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The Dwellings of the Dead  by Nilmandra

Many thanks to Daw the minstrel for beta reading this chapter. My apologies for the delay; the last chapter will not take so long!

Chapter 2

Elladan walked to the northern perimeter of their small camp, a ridge of a rugged hill that gave way to dusty plains below. The wind had been blowing strong since they had left Imladris, thus the sudden lack of even the slightest breeze had captured his attention. The air felt heavy and full of tension, yet from the northwest there came no sign of a summer storm.

Dust covered the thin foliage of the trees. The land needed rain. He scanned the horizon again, hoping to see flashes of lightning or roiling clouds, but he saw only black sky. Even the stars seemed to have dimmed in the otherwise clear night.

His disquiet grew as the minutes passed. There was something not natural about the stillness. Seldom had he felt such a sense of dread as came over him now. There was something evil nearby.

He had just made up his mind to alert Erestor when he heard the soft chirp indicating the elf was approaching him. The call was loud to his ears in the sudden stillness of the night.

Erestor was next to him a moment later. To Elladan’s surprise, he did not speak out loud, but chose to speak in thought, something Erestor had seldom done with him before.

Evil is nearby. When first did you notice it?

Perhaps an hour ago, replied Elladan. Whatever it is, it has grown in strength or is nearer to us now than it was before.

Even as they communicated, the presence of evil grew around them. Elladan jumped when a hand came to rest on his arm, but it was followed by a firm grip and Erestor’s thought: It is a spirit without physical raiment.

Elladan realized he had been concentrating so heavily upon sight and what he could not see, that he had nearly missed what was coming upon them. He focused his mind on the spirit instead. It radiated its hatred to them as it swirled about them in madness, then it suddenly stopped. It drew close to them, curious.

One of the Eldar, but Moriquendi and weak, it mocked Erestor. Elladan felt the spirit draw closer to him, so close that he felt as if it might pass through his body. But what of you? Of the weakest and of the Eldar, but also more?

Elladan made no reply, and if Erestor made one in thought or spoken word, he did not hear it, for he had snapped the door to his mind closed as the spirit probed at him

Such mixed blood can come from only one, from Lúthien who took from our Lord the Silmaril, long ago. Yet you are weakened by the blood of Men. The spirit made a horrible noise at the word ‘Men’. Men who fought against our captain; Men who we hate.

The spirit pushed at Elladan’s mind, taunting him. A prize you would be, kin of Elrond, the spirit continued with gleeful malice. Do not think our captain has forgotten him.

The spirit left them as suddenly as it had come upon them, this time in a rush of wind. Elladan sagged against the boulder beside him, though he still felt Erestor’s hand on his arm.

“It knew who you were,” said Erestor, breaking the silence.

“What was it?” asked Elladan in a low voice.

Erestor frowned. “Not a houseless one, of that I feel sure. Nor one of the Ulairi, I think. If the spirit recognized the blood of Lúthien, then it had to be a servant of Morgoth.”

Elladan was pondering Erestor’s words when the spirit returned. It whirled about him in a stream of sound and light, disorienting him. The sky had been black, but now it was red and hazy, and a shrill scream pierced the silence. The sound was so intense that he covered his ears in pain, finally dropping to his knees when the intensity grew so great he felt his head would burst.

Despite the agony, he knew the spirit was trying to do worse than cause him pain. He had heard tales of houseless elves taking over the body of another elf, but never of a higher spirit attempting to do so. Glorfindel once said that such an act would limit the spirit’s abilities and it did not seem to him as if that is what it was doing.

“Ai, Elbereth!” he cried. “Elbereth! Gilthoniel!”

In a flash, the spirit was gone. As quiet descended upon him, Elladan removed his hands from his ears and realized that Erestor knelt beside him. He sat up, still dizzy from the sensory overload, and waited for the world to cease spinning.

“It fears the name of Elbereth,” murmured Erestor. “Well done, Elladan, in remembering that.”

Elladan did not respond. He did not know who had put those words in his head; they had simply appeared in his mind and he had repeated them.

“I do not know if that will be enough in the future. Neither of us can stand long against such a spirit. We must depart before it returns,” continued Erestor.

Elladan straightened. “I do not think it wanted my body, as tales of the houseless ones tell, but what other harm can it do without physical form?”

