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Stranger in a Strange Land

baragund

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“And it would become you to show some common courtesy,” Nilme said with a voice under tight control. “Just because he is one of the second-born does not give you the right to mock him. And there is more about him than you know.”

“Oh?” scoffed Curunir. “How, pray tell? Men east of Ered Luin are barbarians and the vassals here in Beleriand would be no better if it were not for the charity of Finrod. Other than being a malleable source of cheap labor, I don’t see a use for them. And I’d like to know where he got that pretty trinket. By no honest means, I’ll warrant! Thievery, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn! He’s a crook and a friend of the Dwarves, not unlikely!”

“I don’t think so,” Nilme said. “He is not from the East, but he has not dwelt in Beleriand either.”

Nilme took a deep breath and told the Noldo the strange tale of how he found the Man on the beach by Linwen’s house. He described the foreign language, clothing and artifacts that accompanied the castaway. He described the most incredible account of the Man’s homeland: a place where only Men dwelt and there were no Eldar or many other inhabitants of Arda, a place of seemingly endless contradictions, of war and tenderness, love and hate, beauty and ugliness, of fantastic machines and devices yet crushing poverty, a place where Morgoth but also the Valar were unknown.

The others snorted in derision when Nilme finished. “I think the Engwar has been taking advantage of your good nature,” Annael said. “If what he says is true, then he would have come from the Blessed Realm. Rubbish! We who have dwelt ther know better, Dark Elf. You and Linwen should count yourselves lucky that he did not rob you blind while he was helping himself to your hospitality. On the other hand, I think I recognize the styling of Maglor’s folk in that bracelet of his. It should be recovered and returned to it’s rightful owner.”

During this conversation, John was lying awake in his bedroll feeling tight as a drum. The Elves were speaking very rapidly in Noldorin and in low voices so he could not follow much of what was said. But from the tone of the voices and the suspicious looks cast his way by the Noldo, he did not feel at all comfortable and he started to wonder about his safety. Then he heard some snippets of Linwen’s description of where John really came from and he shuddered with fear. It was apparent that he was trying to reason with the other three but they were not buying it.

Presently, the Feanorian named Annael walked up to John where he lay and said in Sindarin, “Get up! You have questions to answer.” John rose, pulled on his boots and followed the Elf back to the fire ring. Nilme looked worried. The others had cold, hard expressions.

John was invited to sit but he shook his head in refusal and remained standing in the firelight looking steadily at each Feanorian in turn. “Tell us how you came by that bracelet,” Annael commanded. “It was a gift from my fiancée, my wife-to-be,” John replied, the anger he was feeling starting to be heard in his voice. “What does it matter to you?”

“We think it was made by our kin who live north and east of here and we want to ensure that nothing of ours was obtained by ill means,” Annael said. “You will accompany us to the house of Maglor, and if we learn that the bracelet was stolen, the consequences would be most severe.”

“I am not a thief, you…” John hurled the epithet at the Elves in English so they did not understand it, although the tone and the harsh consonants clearly conveyed it was most uncomplimentary. “I don’t need this abuse. Nilme, I’m leaving. I’d appreciate your coming with me but if you’d rather stay, you can go to Hell along with the rest of these jerks.”

John turned and went to gather his things. He was starting to tie up his bedroll when he was ordered to stop. He got up, turned around and saw the three Feanorians confronting him with their swords drawn. “You will accompany us to the house of Maglor,” Annael repeated. “Even if we have to drag you there bound and gagged.”

“Right, who are the thieves now?” John asked scornfully. “You know every bit as well as me that my wristwatch could not have been made by anybody around here, let alone one of your cousins. My watch is just about the only thing I have to link me to my home and those whom I love. If you want it, you're going to have to take it like the thieves that you are. Look how easy it is for the three of you, with your fancy glow-in-the-dark swords, to gang up on me, especially unarmed and with a bad knee. Oh and don’t make yourselves feel like you’ll win a fair fight by lobbing me a weapon. I’ve never picked up a sword in my life and I know how to use one about as well as you can program a VCR!”

John was standing with hands clenched in quivering anger. The three Feanorians stood with their swords leveled at the Man’s chest. Nilme stood to the side with his head bowed trying desperately to figure out how to diffuse the situation. But when he heard John say ‘glow-in-the-dark swords’, he looked up and saw with growing comprehension and horror.

“Wait, you fools!,” he hissed. “Look at your swords!”
 

Elorendil

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Annael was beginning to run out of patience with this Man. Though he did not understand the insult aimed at him and his companions, the tone it was delivered in made its meaning clear enough. Annael stood, seething. The nerve of this baseborn mortal both astonished and angered him. Determined though he was not to lose his temper with the Atani, the accusation of thievery was too much. Annael raised his sword, leveling at the Atani's chest.

"...Oh and don’t make yourselves feel like you’ll win a fair fight by lobbing me a weapon. I’ve never picked up a sword in my life and I know how to use one about as well as you can program a VCR!" John said, ending his tirade against the Elves. Annael glared at the Man, his displeasure at being accused of stooping low enough to steal from a Secondborn etched on his every feature. He was considering how best to teach this impetuous Atani not to speak to High Elves in such a manner when Nilme interrupted his thoughts.
“Wait, you fools!,” cried the Dark Elf. “Look at your swords!”

