same way about me. But you and an elf.... Well, not the easiest path to take considering."

"Master dwarf," Drogba's usual cool aloofness returned, "I have nothing against these elves, in fact they surprise me. Nothing about them is like the stories told. Are all elves like this?"

"Well, not exactly, although they are a good representation of elf kind. I like them, and dwarves don't usually get along with elves. The trees, you see. We like to chop them down and they like to grow them. But if you can overcome those differences then you've got a friend for life. Which unfortunately in your case isn't for long. That's a difference you can't ignore, although Aragorn managed to. Your Queen is an elf, lad, but she risks much grief. Aye, it's a shame and she won't find anyone to match our Aragorn once he's gone, not that she'd want to from what I hear. You tread carefully, elves are not to be trifled with if you know what I mean. You should find yourself a nice young woman of your own kind. Or maybe you have. Anyone waiting for you at home?

"Home? I haven't been home since the war. There is no one waiting for me there now."

"But there was?"

A touch of sadness crept into Drogba's voice, "There was, once, but no more."

"Sorry to hear that, laddie." Dorin paused. "We all lost friends and kin. Do you have any family?"

"I hope so, master dwarf. I heard my mother escaped to the South. My father died fighting at my side."

Dorin sighed. "Such terrible things happen in wars. So much loss and grief. You may envy us dwarves and elves our lifespan but think on..... so much longer to bear that grief." He shrugged his shoulders and straightened up, "Aye, terrible things, but Aragorn says this is the start of a new age and byegones are byegones. So, you respect your father's memory, lad, but don't let hatred destroy your life. You've got to live in this world now, fight for this world now and find your own peace."

The two stood there, Drogba towering over the dwarf whose hand rested on Drogba's arm patting it gently. "Find peace," he repeated. "It's there if you look hard enough."

Back in the cave Aragorn stood apart from the women translating as best he could. The woman's name was Daria was all they could find out. That and she was very hungry. Amarie's voice had calmed her but still she cast furtive glances at Drogba.

Eventually she fell asleep, clutching Amarie's hand.

"I will leave you to take care of her. " Aragorn spoke from the shadow. "We must find Aelric's men and find out what foul beasts inhabit this island."

Amarie looked at him pleadingly. "Yes, Amarie, we will look for Nilgaerien as well." And to Vaeltira, "Be hopeul My Lady, Aelric may yet be saved. They are both in our hearts and thoughts."

With that Dorin, Valruin, Etharion, Roland, Aragorn and Drogba moved silently into the forests. Dawn was still some hours away and the shadows swayed menacingly. Arkantos was to remain with the women. Only Moori was cross at being left behind.

"That fool Dorin will get himself killed if I am not there to see he doesn't," she snapped. Many stern words were hurled in his direction as they left, the smile on his face showing how much he appreciated her concern.
"It is times like this I appreciate Urdon and his capacity for supplying one's requirements." Vaeltira watched the sleeping woman as she spoke, the smell of unwashed body strong within the cave. "How long has she been living like this? And why? And where did she come from? Are there others?"

"My Lady, please. Too many questions. Just wait a while and you'll have answers a-plenty".

Vaeltira smiled. "Words of wisdom as ever, mistress dwarf."

"Vaetira," Amarie ventured, "I have been thinking about Melvorion and why he taunted you so yet took Nilgaerien with him. I believe he fears you.... well, not you but your bond with Aelric. I believe he was trying to break your will so that you would not follow Aelric."

"But my bond with Aelric is of his making."

"Yes it is but maybe it hasn't worked as he wanted it to. Maybe the pendant gives you more control. You always said that Aelric was more headstrong and unable to sense your whereabouts, whereas you can feel him through the pendant."

"It is true that he mentioned the pendant, and looked at it with hunger in his eyes. Even at the wedding he wanted to touch it, to hold it but I forbade it. But I wondered whether he was the dark stranger from our past who first brought the dragon to my family.... It makes no sense to me."

"My Lady...?"

"No, Amarie, before you ask, I cannot sense him now. He is lost to me."
The company moved silently through the underbush. Etharion didnt like the island one little bit. Everything was so silent and still. All because of the beasts that roamed at night. And the shadows...they were odd and seemed to come out of the ground, not at all as normal ones do. They twisted around their feet, as seeking the warmth their bodies gave away. He was thankfull that it wasnt night. Hahah. He laughed in his self. A elf afraid of night, now this was something new.
Over a break he shared his thoughts with Aragorn, who told him that he to felt anxsius and uneasy. They started moving again soon, for it didnt fell nice to stay in one place for to long.
Arkantos sat quietly nearby, listening to the women made him feel abit left out. They spoke so openly to each other. He couldn't talk about how he felt.