Erestor looked at him thoughtfully. “In truth, I do not know. I know only tales and legends of old. I do not wish, however, to face Elrond and tell him of any harm that befell his son because I failed to heed a threat with proper caution.”

Elladan bristled. “How long, Erestor, before you look upon me as a warrior of Imladris and not as Elrond’s son? If you had another elf with you, would you be fleeing from danger?”

“You will always be Elrond’s son,” replied Erestor dryly. “Were another elf with me, I doubt the spirit would have taken notice of us. It is because of who you are that it was interested.” He paused for a moment then added, “We will return to Imladris.”

Elladan did not even attempt to hide his reaction. “Return home to hide?”

“We are not a patrol sent out to do battle,” reminded Erestor. “We are scouts, sent to gather information. We have a responsibility to return to Elrond, give him this information and seek his counsel before proceeding.”

“I would rather we did more gathering of information before returning home,” argued Elladan. “How is Elrond to judge this threat based on what we now know?”

“I did not say that we would not return. Elrond can choose to send us back out alone or with help. He may also wish to send word to Glorfindel and Elrohir.”

“We would have a more complete assessment of the threat and the land if we joined with Glorfindel and Elrohir.” Elladan watched as Erestor considered his words, then continued, “If this spirit chose me for who I am, then would it not consider my brother a worthy prize as well?”

“I judge that of all of us, Glorfindel could stand against this threat with the greatest hope of winning. Yet perhaps there is also strength in numbers if we join with them.” He paused, thinking. “I also would not wish to have the spirit follow us back to Imladris, and lead it straight to Elrond. I fear the hidden valley would not stay hidden for long.”

“There are many forces that keep Imladris hidden, and my father is stronger than all of us,” replied Elladan knowingly.

Erestor raised a brow at him but did not answer, and they returned to camp.

They departed just after sunrise. Elladan felt relieved that they were going to travel south to join Glorfindel and Elrohir, yet he at first had a hard time identifying why he felt so strongly. It wasn’t just a desire to continue scouting, or curiosity to discover what this spirit might be about. Something was driving him.

He and Elrohir were seldom this far apart. They had been part of the patrols that guarded Imladris for many centuries and often were not together, but seldom on a long venture had they been separated. He reached deep within himself, to his bond with his brother, and sensed that Elrohir was well, but weary. He had seen Elrohir physically exhausted before, and yet not sensed this type of weariness.

He attempted to communicate with Elrohir, but got no response. He had the greater skill in reaching with his mind, so this did not surprise him. Elrohir had cultivated other skills, using the strength of his mind to heal others, thus depleting his strength and limiting its reach. Despite this knowledge, however, his foreboding increased and without conscious thought, he nudged his horse into a quicker pace.

They had intended to travel north to Fornost, where the Arthedain dwelt, but now they worked their way back south along the Weather Hills to the East-West road. By Erestor’s reckoning, Glorfindel and Elrohir would be moving north along the river. He hoped to meet them on the South Downs.

Near evening of the second day, they came to a small outpost of the Arthedain. Located as a guard tower along the edge of the Weather Hills, it afforded the men a long view of the road both east and west. Elladan knew the families of the guards lived in the small fortresses made of brick. The entrance to the fortress was between two large stones, making it difficult to besiege, and yet escape routes ran into the wild lands that only those men knew well. If one did not know the outpost was there, it would be only by long chance that any would happen upon it.

Today the entrance was blocked. Elladan looked up, scanning the abutments for sign of any guard. He whistled a call of the Arthedain, identifying himself as friend. After a moment, a man came to the edge of the rock.

“Mae govannen!” called Elladan. “We are from Imladris.”

The man waved a small flag of black and red at him. “There is no illness here, and we would not have any brought upon us. Go back whence you came, friends!”

Elladan turned to look at Erestor.

“The illness was far south at last word, in Gondor. Grievous indeed would it be, if it has come so far north,” murmured Erestor.

The man disappeared before they could answer.

Elladan contemplated the man’s words. Once he opened his mouth to call to the man again, but he shut it after a moment. Perhaps there was no more to say, at least here.

“Do we go north, to see if Argeleb’s people need our aid, or continue south?” he voiced his concern.

Erestor did not hesitate even a moment. “South, to Glorfindel and Elrohir,” he answered curtly.

