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Chapter One, A Grey Night, Section 3
by Stephen Barnes, Jr.

Section 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

The traveler crouched behind the wall not twenty yards to Caedron’s left. His arrow still rested on its taut bowstring. His blood had also chilled when the dark words spilled from the figure’s mouth. He had heard such words before — ages before it seemed. They reminded him of days past … of his wandering in darker years near the Misty Mountains far away … and when, in his travels, he had reached the edge of vile Mirkwood. Yes, he had heard such foul cries before. But never in this age; since the defeat of the Evil One and his servants; since the Age of Men began.

This was the language of darkness and death. No cursed cairn nor doomed Barrow-Wight could scream such horror. This curse was the banshee-call of a Wither-Ceil — a spirit-servant of darkness itself.

The Wither raised its staff higher into the air and screeched again. The carven wolf skull glowed red as he held it aloft. The Wargs shrank back, ears flattened, as they watched their master prepare the prey.

Caedron stood motionless. His thoughts had frozen as he blankly stared into the glowing eyes of the Wither-Ceil. His hands, clammy and cool, drooped at his sides.

The rain fell silently, now mixed with sleet. All seemed breathless, awaiting the finality of the Wither’s touch. Slowly, the Wither pulled a wickedly curved dagger from the folds of its cloak. Its edges gleamed as the Wither hissed over it. Then, raising the death-dagger like a striking snake, it swooped toward Caedron.

Drego, gwath e daw; ú-charnathach nan gûl i adan!

The music of this voice shattered the icy silence. The Wither halted at the sound. The Wargs’ ears perked and their leader growled. The lilting elf-speech of the traveler seemed to thwart this concentrated evil. With quickness rivaling the lightening in the air above, the traveler sent an arrow whistling into the throat of the nearest Warg. Then, in one blurring move, he shot another shaft toward the Wither’s cruel blade. The arrow struck the curve of the knife! It leapt from the hand of the Wither and plunged into the soft earth.

The Wither-Ceil turned to face this enemy, and for a moment faltered. Its pallid eye lights glowed with frustrated rage. Then, regaining composure, the Wither raised its staff towards the elf-traveler. The red wolf skull again glowed crimson.

The Elf, taking full advantage of his surprise, had silenced three more Wargs with speedy arrowpoints. All but the Warg leader had now scattered. The Warg stood by its master, bristling. Never before had such an enemy threatened its master — and lived.

With haste the Elf-archer shot an arrow toward the Wither, but its staff glowed brightly and the arrow froze in mid-air. Encased in ice, the arrow dropped to the ground and burst into blue flame.

As the Elf let another arrow fly, the Warg darted forward and lunged for his throat, growling. In one quick move the Elf dropped his bow, side-stepped the bounding wolfkin, and plunged his knife into its neck. The Warg howled as it fell struggling. It raised itself to its feet, then collapsed gasping.

The Elf had instinctively dashed sideways to avoid impending death magic from the Wither’s staff. If his arrow aim was true, he hoped that the arrow would knock the staff from the Wither’s grasp. Holding his dagger, he turned to face the foul creature.

Where it had stood was only wind-swept sleet and mist. The Wither had disappeared into emptiness.

The Elf squinted and grimaced as he looked down the roadway for a sign of the dark creature, but the way was empty. The Wither-Ceil had vanished.

The wind hissed over the road as the Elf gathered his arrows from the necks of the scattered dead wolfkin. The Warg leader, still gasping, snarled bitterly as its life ebbed. The Elf wiped his dagger on the grass beside the road. "You have battled your last, foul creature," he said, "though your death grieves me. You possess but a shadow of your ancient father’s nobility." The Elf sighed, then turned from the dying Warg and approached Caedron.

Caedron stood still. His eyes were wide and his mouth still hung agape as he stared vacantly southward. A thin layer of ice glazed his forehead and covered his chain mail. Peering into Caedron’s eyes, the Elf exclaimed, "Ahh, now the hunted is the rescuer! What a strange game this is indeed. There is now a common enemy, but whether you know it remains yet to be seen." He reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out a small silver flask. "You are sleeping peacefully, friend, but the world has no time for peace. A quick draught of the fair Lady’s mithsiril will rekindle your flame."

The Elf poured a drop of silvery liquid from the flask into Caedron’s open mouth. Almost instantly, the thin layer of ice melted on Caedron’s face and clothes, and Caedron blinked. Then his eyes closed tightly and his face wrinkled. Suddenly, he burst into violent coughing spasms as the mist deep in his eyes cleared.

"Whoe … what? Where am I?" He sputtered as the spasms continued. "Tha shadowe? Tha wulfken?" Caedron looked down at the dead Wargs and the dying Warg leader on the road, then shook his head. He shuddered with cold.

