Chapter 2: Imtarumbar
The band of travellers trudged cautiously over
the frozen ground, leaving a broken trail of crushed snow while the burnt
smell of the inn refused to leave their troubled minds. Everyone looked
above them to the sleepy sky, whose cloudy lids were heavy with snow. Soon
everything would be reunindated in a slumbrous world of white, and blankets
of snow would swirl in cascades of biting flaky torrents. Daern found, looking
around him as the group paused to let Fred catch up, that he could admit
the beauty of this frosty world, though he did not enjoy it.
The leaden sky reflected Ranciryon's spirit so that it stared out at him, multiplied in the lonely faces of myriad fingers of ice that seemed to hang everywhere under the eaves of trees. Somewhere, off in the far distance, a loon echoed a mournful cry, perhaps for the loss of the more gentler winters that once graced this land.
As Ranciryon thought this, Fred finally caught up to the group, exhaling bitter cones of frosty air, his legs tired under his heavy load. Fred thought of his home, back in the Shire, when he took winter walks like this, past the homes of farmers and their fields, dead until spring. He wondered what it would be like to be a farmer, to live in one place all his life and when cold times came, to huddle up next to a gentle fire and sleep contented, the cold night locked outside the door.
The snow began to fall.
The party went on again, the countryside climbing underneath them and the trees masquing everything of their passage. They trudged upward and came into a crop of trees, whose branches spread over them, isolating them for a moment from the frozen rain and snow. The trees were so dense in this place, that the snow did not enter there much, unless blown in by the wind. Eoras' feet trod on damp dead pine needles. The wind doesn't enter here much either, Eoras thought, judging by the smell of the place. The odour of decay was unhampered by winter, wafting about on cold currents of air. And there was another smell, though his mind could not place it.
What is that smell? Ordain wondered. He thought that it had seemed to get stronger as they had all entered this silent woodland. There was something about this forest, Ordain thought. Feeling uneasy, he stopped to see if he could put a finger on it, but to his mind and senses, he perceived nothing but total silence and gloomy shades. What is it? The nagging question continued to pester his mind. Quiet. It's so quiet, he thought, and for some reason his skin prickled with bumps. But those self supporting ego struts that served as common sense finally embarrassed him into admitting the folly of his unvoiced fears. After all, what was wrong with a quiet forest? He went on, catching up to the rest of the party.
Taurvantar and Tirion paused to reckon their direction. The manor house should be somewhere northeast, which should be? Eoras stopped. also slightly unsure of their direction, having lost sight of the fire. That way, he pointed, though not with much assuredness. In any case, he thought, this portion of forest wasn't that thick so they would come out alright soon.
When soon grew two hours cold, Taurvantar, Tirion and Eoras at last conceded the inevitability of their being lost. Being lost wouldn't have been so bad if the commensurate additions of hunger and numbing coldness hadn't also accompanied them with such dogged tenacity.
Fred, once again the cause of the party's delay, wearily stomped into the pausing group. All he could think about was getting back to his bed in the Shire, with a nice big hot pot of tea to lull him to sleep. Sleep - better not think about it, he decided. The numbing cold was too inviting. Movement was the best way to keep warm, he thought. I'll just keep going as we have to come out sometime.
As sometime went the way of soon, the party found themselves with the prospect of them all facing a very lonely, very cold night. At least, I hope it's lonely, Daern thought, as the shadows around him lengthened, suggesting sinister images to his already suggestive mind.
Darkness came and by night, the wintry forest took on a more menacing stance as unseen branches and roots reached out to snag hair and clothing, or grab the travellers by their feet. One nasty root refused to let go quick enough and Fred knelt down, too weak to fight it for the moment. I'll just rest here a minute, he thought, but the minute grew ever longer and soon he and the others drifted into a deep dreamless sleep as icy fingers of air licked around their bodies, stealing their warmth. Even the elves found their minds settling into a deep quiet.
Whether by chance, or luck, or the intervention of Eru or some forest spirit, they all awakened from their almost final rest to the sound of a sharp wailing cry that pierced the night and sent throughout them all a chill born of something other than cold. Their muscles were all but frozen and they ached to move them, though move them they must, as they all realized how close they had all come to a more permanent rest. Weird figures of shadow and light danced around the treetrunks about them, which were illuminated by a flickering light source somewhere in the distance. They rose, spilling the snow that had drifted on them during their sleep, and crept closer to the light - all oblivious to both cold and fear.