The first signs of morning could be seen and heard. Amari’ got up from her kneeling position.
"I will go outside and see if I can find some water."
Arkantos stood up and stopped her. "No, don't go outside."
"But she needs a bath. And we need water."
"You are not well, I should go."
"I am.." she began, then cast a glimps on the sleeping Daria. "Not here, let us go outside." she said.

"Don't be foolish Arkantos, I have to go, I can sense water long befor you can."
"Then I'll go with you."
"No, she needs someone who speaks her language. I can take care of myself."
"You almost died, Amari’!"

It sounded like an accusation. Her face darkend. "But I didn't die. As you can see, I am fine. Is that what this is about? Are you trying to protect me or yourself? I know what it is like to see someone you care for die. I did not die, but you did. You were gone! You saw me lying pale on a bed. I had to see you fade away in agony, your face melting and I could not even touch you, knowing you did it to save me! I have felt so guilty for something I had no controll over, I have woken up crying in the night as you have seen. But I never tried to make you feel guilty about the choise you made, like you are trying to make me. The only thing hurting me out here is you."

She hurried away from him into the woods, tears streaming down her face. He tired to follow but lost sight of her. She heard him call for her a few times befor he reluctantly left, but she didn't want to see him. She wiped her wet cheeks, and took a deep breath. Her feelings weren't important now. She had a job to do, and right now that job as to look for water. She closed her eyes and opened her senses to the voice of the forrest. Still as she walked, tears tinkled down her face. What was with this man? Why had he changed so much? One minute he was the Arkantos she had known for so long, then suddenly he couldn't look at her and now he had yelled at her. Why was everything so wrong?
Arkantos still stood ther with a worried face. He walked back in the cave and looked at the woman, still sleeping. He sat down on the ground and closed his eyes, thinking where it all went wrong. Tears were rolling on his cheeks.

Aragorn, Dorin, Roland, Valruin, Etharion and Drogba still were scouting the island when they suddenly heard something moving in the bushes. Aragorn grabbed his sword, and slowly began to move near the bushes.
The others spread out around the bushes, weapons ready. They heard a gasp and a man, wearing the uniform of Aelric's men, crawled towards them, his face contorted in fear and pain.

"Help us!" he begged, and collapsed at Aragorn's feet. Dorin and Roland acknowledged Aragorn's nod and continued to scout the undergrowth while Aragorn knelt beside the man, speaking to him gently.

"The others..... they are back there..... need help. Please!" His voice rose to an anguished plea.

Further into the dense forest they found three more men huddled together beside the body of a comrade. Roland and Dorin urged them to move but they seemed unable to understand. Valruin and Etharion lifted the body and carried it back to Aragorn. At this the others began to follow slowly, their eyes flitting anxiously from tree to bush.

At last they gathered around their stricken comrade, ashen faces staring into the shadows but despite Aragorn's efforts none of them could speak coherently.

"Take them back to the cave and see to their needs. Roland and I will check for more survivors."

Amarie walked silently between the trees, making sure she wasn't too far from the cave. Usually a walk in a forrest would make her feel better, but this forrest had no such effect. Even in the morning light did there seem to be any sign living creatures. No birds could be heard, only far away seagulls and only lizards and spiders seemed to live her.

Then she heard the soft song of running water, so bright and cheerfull in the gloomy forrest. She hurried towards it and found more than she had hoped for. A creek with rainwater from the mountains threw itself of a small cliff in a small waterfall and ending in a small pond befor it was sucked into the dead, cold earth. She felt it had to be the only pure thing on this island. Around it were signs of orcs, but they were a few days old and went in in the oposite direction from the cave.

She washed her face and feet in the water. The water was cold but felt so refreshing. She knew she should go back right away but she couldn't resist the temptation. She made sure once again that she was alone and let her clothes fall to the ground and lef herself slowly sink into the cold water under the waterfall. The cold water made her gasp for air as it reached her wound and she knew she could be in for long, but she didn't leave untill she felt the water had washed away all the dirt and pain and sadness from these last days.