Annael shifted his focus to his weapon. To his dismay, the edges of the blade gleamed blue in the moonlight. "Orcs!" He spat the name with such vehemence that John started at the sound. Annael fixed him with a piercing glare. "Mark my words, Atani, if it is your presence that has brought these foul spawn of Morgoth upon us, I will-"

His threat was cut short as the orcs in question appeared around the corner. They made so much noise that Annael wondered how he could have not heard them coming. The group lurched noisily to a halt as they suddenly found themselves in the blazing light of the fire, surprised, perhaps to stumble across a group of travellers in such a little-habited place. Their stunned silence lasted for only a moment, but it was long enough for Annael to take account of their number. There were nine of them, all well-armored and equipped with the curved scimitars favored by the evil beings. For a moment, the two groups stood staring at one another. When they recovered their senses, pandemonium broke loose.
 

baragund

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John turned, looked at the group of newcomers gathered along the tree line at the edge of the clearing and tried to comprehend what he was seeing. At first glance, they appeared to be people. But as he got a better look at them in the firelight, they were as wasted shadows, once elven in stature and build, yet horridly mutilated. The gleam of their rheumy eyes was feral. Their once fair faces were distorted, devoid of compassion or love and filled only with hatred and loathing. Filthy tatters of clothing clung to their emaciated bodies beneath armor that was dented and stained with filth and dried blood. Dirty blonde hair hung in dank greasy locks down their scarred backs. Most of them covered their faces, heads and any other bare skin with ritualistic steel piercings and scarrings. Their limbs and posture looked like their bones had been repeatedly broken and incorrectly set, so that the legs looked stunted yet the arms were overdeveloped and long enough to hang below the knee.

No, this was something out of a child’s nightmare. Again, the thought that all of this was in his imagination, that he was having some kind of unbelievable realistic hallucination, reared up inside him. “Right John,” he said to himself. “Now is the time to wake up in your bed, in your house in Biloxi, with a pleasantly naked Jennifer curled up in the crook of your arm snoring peacefully away”. That was when he heard, or rather felt, something rush an inch or so past his ear. He turned and saw the quivering spear embedded in Annael’s chest, a look of shock etched in the Elf’s face as he crumpled to the ground and expired.

With cries that were a mixture of the rutting call of a stag, the snarl of a bear and the grunt of a pig, the orcs burst into the clearing wielding lethal looking curved swords. Within seconds, each of the remaining Elves were locked in mortal combat with at least two orcs. Two more advanced on John making sniveling, guttural sounds that seemed to him like laughter. One was smaller than the other and the small one seemed to be goading or ordering the larger one. That was when he realized that the smaller one was speaking. It was Nilme’s language but it was horribly distorted and awful to listen to. Still, he could make out the gist of what it was saying.

“Rip him, Snaga,” it said. “Fresh meat tonight. He don’ know ‘ow to fight so you can play with ‘im. But I gets his heart an’ brains, got it?”
 

Ciryaher

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Shûaz'rha grumbled and slipped his boot back on after dumping out the rock that had been driving him mad for the last quarter mile. "Orcs," he muttered as his associates went charging off madly towards a campfire up ahead. He leapt up to his feet again and adjusted his helmet, taking a moment to consider the nasty-looking hammer that he was holding. "Nah..." he said, shaking his head, and hung the weapon from his belt. He pulled the shortbow from his back and stalked forward to the edge of the clearing, peering out and fitting an arrow to the string.

Sometimes--sometimes, mind you--he really couldn't stand those rotten, stinking orcs. But they were good for a hard day's work, and that's all that mattered. His pale, blue eyes scanned over the brawling elves, orcs, and...what was that? No, surely his eyes deceived him. A dwarf? But far too tall, and what kind of scraggly, pathetic beard was that? No nasty, pointy ears, though. He toyed with the arrow in his fingers and hesitated, the desire to find out what this creature was began to overwhelm him. Was it a captive of the elves? It was fighting the orcs, though...maybe it hated orcs more than elves?

"What could it be?" he wondered just under his breath. He lowered his bow slightly and kept watching. The desire to find out some new secret began to overcome his temporary business contract with the orcs. After all, wasn't it he that spared the orcs when they wandered into his home? He decided it would be best to wait, and so he held his bow and an arrow in one hand while stroking his long, black beard with the other, just within the shadows around the edge of the clearing.
 
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baragund

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John’s body and mind seemed to be working in slow motion, like when you are dreaming like you are being chased by a monster and you are trying to run away but your legs feel like they are heavy as concrete. The larger orc advanced on him, an evil leer on its face, its teeth blackened and broken. The greasy fingers of both hands gripped the hilt of its sword and they flexed with anticipation. Again, jibbering, sniveling sounds came from its mouth that conveyed a sense that it was relishing the violence it was about to commit practically to the point of sexual arousal.

“I’m going to die,” John thought to himself. “This guy is going to take that cleaver and chop me in half with it and then he and his buddy are going to eat me for dinner.” The thoughts drifted through his brain in a dull detached manner as if he was observing the actions of another person that was far away. At that moment, the orc lunged at him with a louder grunt/snarl and slashing at him with its’ sword. A self-preservation instinct kicked in and he jumped out of the way, but not before the blade sliced through the sleeve of his coat and a painless line was drawn down his forearm. A moment later, a warm thick fluid he soon realized was blood began running down his arm, off of his hand and onto the ground.