"You may consider yourself rescued from death … or worse." The Elf, standing in front of Caedron, crossed his arms. He was still gripping the dagger in his hand. Caedron glanced down at the knife, and his eyes narrowed.

"Rescued? Yer a thief; warse n’doubt." The elvish liquid, or perhaps the gleaming dagger point, had awakened him quickly. His eyes shot down to his own longknife and sword with desperation.

"You should have no fear, friend. My name is Fendolas, and I am no thief, nor am I ‘warse,’ as you may think." Fendolas sheathed his dagger. "You will remain frozen for a few moments. The Wither’s ice spell was strong."

Caedron realized that he could feel neither his hands nor his legs. He was still petrified in the roadway.

Fendolas reached for his bow and shouldered it. He was tall — almost six feet — and his eyes were grey as the sky above. "We haven’t much time," he said slowly. "They will return … with others. We must away."

Caedron looked hard at Fendolas. His fingers and toes were beginning to tingle. "Yer a thief, and an Ælfan at that," he said with resolve. "Ya took the treysured Ondol from the Vlaridi. And I must take ye back."

Fendolas laughed, a musical trill that warmed even the chill in that valley. "Surely you jest, my friend. I will not go. You will not make it back even to Lettleton alive. And …" he lowered his voice, "one cannot thieve what is rightfully his own." His eyes glinted as he spoke.

Caedron thought for a moment. The Vlarid council had given strict orders to use every means necessary to retrieve the stolen items. Although he had not considered death by Warg or Wither part of the bargain, his loyalty to the Vlarid Dundar ran deep. This Ælfan’s words were strange, but perhaps he could fain friendship to further the goal. Two warriors were better than one against Wargs anyway, he thought. "I have no choice but to goe wid ye," he said with deliberation.

"A better choice, though not without danger," said Fendolas. "Get your weapons. You will need them shortly."

Caedron found that he could move his arms and wiggle his toes, though not without intense determination. He slowly bent down and retrieved his sword and longknife. He thought for a moment that the Elf was watching him intently; but as he grabbed the familiar hilt of his sword, he noticed that Fendolas had scaled the rock wall and was walking eastward.

"Well," he thought. "I’ve got m’sword. And I’ve still got me wits. It’ll take more ‘n Ælfan arrowpoints to stop tha shadow creature."

As if reading Caedron’s mind, Fendolas said, "Follow me quickly. The Wither is still about. And orch will soon come."

"What? Orcs?" Puzzled, Caedron sheathed his longknife and began slowly after Fendolas. "What d’ya mean? No orcs been saen ‘n years." He said this confidently, though his brush with the Wither made other fairy tale creatures seem all too possible.

"Ah, friend. Too long have you lived in these Northlands. Your people are now too quick to judge, too slow to understand, and too soon to forget. This Age of Men has brought shadows upon Middle-Earth far longer than the reach of the accursed one." Fendolas paused with thought. "Still, perhaps ‘tis better to forget and be joyful than to know and suffer in worry."

Caedron shook his head. Sword in hand, he stepped over the crumbling rocks in the wall. The mist blurred his vision as he looked ahead. Fendolas was about ten yards in front, walking briskly eastward.

Caedron started after Fendolas, anxious to avoid another encounter. He watched the Elf intently as he followed. Fendolas was tall, and walked quickly with long strides. He held his bow in one hand, with an arrow marked on its string. He seemed unfaltering — almost carefree — in the face of grave danger. Caedron sensed that Fendolas possessed perhaps even more wisdom than the old men who sat in secret counsel on the Vlarid Dundar. Fendolas seemed young, walking steadily but calmly through the valley. But his eyes were deep with experience and understanding.

Behind Caedron a howl sounded in the mist. Fendolas turned quickly and motioned to Caedron. "On! Go ahead, quickly now!"

Caedron shuffled as quick as his near frozen legs could carry him over the field. The weeds and grass had here grown untamed for years, and they seemed to grasp at his ankles to slow him. He stumbled and tripped over the weeds and bramble.

"Run with haste! They have discovered us!" With new energy Caedron sprinted away from the road. Fendolas took up the rear. The two now were running hastily through the field. Caedron looked ahead, and through the rain he saw a grey mass of trees two furlongs or so away, standing like sentinels defending the shadowed vale.

Behind him, Caedron could hear fierce howls of angry Wargs. Then, from the south, battle shouts answered. Fendolas turned as he ran and looked southward.

"We must get to the forest," he cried. "There are only a few orcs, but many Wargs!" He spoke with urgency, and Caedron knew he could trust the keen eyesight of this Elf.

They headed toward the trees as a mist fell further upon the field, covering it in heavy fog.

Copyright 1999, Stephen N. Barnes, Jr., Esq., All Rights Reserved

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