Shivering she got into her clothes and wrapped the cloak tightly around her. On the way back to the cave she felt a bit better, but seing Arkantos sitting outside, probably waiting for her, filled her with sadness. She knew he had seen her but she didn't look at him. He didn't seem to be able to look at her or talk to her with out acting strange, so why make him?
... Aragorn searched the brooding treeline along with the others, the dense thickets were almost akin to the primordial eaves of the Old Forest that he knew so well and took care to tread warily in the South of Arnor.

Roland was no more than twenty feet away to his right prodding the undergrowth with the tip of his longsword, when he suddenly leapt backward. "My liege, I think I've found some...thing?"

Aragorn didnt like the hesitation in his friend's voice, he moved to where Roland now stood, the Gondorian was shaking like a leaf, out of character for a seasoned campaigner such as he.

"What is it Roland?"

"Uhm, I... its human?"

His pallour was milky white, all colour drained from it, and his expression of fear strikingly apparent. Aragorn moved toward the place that Roland now retreated from, staggering back upon enfeebled limbs. There, just obscured by some low lying ferns, were the remains of a marine's shoulder and head, there was very little blood around, and his features were contorted in a death mask of inconceivable agony. It seemed to the ranger as if the missing body, had been hewn in half by a large weapon and then the bulk consumed by some great beast.
"It's not this way." Nilgaerien stopped as she said this and the man behind her nearly slammed into her.

"What are you doing now, elf-maid?"

"It's not this way," she repeated. Turning her head slightly, she glanced back the way they had come and nodded. "The Gem lies over there." Without a second thought, she took a step in the new direction.

"Wait." His hand grasped her arm, his eyes dark and suspicious. "How can it move and so quickly?"

She didn't look at him. Her eyes were fixed on that distant spot her mind was showing her, her whole body demanding the Gem. "It is over there," she insisted. He hesitated then let her go. Immediately she began walking. The Gem, the Gem...find the pounded a rythym that matched her pace, driving her forward, beyond all pain and aches. She ahd to reach it, she must get to it...

With this taking her attention, Nilgaerien didn't see the natural hollow in the ground ahead of her determined feet and the steep, but passable, hill beyond. She slipped in the hollow and the momentum carried her down the hill until she smacked into a rather large tree trunk, her head taking the fuller brunt. With a blast assisted by the Gem, memory flooded in. The swim to shore...the wearying trek through the horrible forest’ And the Creature’that awful thing that had taken a piece of her with it’the thing that Melvorion had invited to her.

Nilgaerien shuddered and with that, came back to herself and realized just how much the thing had taken from her. She felt so worn out, so tired’she heard Melvorion in Roth’s body scrambling towards her and looked up , her now-clear eyes shooting daggers at him.

He drew himself up then pointed a finger at her. ’Stay elf-maid!’ She immediately set out disobeying and with a curse, he was down after her. She picked herself up, feeling blood gush from a cut somewhere on her body ’ strange that she couldn’t feel where exactly ’ saw that she was nearly to the bottom of the slope and ran. Or rather, stumbled, fell, hopped, and loped, straning against every restraint in her body to just get away. But she could hear him catching up...
Desperately she pushed her tired limbs beyond the limits of their endurance. Burning pains cramped her muscles but still she scrambled onwards. A noise ahead startled her. She felt a thumping in the ground. "No!" she screamed in her head, "Not again. Not yet!" and she fell, clasping her hands to her face. Hot breath, a whinney and she almost laughed out loud. Her beloved Gondolin was there beside her. She grabbed his thick mane and pulled herself up onto his back. "Fly my beauty, fly........ please" and with that Gondolin kicked his hooves and galloped between the trees.

She heard Malvorion's scream of anger and spurred Gondolin onward. Dark shafts of energy splattered around her, scorching the grass and trees. Foul mists reached up to grab her legs. "Faster, Gondolin, faster". The great horse plunged into the woods his only instinct to take his mistress from danger. Spittle flecked his mouth, spraying back with the rushing wind as he gained speed. She could no longer hear the screams of the Necromancer and ahead in the east she could see the first lights of morning tinting the black sky. "Gondolin," she whispered in his ear, "Thank you, friend. Now ride like never before...." Her words were cut off abrubtly as she saw the blackness above the trees twist into a huge bat shape. "Oh Manwe protect us!" she screamed as Gondolin ploughed on, swerving away from the huge shape above. Her strength had all but gone and she could do nothing but cling to Gondolin's mane. The shape swooped upon them yet still Gondolin galloped on towards the growing sunrise. As the light slowly erased the blackness she became aware that the shadowy bat beast was no longer following them and she allowed herself a brief smile of triumph. "We have done it, Gondolin. You have done it." Then she rested her head against his neck and wept.