* * *

Elrohir woke with the sunrise the next morning. He had slept so deeply that it took him a moment to remember where he was. He looked around and the previous day’s events came back to him when he saw Glorfindel still sitting next to him.

“You did not wake me for my watch,” he chastised.

“You needed to rest and I needed to think,” replied Glorfindel.

Elrohir rose and folded the blankets, then took his comb and turned to walk to the stream. Glorfindel fell into step beside him. “Will it return, even in daylight?”

“The spirit chose you because you were alone, not because it was dark,” replied Glorfindel grimly.

“You did not encounter anything in the village or while hunting, though,” mused Elrohir.

A strange look came over Glorfindel’s face.

“Or perhaps you did,” he amended.

“This is what I thought about during the night,” admitted Glorfindel. “No spirit accosted me as they did you, and what I sensed was not the same as what happened at the stream.”

“I recall tales told in the Hall of Fire of the houseless ones that dwelt away in the east, where the Moriquendi once lived and died at Morgoth’s hands. They had already rejected the call of the Valar, and so their spirits remained after their bodies perished. In those tales was rumor that some of those spirits turned to evil, but when we questioned the storyteller, it was rumor only,” said Elrohir.

“In rumors and tales is often truth, though none telling the stories know it to be so,” replied Glorfindel. “In Beleriand, I also heard such tales. Of the exiled Noldor, some of those guilty of the kin-slaying refused Namo’s summons upon bodily death and remained in Middle-earth. Gil-galad and Elrond heard reports in Lindon of houseless ones in the northern reaches of the Ered Luin. The dwarves were aware of spirits in the hills, but there were no reports of them being evil.”

“Have you known of any elf evicted from its body, supplanted by one of these evil ones?” asked Elrohir.

“No,” replied Glorfindel shortly. “I would prefer that you not be the first, either.”

“That would be my preference as well,” murmured Elrohir.

They broke their camp and continued north. An uneventful morning passed, and early afternoon found them at another tiny village. A stray dog barked at them, but they found no other signs of life. The houses were abandoned and had been seemingly plundered. If the inhabitants had died, they found no recent graves as evidence.

They had explored most of the houses together or at least in sight of one another. Elrohir stepped between two outbuildings and found a shaded garden which someone had once used to do carvings. The shavings on the ground were not fresh, but Elrohir was surprised to see them along with tools that were scattered on a rough wooden table. Whoever had worked here had left in haste.

He turned to leave and saw a spirit hovering in the space between the buildings. He was first amazed that he could see evidence of the spirit, but as it approached him, fear returned.

“Glorfindel!” he called.

He was confident he could fight off an attack, yet he remembered the orders of a captain who had told him to stay in his sight. He watched the spirit as it drew closer to him, and noted the growing feeling of malice. A twinge of fear coursed through him. What if he had merely been fortunate thus far? What if Glorfindel was fighting his own battle?

Glorfindel appeared in front of him, his face changing from that of concerned captain to that of mighty warrior. His inner light grew until he shone. At one word from him, the spirit fled. When Glorfindel reached him, his light had barely faded, and Elrohir could not help but reach out and touch him.

“It was the same spirit,” said Glorfindel. “This also settles a question that has been in my mind. It is stalking you. It came after you as soon as we were out of sight of each other.”

“I do not understand,” said Elrohir. “Why me? Why not you?” He waved his hand over the scene behind him. “Did the spirits drive the Men who lived here from their homes?”

Glorfindel did not answer. He ushered Elrohir from the garden and back out into the clearing where their horses waited. “We are going to head north and find Elladan and Erestor, then return to Imladris. I think we need more than a few scouts to explore this mystery.”

Elrohir mounted. Despite his fears over what he had experienced, he was also curious. Yet he had a mounting concern for his twin and Erestor. Were they encountering the same desolation and disease as Elrohir and Glorfindel were? Had they met any of the houseless ones?

Elrohir mulled the previous day’s events over in his mind as they continued north. He had told Glorfindel all the details of each encounter with the spirits. Glorfindel had not answered his questions, nor had he told Elrohir the details of what he had experienced. He had seemed deep in thought, distant in a way that Elrohir was not familiar with.

He nudged his horse to catch up with the elf, who was now a length ahead of him.

“Glorfindel, you have not yet told me what you found near the downs yesterday.”