A cunningly worked stone wall, now in ruins in parts, confronted them. To their right they could see the rusted, still barred double gate overgrown with dead ivy and blanketed with snow. Creeping up like wolves to a section of fallen stone, the party gathered around to peer beyond. A great mansion, dark and abandoned lay in the distance before them, it's still windowed eyes seeming to capture their movements and mock any attempts at stealth. But the house only caught their eyes for a moment.
Between the house and the party, but nearer to their place at the wall, firelight from a great campfire illuminated three goblins, who danced about with wild abandon, throwing sticks and branches into their flamepit of fiery exuberance. Their bodies provided garish highlight against the backdrop of darkness and snow.
One goblin jumped upon the fallen trunk of a tree, very near to where Fred lay trembling behind the leafless sticky branches of a bush, and exclaimed loudly to his companions,
"Thrice and thrice, with fire and ice,
to our dark Gods, a sacrifice!"
Another goblin joined in, his spritish mockery of a child's voice riding high in the wind.
"A sacrifice so young and sweet,
a tasty fare of human meat."
The last goblin vaulted over the flames and pirouetted, while calling out,
"To meet, we've met. This deed's to do.
Now comes a day all men will rue."
The second goblin now jumped into a snowy bush on the far side of the fire and brought out a wooden box and the party once again heard the forlorn cry that had awakened them. It was a child, a human baby whose chubby pale arms flailed about, protesting to the pitiless goblin that it was cold, probably hungry too. The goblin bent its head down, as if to lull the child,
"Be still my child, for us it's best
that in our bellies, you will rest."
The first goblin joined in,
"From your mother's crib were you stolen,
but do not fret, you'll be returned.
In the morn, she will find you - a batch of bones,
all chawed and gnawed and burned."
The third goblin cackled and laughing, the second goblin put the child down and all three set about quickly building a spit over the fire. The party, numb and frozen and finally waking up watched horrified as the baby was tied to the spit. Slowly, savouring the child's terrour, the goblins began to lower the helpless babe onto the flames.
[Just a note, goblins are lesser orcs, usually very small. Orcs are the greater or medium variety. Hobgoblins are really big and nasty.]
[Character Specific Inserts:]
unvoiced fears. After all, what was wrong with a quiet forest? He went on, catching up to the rest of the party.
Tirion, trying to see some hint of the flame in the failing light failed to see where he was going and stumbled and sank into a snow covered gully. As he sought to right himself, the party having failed to see him fall, he looked up and saw staring at him from a distance, a young mannish woman, tall like a Dunedain, and dressed in a fine blue dress, with long dark hair and eyes that seemed to draw him to her. Those eyes beckoned him to follow her and Tirion started to pull himself out to go to her, but just then, Daern, finding his companion not at his side, had come back and began to help him out. Tirion went to point out the woman, but she was gone, even her image fast fading from his mind.
"What is it?" Daern asked his fellow elf, but Tirion could only shake his head.
"I thought I saw something," he explained to Daern.
Daern looked about but could see nothing. "Perhaps it will come back to you," he told Tirion and went back to join the group, the incident forgotten.
Tirion nodded and shrugged. Perhaps it had been nothing, he thought, and went back to join the group.
Taurvantar and Tirion paused to reckon their direction. The manor house should be somewhere northeast, which should
Even the elves found their minds settling into a deep quiet.
Fred fought to stay awake, but he drifted off, but as he did so, he thought he could see a beautiful woman, her dark hair flying in the wind approaching him, a hunger in her eyes that made him forget the cold. As his eyelids closed, she reached out to him with a cold pale hand. But then something startled him awake, and blinking his eyes, saw only snow and the rousing forms of his party before him.
Whether by chance, or luck, or the intervention of Eru or some forest spirit, they all awakened from their almost final rest to the sound of
While Daern, Eoras, Fred, and Taurvantar are either looking about or conversing, Tirion has started to fire arrows and Ranciryon has drawn his sword and is charging in yelling, "Numenor! Numenor!"
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