Both orcs were laughing at their helpless prey but when they saw the blood they were whipped into a frenzy. The large orc raised his sword over his head and made a mighty swing that would have cut John in half had it connected. By now something seemed to take over; he was somehow able to act even though his conscious thoughts were still in a slow-as-molasses mode. The orc’s swing was over extended and threw the creature off balance. John was able to dodge the blow, tackle the orc from the side and bring it to the ground in a wrestler’s take-down move. The sword was pinned under the orc’s body and when they fell to the ground they were next to the ring of stones that contained the camp fire. John struggled to keep on top of the orc while he reached over and grabbed a stone about the size of a small melon. He sat back on his haunches and raised the stone with both hands over his head. At that moment, the orc was able to turn around so it was looking him in the eye just as he brought the stone down with all of his strength into the orc’s face.

The orc’s head imploded like a rotten pumpkin that was hit by a baseball bat. Blood, bone and bits of matter splattered John from the waist up, got into his eyes and blinded him. He heard breathing next to him and, without thinking, launched himself in the direction of that sound. He tackled the smaller orc and started to reach for the rock but then realized that the orc was out cold.

He was now able to wipe the gore from his eyes and look around. The fight was still raging but things seemed to be now favoring John and the remaining Elves. Nilme and Edrahil each now had a single opponent but Curunir still had two and he appeared to be tiring. He was backed up to a large tree and it was all he could do to fend off the blows from his two opponents. John hefted the rock in his hands but then his eye was caught by the glint of the large orc’s blade where it protruded from underneath it’s body.

John struggled to his feet and pulled the sword free. The blind instinct of self-preservation was now replaced with red rage, a blood-lust that made him want nothing except to annihilate these creatures that wanted to destroy him. This feeling extended not only to Nilme, who had shown him such friendship and hospitality, but even to the others. Even though they had been quarreling, nobody deserved the fate that surely would have awaited them if they had been subject to the tender mercies of these gruesome beings.

He strode up behind one of the orcs trading blows with Curunir. He must have looked fearsome because a look of surprise and a little bit of fear flashed across Curunir’s face when the Elf saw him. Not realizing he was copying the move of the large orc he just killed, he raised the sword high above his head and brought it down with a loud grunt on Curunir’s first attacker where its’ head meets its shoulder.

The sword clove through the shoulder blade and clavicle, and the orc crumpled in a bloody heap. John pulled the sword out of the body, turned and saw the second orc holding up its sword fending off a blow from the Elf and leaving its side exposed. John took his sword and drove it through it’s ribcage.

The second orc fell over dead and John stared at the body as the red rage left him and was replaced with confused feelings of relief, disgust and remorse and triumph and horror. Relief that he was alive, disgust and horror at the savagery he committed, triumph over a foe that tried to kill him and remorse over the taking of a life. By this time the other Elves dispatched their remaining foes to the Void and were gathering to where he was standing. Muttered comments flew back and forth but they meant nothing to him:

“By Aule, what are these vermin doing in the Falas? None of Morgoth’s creatures have been seen south of Ard-galan in over 450 years.”

“Is it an attack?”

“Will Barad Nimras be under attack?”

“We must hasten to Eglarest with these evil tidings. It is closest.”

“Nay, we must continue to Brithombar. Cirdan will know what to do.”

“I owe my life to you, Atani. I beg you forgive the unkind remarks of me an my kin this evening.”

At the last remark, a gloved hand warmly clasped John’s shoulder. He looked up and stared into Curunir’s smiling face with a dazed expression not knowing what to say. His hand still grasped the orc’s sword and he now realized it was still wet. He dropped the sword and looked at his blood-soaked hand and forearm.

“You are wounded,” Curunir said, the smile fading from his face. “Come and let me tend to that, friend.”
 

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Nilme stood over the last of his vanquished foes. He saw with satisfaction that John had defended himself and had but a scratch to show for his first victory over the enemy. He was obviously shaken, but there was a gleam in his eye that had not been there before. Nilme was confident that John would quite altered after this.

While Curunir tended to the shocked man, a face caught Nilme's eye. He let out a sad sigh and walked slowly to where the body of Annael lay beneath the filthy corpse of an orc. Once the offensive corpse had been removed, Nilme called for Edrahil to assist him in washing the face and hands of the lifeless form. Curunir finished dressing John's arm and helped Nilme and Annael begin digging a shallow grave for their elven kinsman. They sang low, mournful songs as they worked and finally laid their companion in the ground.

"We should pile the carcasses and burn them," John pointed out after a long silence, "It's a better alternative to just leaving them here to decay."

"Well said, my friend," Nilme replied quietly. He looked to Curunir, "If any more of those foul creatures are about, they will see the flames and find us. Should we wait till morning?"

"I do not know how you feel," Edrahil interjected, "But I cannot abide the thought of resting through the night without being rid of those accursed orcs."

"Truly, Edrahil, I feel as you do, however I feel it is best to make our preparations and perform the burning at dawn. Our new friend seems to be fainting from weariness and it is not fair to ask him to travel further this day."

Try as he might, John had been unable to stifle a gigantic yawn. The initial adrenaline and shock had worn off, so he found himself intensely drained. After further consultation, the elves decided to let the man sleep, if only for a few hours. The blankets were mostly undisturbed, but John dragged them a little closer to the embers of the scattered fire. Nilme helped him with a grim expression on his face.

"Now there are fewer of the Enemy's black servants to do his bidding," Nilme produced a small bag with victuals and a skin of water from somewhere within the bedclothes, "Evil does not work in the light. We will travel hard tomorrow, you will need your strength- eat."

