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Old 05-16-2004, 02:00 PM   #176
Estelyn Telcontar
Princess of Skwerlz
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Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: where the Sea is eastwards (WtR: 6060 miles)
Posts: 7,529
Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
A slight smile played around the corners of Merisuwyniel’s rosy lips as she rode through the village of Beer toward the Inn. She had enjoyed the party in the Mire – or was it ‘Shire’? – and been reassured by the eclectic mixture of guests that her motley crew would certainly find a welcome amongst that hospitable folk. Now she was anxious to get back to the Slow-Ship-to-China, hoping that the others had not missed her too much or found it difficult to manage without her expert leadership.

Her worst fears seemed justified as she entered the rooms where her companions had slept. The windows had been opened and were swinging, and the curtains were flapping; the beds were tossed about, and the bolsters slashed and flung upon the floor; and the ‘welcome’ mat was torn to pieces.

“AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!” she cried, blowing on her harmonica for lack of a horn. Then, as it occurred to her that she had seen scenes like this before without enemy intervention, she called out, “Chrysophylax?” Still no answer. “Well, I’m back,” she stated to no one in particular.

“Oh, it’s you,” Leninia said, looking around the corner. “Were you gone?”

“What’s going on here?” Merisu asked in consternation.

“We have, uh, decided to carry on our journey with no further delay,” Gateskeeper informed her, coming around another corner with his hands full of baggage. He hurried off to the stall before she could ask any more questions.

“Did someone attack?” she queried.

“No,” Vogonwë said, carrying a big bag that sent out enticing smells of food. “Pimpi was trying to find the package of cookies she’d stashed in the room for emergencies, and didn’t remember where she’d put them.”

Orogarn Two and Kuruharan came from the stall. “We’ve heaved Soregum and Earnur into the cart,” the Dwarf said. “That will help us to get moving faster – is everyone else ready?”

The first grey light of day entered the windows, and cold air was coming through the open door as they left the Nancing Bow-ny Inn and headed westwards again. Pimpiowyn shivered as they passed through the gate and into Ye Aulde Foreste, a scenic park that lay between them and their next goal. Were the rumours told by her mother’s people true, that the Forest was haunted?

Merisuwyniel rode at the head of the Gallop-Ship; the others stayed well behind her, remembering the stories they had heard at the Inn last evening. “The Forest is queer,” one of the Hobbits, a very merry fellow, had told them. “Everything in it is very much alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than elsewhere. And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you, whispering to each other, and the branches sway and grope without any wind. They do say the trees actually move, and can surround strangers…”

The trees grew taller as they rode on, and closer on both sides, and the day seemed to become darker instead of lighter as the hours passed. Vogonwë tried to sing a song to encourage them, but his voice sank to a murmur.

O! Questers in the tree-ed land
Despair not! For though trunks do stand,
All branches here must end at last
And see the axe go cutting past:
The hewing Dwarf, the hacking Man,
The campfire site for mealtime plan.
For Elf or Hobbit, all must cook…

Just then a branch crashed down in their path, narrowly missing the heads of those behind the Elven maiden. She turned around and smiled triumphantly. “Mealtime!” she exclaimed. And lo! the branch bore apples, and they plucked them and found them to be wonderfully crisp, juicy, and sweet.

Bushes seemed to grow nearer and they shrank together, feeling hemmed in and breathless as the air got hot and stuffy. But Merisu gathered berries from them with nary a scratch on her pale, graceful hands and distributed them to her comrades.

“Ow!! Ow!!” Soregum cried out, wakened from his stupor by a missile from above. It seemed to them that hail fell all around them, but when they looked, they perceived that nuts were lying on the ground, ripe and tasty.

When they had eaten enough to satisfy even Pimpi, they sat down to stretch their weary legs. Their eyes dropped shut from drowsiness, and none of them noticed that the roots of the surrounding trees moved toward their feet. But they sighed blissfully in their sleep as they dreamt of a wonderful, relaxing massage.

When they awoke later, the trees had moved apart just enough to let speckled sunlight through their green leaves. They mounted their horses refreshed and followed the path ahead of them. None noticed that it seemed to shift away from the direction they thought they were going, moving ever upwards and to the left.

After an hour or two they lost all clear sense of direction, though they knew well enough that they had long ceased to go westwards at all. They were being headed off, and were simply following a course chosen for them – into the heart of the Forest and not out of it. The afternoon was wearing away when they suddenly reached a clearing. There they saw – the strangest little man, dancing the strangest little dance! He had saucepans and kettles hung all over him, he wore a saucepan for a hat, and he crashed two saucepans together as he danced!

Ooops – sorry! Wrong story…

But just what did they see on the clearing??
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