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Sep 12 2013, 8:23am
Hi everyone! Here's the latest chapter from my LOTR fan fiction - hope you are still enjoying it!
LOTR Fan Fiction: The Witch of Angmar #7
The Witch of Angmar
Legacy of the Fellowship
The Ruins of Annúminas
Rose’s first glimpse of Annúminas was of a cluster of stone towers, rising from above the treetops, with the shadowy slopes of Emyn Uial behind them. Despite that it was a somewhat forbidding sight, Rose let out a deep sigh of relief at the realisation that they had reached Annúminas at last.
Not for the first time since the goblin attack, Rose glimpsed down at Sting and eased the blade slightly out of its scabbard. All was still well – the sword had not glowed blue in over two days. It had warned them of an approaching band of goblins the morning following the attack, allowing Salrean to lead them on a detour so that they skirted danger completely – three goblins they might be able to manage, but not a group of them. They had a narrow escape.
“Who are we actually seeing in Annúminas?” Rose quickened her stride, and was forced to run in order to draw level and keep pace with Salrean. “You said he is an old friend. How can he help us?”
“Barandur grew up with my father,” Salrean replied briskly, her dark gaze scanning the trees as they walked. Even this close to Annúminas, the ranger did not relax her guard. “They both share the gift of ‘far-sight’, although Barandur’s abilities appeared to intensify with age, whereas my father’s did not. He was my father’s most trusted ranger for many years, but when I was a girl they quarrelled and my father banished him from Farnost. He is known all over the Lost Realm as a wise-man, a teller of truth. I have visited him a few times, although my father would be furious if he knew.”
“What did they quarrel over?” Peri asked, speaking for the first time in hours.
Salrean shrugged, her face becoming pensive. “I know not – although from what my father has told me of Barandur over the years, I would say he was threatened by his friend’s abilities. In Farnost, my father is revered for his skills as a seer, and he did not like having a rival.”
Rose thought that Salrean’s father sounded a formidable, if inflexible, man. She was not looking forward to meeting him. Thinking of Salrean’s father made her think of her own, and a stab of grief pierced her through the chest.
I’ll make this right papa, she thought, clenching her fist by her sides, I don’t know where I’m going, or if I’m right to trust this ranger – but I won’t fail you again.
They entered Annúminas through a perimeter of scattered wattle and daub houses, where the poorest folk lived. Here, they attracted many stares, some of which made Rose uncomfortable. Salrean strode ahead, oblivious of the gazes following her, while the two hobbits ran to keep up with her. Further ahead, the dwellings grew larger. Many were half-timbered, and the further they travelled towards the centre of Annúminas, the more of the local grey stone featured.
The buildings drew upwards, until Rose had to crane her head to see the sky. The streets changed from mud and gravel to cobblestones, and instead of home-spun shifts, the people here wore fine clothes and leather boots. Rose was overwhelmed. She much preferred the green hills of Hobbiton, with its patchwork of fields and wide sky. Glancing across at Peri, Rose saw that he too was unnerved by the sheer size of this city of men.
“It makes you feel so small,” he whispered, his eyes wide. “I will never look upon Hobbiton, or Bree, in the same way again.”
Eventually, they entered a wide cobbled square with a great, half-timbered hall at one end.
“That is where the Lord of Annúminas resides,” Salrean told the hobbits. “The great Lord Gildur. My father tried to arrange a marriage between us, years ago now, before he realised that I had planned to become a ranger. When I refused, relations were strained for many years between Gildur and my father. I think it best if we don’t pay him a visit.”
Rose glanced up at Salrean’s face and saw that the ranger wore a whimsical half-smile. Salrean was an enigma. She rarely revealed details about herself, but on the rare occasions she did, her revelations always surprised Rose.
“Where does this Barandur live then?” Peri puffed alongside Salrean, his short legs pumping to keep pace with her.
“On the other side of the city Master Took,” Salrean glanced down at Peri. “In the ruins of the ancient city – all that remains of the Tower of the West.”
They walked through the ruins of old Annúminas, amongst crumbled stone buildings encrusted with lichen and moss. Here, Rose could see the glittering waters of Lake Nenuial and the ruined docks that once stretched along its shores.
“I have read little of the history of the place,” she said to Salrean. “When was old Annúminas abandoned?”
“Following the death of the last High King of Arnor, many years ago,” Salrean replied. “It once housed one of the three seeing stones of the North Kingdom but after the city fell into ruin, its palantir was removed and taken to Farnost. After my city was destroyed by Angmar, the palantir was lost.”
Rose knew of the palantir, the ancient seeing stones. She had heard that one was kept deep in the vaults in Minas Tirith, but had no idea where the others had gone.
“Why didn’t they rebuild the old city, instead of creating a new one?” Peri asked, ignoring the mention of the lost seeing stone.
“Superstition,” Salrean led them along and ancient cobbled street with high, crumbling walls either-side. Ahead, a battered stone tower missing its top rose against the pale sky. “The people here preferred to start afresh.”
Rose could understand that. The ruined city had an eerie, melancholy air. A cold wind blew in from Lake Nenuial and whistled down the streets. Rose felt an itching between her shoulder blades, as if someone was watching her. She wondered if spirits of the dead roamed the ruins at night in a place such as this.
Ahead, a man, dressed in a frayed grey cloak, came out of the crumbling tower to meet them. He had long, black hair; a beard, streaked with grey; and penetrating dark eyes and a sharp-featured face.
“Salrean,” he greeted the ranger coolly, although his gaze riveted upon her two companions. “I saw you approaching. Why have you brought halflings with you?”