"Thanks," John replied, accepting the offered provisions, "I'm astonished that I'm hungry, but- I guess that's how it goes, isn't it? When will I learn to expect the unexpected?"

Nilme stood abruptly and turned away. He had taken only a few steps, when he stopped short because of a hail from the darkness of the trees...
 
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Ciryaher

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The dwarf continued leaning against a shadowed tree, completely invisible--or so he guessed--in his black armor. It was his favourite suit, made himself, about two decades before. While he was so secretive he never so much as thought about how he made it, it was very very strong, and very very black; a dull black that reflected no light at all from its plated surface. He had a strong breastplate with thin chain beneath, pauldrons covered with black spikes, barbed gauntlets, bladed greaves, and a helmet with a crest of spines running down the middle over a fearsome-looking visor. Spikes were something he liked, especially after a troll had tried to grab him all those years ago. When it happened the next time, he vowed, things would go differently, and he would be more trouble than a rabid porcupine (though he had yet, in fact, to run into the troll in question a second time).

Shûaz'rha shook his head suddenly, noting that his reverie was nodding him off to sleep. He licked his lips and peered out again. The whole scuffle was over with, and he wondered how long it would take for someone to notice him. He really didn't care if they did or not. He wasn't about to get hassled by any of those point-eared ninnies like those poor sods had. Thoughtfully, he tapped the arrowhead against his bottom lip and watched the bearded fellow again, trying to decide whether or not to go ahead and walk into the clearing. It would probably be most amusing, he determined, to wait until they sat down to appear. That would irritate them the most, and would let him see them squirm a bit.

He set down his backpack, placing the black helmet neatly on top of it, and replaced the bow to his back and the arrow to its quiver. Drawing out his large hammer, he rested it casually on his shoulder and then stepped out into the clearing, his pale-blue eyes gleaming with reflected firelight. His face was now visible to those who might look, with a long, crescent-shaped scar opening on the center of his face and crossing down over his right eye. A well-braided beard fell down over his armour and the same rich, glossy black as the hair on his head (which was arranged into a low pony-tail on the back of his head). While he didn't look what most would consider "evil", he looked very irritable, and not the sort of person that one would want to cross.

In a loud voice, he called out to make himself known, using the Westron tongue, "And where are you headed, my orc-piling friends?" He spoke with emphasis on every 'd' and exagerrated the breathiness of each 'w', 'h', and 'y'. He pulled back his lips and grinned at the elves fiercely, not flinching at all as they scrambled for their weapons.
 

baragund

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Curunir led John to the campfire, sat him down and examined his wound. It was a deep cut that extended the length of his forearm and would require stitches but it did not cut any tendons or arteries. “It is not serious,” the Elf told him. “But it must be cleaned immediately. The blades of the Glamhoth are filthy and wounds caused by them will fester.”

Curunir began to heat water which he used to clean the cut on John’s arm. Then he retrieved a small case that contained medical supplies. He extracted a needle and thread finer than any sutures found in a modern hospital, and stitched the cut. John gritted his teeth while he stitched but did not flinch. He then took out a packet or herbs and made a poultice that he bound to the wound using strips of clean cloth. They continued talking while he worked:

“I am in your debt,” he said. “There are no oaths of allegiance between us yet you saved my life. It seems my cousins and I underestimated your worth.”

“Yeah, well, don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” John replied. The Elf gave him a quizzical look at the expression and, as he thought about it, a smile came over his face.

By this time, Nilme and Edrahil rejoined them. They had almost finished piling the orc corpses and were coming for the small orc that John had knocked out and taken for dead. They stooped to pick up the sprawled figure and then jumped back in surprise when it groaned and squirmed in their grip.

“This one still lives!” Edrahil exclaimed, dropping the unconscious orc back on the ground. “But not for long…”

He drew his sword and was about to run it through when John stopped him. “Wait! Let’s find out what we can from him. I’d like to know who these people are and why they attacked us. You called them Glamhoth. What is that and why are you just as intent on killing them as they are of you?”

At that point, they heard a new voice coming from the edge of the forest. "And where are you headed, my orc-piling friends?" The Elves scrambled to their feet in surprise and John strained to see where the voice was coming from. Finally he saw the short stout figure standing at the edge of the trees. The newcomer was wearing armor in a flat black that seemed to absorb any light that came near it. His helm was the same and his hair was black so the only thing he could clearly see was the fair complexion of his face (at least the portion that was not covered by a thick black beard) and startlingly blue eyes that held a mischievous light. He was short, only about four and a half feet tall but solidly built, almost as broad as he was tall.

Naugrim,” Curunir muttered, not in an endearing way.

Edrahil spoke up to the newcomer: “What an odd coincidence. First, Morgoth’s creatures appear in these lands after a 450 year absence and now you, whose kind have not been seen in the Falas for at least as long. Tell us, is this a coincidence we can expect to see more often?”
 

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The night was cool and clear. The stars shone bright upon the gently undulating ground of the fields of Brithon. Wisps of smoke rose into the sky, then dissapated as the wind caught them and carried them further inland. Stillness reigned, except within the ring of firelight where not even the light, which danced wildly, defied the peaceful surroundings.