His pace slowed to a canter, his panting filled her ears. Poor Gondolin, she thought, he must be exhausted. Straining her senses she picked out movement nearbye. Humans, she thought, judging by the smell... could it be Aragorn? She tried to spur the horse on but his strength was spent and he could go no further. Slipping from his back she patted him noticing the searing burns and gaping cuts along his flank. "Oh Gondolin, no!" she cried. The horse whinnied and nuzzled her. His job done, he could do no more. "No Gondolin" she cried again as the horse sank to its knees.

Amarie entered the dark, cold cave, leaving Arkantos outside. Daria was still sleeping, Vaeltira and Moori were talking in whispers. "Any luck with finding water?" Vaeltira asked. Amarie nodded. "It isn't far, and now it is morning we can go there in groups, wash and fill the water bags."

A shout from the entrance distracted her. "Amarie! Amarie!" It was Arkantos. Sighing she walked slowly back out into the fresh new morning. Ahead she saw Dorin shepherding a group of bedraggled men and the two elves carrying the body of another.

"Oh Eru" she cried. "What evil follows us now?"

Drogba came last in the group, sword drawn and battle ready. Amarie knelt by the first of the men. The wounds were superficial and swiftly dealt with, More serious were the wounds to their spirits and minds.

"These men must be taken back to the Meneltaurous now" she told Drogba.

"Not before they tell us what fell demon inhabits this island and what happened to them and to the other men." Drogba's face was stern as he looked into Amarie's eyes.

"They are in no state to tell us anything. Look at them!"

"Our lives may depend on what they can tell us, my Lady." He was insistent that they be rested and tended until they were able to speak coherently."

"Very well," Amarie looked away from those clear grey eyes that so disconcerted her. "Take them into the cave. I will do my best for them."
...Amarie took great care in treating these traumatised mariners. Mopping their brows with wet cloth, and her soothing musical voice were the only medicine that would have any chance of easing their tormented souls. Drogba looked on impatiently, he alone it seemed appreciated the gravity of the situation. Their enemy was capable of robbing men's hearts of their courage and sanity, this was an opponent that could not be matched with blade it seemed. He needed to find out what exactly they were up against, at least then he could formulate some kind of strategy. He thought of his Captain and Lord, "what would Aelric do in this situation?" he wondered. "I doubt he would waste precious time malingering in this cave like a band of frightened children."

Just then he caught Amarie gently holding the head of one the beleaguered men, he was speaking to her, but Drogba couldnt hear his words. Amarie's expression conveyed the fact that this would be the man's last testament , and a solitary tear and compassionate look convinced Drogba of this.

Amarie turned to Drogba and motioned him toward her,"He's dead, his heart gave out - I fear this is the fate that awaits the others, I will make the time that remains to them as comfortable as possible Lieutenant." Amarie covered the man's face with a cloak.
A gasp of surprise came from the furtherest reaches of the cave where Vaeltira and Moori sat watching over Daria.

"My Lady?" Drogba reluctantly dragged his attention from the dying men.

"I feel him! Aelric. I feel him! Oh, Drogba, he is still here but he is in pain."

"How near, My Lady?"

"I cannot tell. Close enough for me to feel his agony." She shuddered.

...Aelric shuddered, he awoke to find himself in a dark, dank area, the cold stone against his face was enough to prompt him to struggle to his feet and survey his surroundings.
It seemed to be a cavernous subterrannean complex, there was no opening to the skies being completely enclosed by an army of stalagtites above, yet their was ambient light. A light that was soft red and emanated from the rocks and crystal above and about him. This alien vista, made him feel distinctly nauseus and the contents of his stomach were almost immediately jettisoned upon the cavern floor.
"Blood?" He tasted blood... "am I hurt?" he thought.
Then came the pain - his head suddenly whirled and his body betrayed him, spasms and wracking convulsions. "VAELTIRA!!! Help MEEEE?"
Now writhing on the floor, clutching at his burning throat, his claw-like hands thrashed against the ground drawing blood, breaking stone and bone in equal measure.
He was beginning to lose consciousness when...
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