Glorfindel did not immediately answer, and Elrohir wondered if he was so deep in thought that he had not heard the question. He waited, though, for he had learned patience, and elves tended to think before speaking.

“I did not find anything,” began Glorfindel quietly. “Nothing in the realm of the physical anyway…”

~ ~ ~* * *~ ~ ~

Glorfindel walked briskly for several hundred yards, glad to stretch his muscles after hours on the horse and shake the horrors of what they had just seen from his mind. To his north he could see the rolling hills of the downs. Rabbits were usually plentiful in the green fields, and he had his bow strung with an arrow in the other hand, waiting.

He had just shot and strung the first hare when he sensed the presence of another. He turned and scanned the horizon, initially seeing nothing. Then his gaze settled on a shadow. He remained motionless, patiently watching it. After a few long moments the shadow moved west.

Memory flooded Glorfindel’s mind. He had been a small child when the Two Trees were destroyed, yet he remembered vividly when darkness came. The darkness had been more than night, it had been a shadow of deep malice and fear, and he recalled that even his parents had been afraid. Later he had heard his brother and his friends repeating the tales told in Formenos and Alqualondë of Morgoth in his wrath becoming as a dark shadow that rolled through the hills and up the coastline. He had feared darkness and shadows for a time after that, fears shared by many of the children of Aman.

He watched as the shadow followed the curve of the hills, stopping finally at the door of the barrow of a buried king of Cardolan. While only a pale reflection of the shadow and darkness that had come upon Valmar when the Trees failed, this shadow also emanated malice. A chill ran through him despite the warmth of the afternoon. Then the shadow passed into the earth with ease, and the sun again shone unhindered.

He walked through the hills to the barrow, shooting several more rabbits along the way, but though the air felt heavy and full of death, he could not determine what type of spirit he had seen. He felt a sudden concern for Elrohir, and made his way back to camp.

~ ~ ~* * *~ ~ ~

“Was the spirit you saw entering the barrow the spirit of one of the kings of men?” mused Elrohir aloud. “Could this plague that has killed so many men also have afflicted elves? Where else would the houseless ones come from?”

Glorfindel smiled at the young peredhel’s questions. No matter how tired or weary, he could always count on Elrohir’s curiosity to overcome all other concerns.

“No, I think not, and I do not know,” he answered, grinning when Elrohir’s questioning look turned to one of confusion and then humor.

“You have told me what you experienced, but no conclusions about what you saw,” observed Elrohir.

“I have drawn no conclusions,” replied Glorfindel. “The spirit was not one of Men, nor of Elf. What it was I do not know.”

“How do you know it was not elf or man? And if not either of them, what else is there? Perians? Dwarves?”

“I know because I have memories of my existence unclothed by a body, when I was with other elves in spirit form. I recognize the spirits of Men, for I have seen enough flee this world, and it was not one of them. What it could be I only suspect, for I had not the time to test the spirit. I know only at this point what it was not.”

Elrohir fell quiet and Glorfindel was glad to let the wind and birds fill the void so he could think. A spirit was stalking Elrond’s son; of this he was sure. He did not know why. Was the spirit merely in search of a body? Did it perceive the peredhel as weak, or was the uniqueness of the spirit of the half-elven desired by it for some other purpose?

The children of Elrond carried in them enough of the spirit of the Maia to be recognized by those with knowledge of the Ainur. In Elrond the blood of the Maia was stronger yet, and Glorfindel had long thought that it was the strength of that part of his heritage that allowed him to wield the most powerful of Celebrimbor’s rings. And Sauron was of the race of the Maia, and he had other servants of that kind. He also knew Elrond, indeed he had been turned from the gates of Lindon by him.

Contrary to what he had told Elrohir, he did have a suspicion about the spirit near the barrow. It reminded him of the Maiar. Had Sauron returned, no longer in fair form, or sent one of his servants to Cardolan, and was there a connection between the houseless elf stalking Elrohir and this higher spirit?

“There is someone ahead on the road,” said Elrohir. “A child, Glorfindel, and he needs our aid.”

Elrohir spurred his horse forward before Glorfindel could speak. His intentions of continuing north to find Elladan and Erestor were forgotten as he watched Elrohir slide from his horse and cautiously approach the child.

* * * * *


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