Nilme had been somewhat aware of a disturbance in the forest, after all, he was most at home in the dark. And, even though it was black as pitch, Ancarin - faithful bird! - had heard and alerted her master of the the movements of the observer. Thus, when the Naugrim stepped out from the shadow of the trees, the Dark Elf was the least suprised. As the harsh cry disturbed the silence, Nilme drew a dagger from his boot and held it at the ready. What is it that a Naugrim could possibly want with elven lords? He cannot be so foolish as to believe a warm welcome awaited him, he glanced at Curunir and Edrahil as they hastened to retrieve their weapons, then hailed the intruder, Any delusions on his part should now have been certainly eliminated.

The short figure stood with his weapon cockily upon his shoulder, glaring sourly at his reception.

"I don't know what our travels have to do with you, Naugrim. If you desire to know something of us, we wish to know something of you and your travels," came Nilme's measured reply. "What has brought you from your deep dwelling? Had you anything to do with the attack this night?"

A low rumble, which the elves soon recognized as a chuckle, rolled out through the darkness. The sound made the hair on the back of Nilme's neck rise.
 
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Daranavo

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Grunog felt his eyes had opened but he could not see and his head throbbed terribly. He brought his hands up to his forehead and wiped them down the front of his face. He felt moisture and smelled the salty scent of orc blood…his blood. For a time he did not remember what he had been doing or what had wounded him. Slowly, he sat upright. As he did, his eyesight began to return however his head ached and he suddenly felt nauseous. Not because of his wound but…something else. A disgusting smell he could not place right away. He heard voices and movement all around him. It is elves that I smell! He thought to himself. He frantically looked around where he sat but no weapon did he spy within reach. He saw Bork and several others of his men all slain by the white devils. He muttered a curse under his breath in Black Speech. “Nink Aaths!” (white dogs) He gritted his teeth and chuckled when he saw one of the elves had been killed.

It did not come to him quickly he did have blood in his eyes and all he could smell was the disgusting scent of elves all around him. He focused his eyes upon John and slowly took in what he saw. He appeared to have hair on his face and his ears were not pointed. He was somewhat stouter then the elves as well. He had never seen his like and strangely he became curious about him. He looked up at him and pursed his eyelids. Whatever he was, he was obviously in league with the elves that would soon take his life. I will tell them nothing! He said to himself. He looked downward at his own legs and awaited death to take him.
 

Ciryaher

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Shûaz'rha grinned broadly, then let his hammer slide down his shoulder to hit the ground with a thud, the grip of it still in his hand. He gestured to himself, speaking with his peculiar accent, "I am so very pleased you speak this tongue, rather than that twiggy monster that you normally speak." His voice was mockingly amused, "And for that I thank you."

He used the hammer as a sort of cane and sauntered forward, looking quite confident and relaxed, despite being just over half the height of the assembled elves. He gestured to each of them haughtily and asked, "I might ask you as well what *you* are doing here. But then again, you would claim that these are your lands, and you may walk in them whenever and wherever you please." He held up a finger, "But to that I should say that you were not always here, and the land belongs to itself. But this does not matter. I am not the slinking fox. I am here on business, and it just so happens that you were fortunate enough for me to come across you, O stimulant ones."

He wandered forward and nudged the half-living orc with his boot, "Hoy there. You're an orc, haven't you got your draught of that disgusting beverage, nor that foul paste?" He shook his head and looked up to the elves sternly, "So you've damaged my guide. Now how am I going to find the Hall of Uzod? Hmm? Well since you've interfered in my contract, you now owe me succor, my altitudinous friends! I will journey with you, until I wish to leave. If you choose to refuse, then I will follow after you anyhow. If you try to slay me, well, I'm sure that somebody is watching you. And I am sure that somebody would be displeased if you killed an innocent dwarf, who had not raised his hand against you!"

The dwarf smiled suddenly, "But I'm sure you won't refuse. After all. You could use some sensibility in this foppish lot." He cast a glance at John, but spoke to the group as a whole, "I'm sure that we could....learn much from one another." He head jerked to face the elves, "So. What do you say?"
 

baragund

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“Who are you and did you try to kill us?” John asked the Dwarf. Of course John did not know that Shuaz’rha was a Dwarf, what a Dwarf was or even that Dwarves and Elves were different races. “You mentioned this ‘Hall of Uzod’. What is that? Is it in the city Brithombar? That is where my companion and guide Nilme here is taking me. And why do you all of a sudden want to travel with us when five minutes ago your men wanted to chop us into little pieces?”

At this point John regarded the dead orcs around him with a mixture of horror and curiosity. Again, he did not know what they were, that they were yet another race of beings. “Good God, what happened to them”, he murmured as he studied the misshapen limbs, the pitted, scarred and discolored skin, the rags they wore for clothes, the crudely made armor and the unlovely but lethal looking weapons. He turned to face the Elves. “I heard somebody say Glamhoth. What is that? Do you know them? Do you know what happened to them to make them like this? They sure seemed to know us because even I could feel their hatred.”

“Nink Aths…” At this raspy and altogether unpleasant sound John looked down and realized that one of the orcs was not dead. It was sitting on its haunches and it was looking at the ground as if waiting for something. He crouched in front of it and noticed that its face was covered with something that looked like used motor oil. Looking around he saw the first aid kit that Curunir had used in tending to his wound. He fetched a clean cloth, soaked it in cool water and returned to the orc. He sat down in front of it and reached out to clean its face. It recoiled and looked like it wanted to rend John to pieces with its bare hands. John drew away but proffered the cloth to the orc. After glaring at him with intense suspicion, it snatched the cloth away, mopped its face and then threw the cloth back at him.