“Greetings Barandur,” Salrean replied, unperturbed by his abrupt welcome. “Apologies for disturbing your peace but I, and my companions are about to embark on a journey to the far north and we need your counsel.”
“To Angmar?” Barandur turned to Salrean, his brow darkening. “You would take two hobbits into Morwyn’s domain?”
Salrean nodded, her face still expressionless. “Not without good reason.”
Barandur’s frown deepened before he stepped back and motioned to the open door behind him.
“Well, you’d all better come in then. I will cook us some supper and you can tell me what foolery you are about to embark upon.”
It was damp and cold inside the lower levels of the ruined tower, despite the fire that roared in the hearth. Barandur lived in one large room that smelt of damp, wood-smoke and mutton stew. An iron pot, containing their evening meal, simmered over glowing embers in a second hearth on the other side of the chamber.
Rose sat on an upturned wooden crate, her cloak wrapped tightly about her, and wondered what possessed a man to live in such a cold, lonely place. Looking at the severe lines that carved Barandur’s face as he ladled the mutton stew into earthen bowls, she guessed that he had chosen the ruins of Annúminas for a reason. He exuded bitterness and, despite the fact that Salrean had spoken warmly of him, did not appear pleased to see her.
They ate their stew, which was surprisingly good. Salrean recounted their story; from her discovery that Morwyn sought the Red Book, to its theft from the Tower Hills and the murder of Rose’s father. Barandur listened in silence, his intense gaze riveted upon Salrean. However, when she finished her tale, his features twisted in scorn.
“This journey you plan to take is madness,” he tossed the remains of his stew on the fire and leant back in his chair. “The Red Book has been taken – let her have it. There’s nothing in it of value, apart from old stories of those who are long dead.”
“But my father believes that…”
“You father is a fool,” Barandur snapped. “If he thinks the book is valuable then let him go fetch it. He wouldn’t dare raise an army against the Witch of Angmar – he knows he has not the men to withstand her and the goblin king’s forces. Yet, he would send you and these hobbits into her lair. You’re his only child but he would willingly sacrifice you for vain ambition.”
For the first time, anger flashed across Salrean’s features.
“I go willingly. He does not send me anywhere I do not wish to go!”
“You go to please him,” Barandur’s tone softened then. “When will you realise that he is unpleasable?”
The man’s gaze swivelled round to Rose and Peri then, and Rose shrank under his penetrating stare.
“Looking for the man who killed your father will be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Would your father want you to risk your life to bring back a family heirloom?”
“I will remember his killer’s face till the end of my days,” Rose replied coldly. “Thin, bloodless and pock-marked with eyes the colour of blue ice. I will find him.”
“You are a brave young thing,” Barandur shook his head and Rose saw a trace of mockery there that made anger curl up within her. She did not enjoy being patronised. “But ‘twill not save you when you come face-to-face with the Witch-king’s fell sister.”
“Barandur,” Salrean interrupted, her voice sharp. “We came here, not to get your blessing but for your advice. Will you use the runes to aid us?”
Barandur tore his gaze from Rose and focused on Salrean once more.
“You’re far more like your mother than your father,” he rumbled, “except for when you want something. Then you remind me of Rendur.”
Salrean gave a tight smile at that and shrugged. “Will you help us?”
The man sighed and crossed his arms across his chest.
“I can use the runes, if that’s what you want – but I warn you that they don’t often give you the answer you seek. More often than not they give me riddles that you must untangle yourselves.”
“I understand,” Salrean put her empty bowl aside and leant forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
Barandur stood up and walked over to a shelf at the far end of the room, retrieving a small leather pouch from it. He returned to the fireside and pulled up a low table between them. Then, he gently tossed the pouch in the centre of his palm, as if feeling the weight of the runes. His visitors looked on, waiting for him to empty the runes onto the table.
Instead, Barandur paused, his gaze snaring Salrean’s.
“I visited Carn Dûm, years ago now – when I was young and seeking adventure. It was abandoned then; crumbling towers surrounded by ruined walls on the desolate slopes of Mount Gundabad. I explored the ruins from top to bottom; at that time even the orcs had forsaken it – and I found a secret way in.”
“You did?” Salrean bolted upright, her eyes gleaming. “Can you tell us of it?”
“I thought that would interest you,” Barandur’s mouth curved into a grim smile. “To the west of the towers of Carn Dûm, there is a collection of jagged rocks that climb the mountainside. Make your way into the centre of them, and under a sharp rock, darker than all the others, you will find a tunnel. It will take you deep under Carn Dûm into the dungeons; from there you can make your way up into the fortress itself.”
Salrean nodded before glancing across at Rose and Peri. “Will you both remember that?”
The hobbits nodded.
“It sounds easy enough,” Peri ventured.
Barandur laughed, showing his teeth. “It might do, but ‘tis not. Unpleasant things dwell under Carn Dûm. I was lucky to emerge from the tunnels alive – and I’d wager you will be too. All the same, ‘tis safer than walking in through the front door.”
“What unpleasant things?” Peri had gone white.
“Wights, from the time of the Witch-king himself,” Barandur replied, the wry humour fading from his rugged face. “They are Carn Dûm’s protectors and do not welcome visitors.”
Silence fell in the room then, and despite the roaring fire at her back, Rose shivered.
Barandur, his sharp gaze missing nothing, undid the leather pouch and poured the runes out onto his large palm. He clasped his fingers around them, preparing to cast the stones on the table before him.
“Now, shall we see what the runes have to say about your endeavour?” he looked straight at Rose. “Foul or fair? What lies before you in the Realm of Angmar?”