John looked at the hideously abused face of the orc and noticed fresh blood oozing from a gash on its head, and then looked down at the cloth in his hand. “That’s not motor oil,” he thought to himself with amazement. “That’s…blood? What is this person?”

He leaned closer to the orc and said in Sindarin, “Who are you? What are you doing here? Why did you attack us?” At the sound of the Elvish words the orc reacted as if it were listening to nails on a chalk board and responded with a long string of foul sounds that might have been in at least two languages and he thought he recognized a couple of them. He thought for a moment and then tried again in English, speaking very slowly and enunciating each word as clearly as he could:

“Who did this to you? Who tortured you and dressed you in rags? Are you his prisoner?” This last part he cocked his head toward the Dwarf. “Why did you try to kill us? Were you wronged by these others?” The Dwarf and the Noldo could not understand what he was saying. But Nilme spent enough time with this stranger to learn English. He did understand and he shuddered at the implication.
 
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Ciryaher

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The dwarf laughed and slapped his plated thigh, speaking with gruff amusement, "Full of questions, aren't we, eh? Not very polite to go asking all of that without introductions!" His smile faded and he eyed the elves before looking to John again, "You've got a beard, and I ain't seen no elf with a beard before. So maybe that means I could trust ya, and so maybe I'll tell ya that my name is Shûaz'rha. That's all, just Shûaz'rha. No fancy titles like your twiggy friends here probably have." He leaned to one side and flashed a fierce grin at one of the elves, then straightened up and looked over the human again.

He gestured to the orc, "Ya ain't gotta ask him, he's all mucked up anyhow, no telling what he'd say. Probably something nasty, eh? But in answer to yer query, Beardy Longshanks, I'm as I said. I don't try to kill nobody, I either kill ya or I don't! No time to waste on tryin instead on doing, of course." He gave the human a dark look, "My business in the halls is my own, an' I certainly ain't going to go and just hand it out."

Gesturing with his hammer to the orcs on the ground, he commented, "And I don't know what you mean by 'men', but they certainly aren't my orcs. If they're not their own orcs, then they're You-Know-Whom's orcs." Shûaz'rha gestured vaguely northward, again with his hammer and an ominous expression. He suddenly smiled and placed his hammer on his shoulder again, clapping his thigh and laughing, "And why wouldn't I want to travel with ya? Like as I said, if I'd have wanted to kill ya, I already would've! Nay, nay, by my reckoning if you're traveling, and I'm traveling, well, maybe we ought to do it together? I'm sure you all would like the company."

He eyed the orc for a moment, then swept his gaze over the elves and then back to John, waiting.
 

chrysophalax

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"I know not where this Hall of Uzod may lie, Dwarf, but as my friend has told you, I am his guide in this land. If your path lies with ours for a time, then so be it. As to that, said Nilme with disgust as he glared down at the wounded orc, "You say he is your guide and yet you speak of his kind with scorn. How is it that you have chosen one of his foul race to guide you to your destination? He can bring us nothing but trouble and while I would gladly slit his foul throat, he is yours to do with as you see fit."

Without waiting for a reply, Nilme went to John's side and inspected Curunir's handiwork. He smiled, relieved that John had taken no serious injury and thanked his kinsman quietly. Unasked and unanswered questions lurked in John's eyes, but Nilme only glanced at him and whispered, "Quilde, mellon...shhh. Later." A hushed conversation then ran between Nilme and Curunir, punctuated by many glances in the Dwarf's direction. Finally, they seemed to have reached a conclusion and Nilme stood once more.

"Stay or go as you like Master Dwarf. We will neither harm nor hinder you, whatever your choice. My friend must rest, at least a little while before we can continue on. He is new to this land and there is much that he knows little, such as, how to tell friend from foe." A sense of foreboding had been creeping over Nilme after watching John address the orc as though it were capable of reason and he felt an over-powering need to explain to him the danger of such accursed creatures.

Curunir went then to help his cousin finish disposing of the offal, which allowed Nilme to speak briefly with John. "We have no time now to talk of this as we should, therefore I ask that you trust me as you have done. These...are the yrch, orcs I once spoke to you of. The twisted, corrupted beings that were once...even as I am, Elves as you call us. They hate us, for I believe that some of them must remember their lives before they were...changed. They are deadly and not to be trusted, remember that if you remember nothing else!" He gripped John's arm hard and looked at him with an intensity that made John wince. "You have seen this land in her beauty and now you see her in another light as well. Rest, and soon we will talk again. For now, know that we are here and that you will come to no harm." He turned to walk away, then he paused and turned back. "Something has come to my mind that I wished to ask you. When my cousins accused you wrongly and you grew angry, you told me I could...go to Hell with them...is that correct?" He tipped his head in curiosity. "From the tone of your voice, it sounded in no way pleasant. Will you tell me of it?" Startled, John watched as Nilme walked over to stand near the Dwarf and was left with his thoughts.
 

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The orc listened intently as words were exchanged around him. As the others spoke, he looked over toward Helag, another orc killed by the small skirmish, who laid face down in the leaves. Black blood slowly oozed from underneath him. However it was not to mourn him. He noticed that he still had his pick in his hand. His eyes fluttered over to him then back again to the strange one before him. He had began to surmize how long it would take him to retrieve the pick when his attention was turned to the conversation around his ears.

He thought he understood several words and phrases spoken between the Dwarf, Elves, and the strange one. Though his understanding was quite broken, he tried to remember the speech that he had scarcely learned long ago. He almost forgotten it alltogether but now he dredged deep into his memory and with great effort, he uttered a few angry words. "You no...no come heres! Orcs enemies...White dogs are enemies. We eats you heart...orcs kill you if be here." He told him in a lengthy, gutteral snarl. The orc quickly stood and faced him but did not move from his spot. "Dark one...take you flesh." He growled.

Grunog seethed will anger and hatred. Some small part of him wanted to know who or what this strange one was before him, however his malice for the Elves began to win over. He could barely stand to be this close to them. He wanted to eat their faces and rip their organs from their bodies while they screamed in agony.
 

chrysophalax

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"Silence, nauca onna! Nilme spat as he advanced on the orc, who glared back at him, filthy teeth bared. John was stunned as he watched Nilme strike the orc on the side of the head with the flat of his blade, hard enough to render it unconscious. He then kicked it in the ribs to make sure it would remain down for awhile, then without another look, he joined the other two Elves.

Normally patient beyond measure, Nilme now found himself at the end of his tether and his kinsmen were about to bear the brunt of his anger. Curunir saw him coming and hastily whispered to Edrahil, who quickly straightened, his eyes narrowing in assessment. "Why does your face resemble a thinder-cloud, mellon?" asked Curunir in a soothing voice. Nilme sneered in answer. "Well may you ask, though your wit is indeed dull if you cannot fathom the cause. Why did you allow Annael to treat my companion as though he were a common thief? He threatened someone whom I have taken under my protection and both of you would have let him have his way! Has the noble blood of the Noldo become so swiftly diluted that you are reduced to such tactics to gain whatever you desire? Are you then become as the Naugrim in your lust and greed for mere things?" Nilme could feel his blood heating his cheeks as he watched the Feanorians faces become grim masks.

"Granted that I am not one who has ever seen the Two Trees, nor am I among the greatest of the Moriquendi, yet I count myself blessed that I have not so great a pride as does your House, for I am still capable of compassion, able to succour those in need, as it seems you are not!" Curunir tightened his jaw as Nilme spoke, the muscles taut as a bowstring. "You Dark Elves...you know so very little, yet you claim such great knowledge." He glanced over at John, then at Nilme's ice-pale face. "We have no desire to quarrel with you, Nilme, nor would I have allowed Annael to take your friend anywhere. He was merely having a jest..." Nilme's mouth flew open and Curunir jerked his hand up for silence, then pointed to the mound where Annael's body now lay buried. "Look at him now! What more harm can he do, Nilme? He journeys now to Mandos' Hall. What more can you ask of him?" With that said, Curunir and Edrahil turned their backs on him and began to sing once again over their fallen comrade.
 

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John responded to the Dwarf. “I didn’t mean to offend anybody with all of my questions but, I’m not…”, he struggled for words because he did not trust these newcomers and he did not want to get into his whole story, “…from around here. My home and my people are… quite far away. There is not much around here that I am familiar with.

“My name is John, John Bates.” He held out his hand to the Dwarf. Shûaz'rha eyed it for a moment as if he did not understand the meaning of the gesture but then carefully extended his hand and there was a strong but wary handshake.

John continued: “I have no problem with you traveling with us but my companions know you a lot better than me, and I will rely on their judgment. But we just had a sword fight, all these people are now dead,” he gestured to the bodies around him, “and everyone here is acting like this is…normal. Shouldn’t we notify the authorities?”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘authorities’,” Shûaz'rha responded. “I dare say that high and mighty pair over there is the closest thing to ‘authorities’ as you will find in these parts.” Shûaz'rha gestured to the two Noldo with this last remark.

“But I would not concern yourself over this little tangle,” the Dwarf continued. “These Elves and Orcs have always been at each other’s throats. They kill each other as soon as say ‘Good Morning’. It would be quite a trick of you can get them to make nice!”

At this point Nilme approached John, appealed to him to defer his questions for later and then addressed Shûaz'rha. When he reminded John that that these orcs were once like Nilme, John started to ask why one could not make up with them but then thought that was a better question for later. But when Nilme asked him to explain Hell, he almost laughed out loud at the enormity of the question.

“Nilme,” he responded. “That is a question best answered at a quiet time, like when we were back at Linwen’s house looking out over the sea. It touches on issues of my Faith, who my people believe we are, why we are here in this world and where we go when we die. Let’s just say for now that it’s an expression that is used in anger to express scorn for somebody. I lost my head and I apologize for that remark.”

As John and Nilme were talking, Curunir and Edrahil stiffened and reached for their weapons. John turned and saw the surviving Orc had gotten to its feet.

"Dark one...take you flesh," it finished.

“‘No comes heres’ it said,” John mused to himself. “So it’s a land dispute. I wonder who took who’s property. ‘White Dogs’ I can figure out, but who is the ‘Dark One’?”

"Silence, nauca onna!” Nilme spat in return. John’s unasked and unanswered questions deepened as he watched what was a most unexpectedly vicious and unprovoked attack by his companion on what seemed to him was an unarmed and disadvantaged prisoner.
 

chrysophalax

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I can only imagine what you must be thinking, mellon. thought Nilme as he saw John looking at him warily, as though seeing Nilme in a new light. I must look as savage as that piece of orcish filth lying there. He walked over to John and crouched down near him. The dwarf meanwhile just grunted and shook his head. Elves! Now he'll probably show "concern" for his friend. Gah!

Nilme glared over at the dwarf as though divining his thoughts, then returned his attention to John, who looking rebellious. "You wonder why I stopped the orc, do you not? Because he would have killed either you or one of us, John! Their sole purpose to destroy and descrate that which is beautiful in this land." He paused, gauging how much to tell John that he might understand. "From what you have told me, this must seem very violent to you and so it is. But, if I remember aright, your land has violence as well. Why then does this shock you? Is not violence and hatred the same in all places?" He cast down his eyes as though weary. "If I had been alone, I would have slain him. However, he seems to have been with this dwarf in some capacity and therefore I had no right to. I did however keep him from harming anyone further, as I know he would have, John. You must trust me in this."

Being in the company of this particular Edain was proving a challenge at times and Nilme found himself seeing not only himself, but his people and even his world being brought under scrutiny. He began to feel as though he were a herald of some sort, a bridge between his reality and John's and the thought was daunting. Suddenly, he knew beyond any doubt that he wanted to understand this man and to be understood by him. He looked John straight in the eyes. "I did not answer you properly earlier. Yes, I would like to hear more of your...faith and what your gods say to you. You did not need to apologise earlier for your anger. It was well founded. All I ask now is that you continue to trust me and I will continue to learn from you as well as we journey together. Are we agreed?" He held out his hand to John and waited.
 

Elorendil

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Curunir glared balefully at the prone form of the unconscious orc, barely restraining the fury that urged him to put an end to the foul creature that had killed his kinsman. Distracted by Nilme's movement, he turned to see the Dark Elf approach, anger darkening his features. "The Dark Elf approaches," he whispered to Edrahil in warning.
In no mood for a confrontation and seeking to divert Nilme's wrath, Curunir spoke first. "Why does your face resemble a thunder-cloud, mellon?" he asked soothingly.

"Well may you ask," snapped Nilme, "Though your wit is indeed dull if you cannot fathom the cause. Why did you allow Annael to treat my companion as though he were a common thief? He threatened someone whom I have taken under my protection and both of you would have let him have his way! Has the noble blood of the Noldo become so swiftly diluted that you are reduced to such tactics to gain whatever you desire? Are you then become as the Naugrim in your lust and greed for mere things?"
Curunir and Edrahil exchanged a dark glance at this insult. To imply that they would stoop to the level of the Naugrim...
Nilme continued before either could respond. "Granted that I am not one who has ever seen the Two Trees, nor am I among the greatest of the Moriquendi, yet I count myself blessed that I have not so great a pride as does your House, for I am still capable of compassion, able to succour those in need, as it seems you are not!"

The muscles in Curunir's jaw bunched in anger as Nilme spoke and went taut. "You Dark Elves," he said, indignation and disdain coloring his tone. "...you know so very little, yet you claim such great knowledge." He cast a look over Nilme's shoulder at the Atani, then returned his gaze to Nilme's pinched face. "We have no desire to quarrel with you, Nilme, nor would I have allowed Annael to take your friend anywhere. He was merely having a jest..." He quickly raised a hand, cutting of Nilme's protest and pointed to new grave where they had laid their kinsman to rest. "Look at him now! What more harm can he do, Nilme? He journeys now to Mandos' Hall. What more can you ask of him?"

Through talking with the Dark Elf, Curunir turned his back to him, ignoring any reply Nilme might have made. With a shake of his head, he resumed the lament he and his companion had been singing over their fallen kinsman.
 
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baragund

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“I understand why you needed to knock him out,” John answered Nilme, gesturing to the unconscious orc. “And I do trust you, but after the time we spent together, seeing you haul off and clobber him like that is just… surprising. What you did was a very, um, human thing to do, if I understand right the history your two peoples share.

“But what bothers me is when a person, never mind an entire class of people, is characterized in absolute terms. ‘Their sole purpose is to destroy and desecrate…’ Hmmm… I know of very little that can be labeled in such black-and-white terms. It’s a rare thing to be absolutely bad or absolutely good. There are always shades of gray.

“Nilme, you told me that these, what did you call them, orcs were once like you. Well, isn’t it possible that under the bad skin and broken teeth and abuse there might still exist the good people they once were? And if you are as old as you say you are, there could not have been too many generations since they were kidnapped or however they were separated from you. This guy you just laid out might be a first or second cousin for all we know. Wouldn’t it be something if you could reach him?

“In my land there is a lot of history where whole races of people have been persecuted and slaughtered because they were considered ‘evil’ by somebody else. Most of it was nonsense and boiled down to different cultures that happened to worship different gods and each side was convinced that they were right and the other was wrong and heretical. The most awful wars were fought and the most savage violence was committed because people thought God was on their side. But once you break through the outer shell of dogma, you will find that most people are pretty much alike. If you were to ask that orc laying there on the ground what he wants from life, his hopes and fears, how he sees himself and his place in the world, you might find you are not so different after all.”

The camp fire was burning down to embers and the night air had grown chilly. A small shiver ran over John’s body as if he just realized he was cold. Addressing the assembled group he continued, “Well, in any event, it’s clear that these orcs are enemies of yours and they don’t belong in these parts. It seems to me we need to let somebody know. Also, I don’t really care to spend the rest of the night with a bunch of corpses so why don’t we move on? Do we continue to the city Brithombar where this ruler of this country Cirdan lives, do we move back to the watch-tower by the sea where the garrison is stationed, or should we split up? And what do we do with the orc? Try to get information from him or just put him out of his misery?”
 

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