Quest by Cathleen

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Story Notes:

A huge "Thank you" to my awesome Beta, Dreamflower. She has helped me in more ways than I can ever repay her for, and I can always rely on her to know how to resolve any rough spots in a story. She is a fountain of wealth in her endless ideas and enthusiasm for LOTR Fanfic! And a very special "thanks" to Pearl Took for her input and ever-present help with crucial plot twists and tireless re-reading!!

This story is dedicated to Lily Baggins with much love and many hugs for her continued support! She's been there since the very beginning of my fanfic journey.


Prologue
“She Waits”

TA 1975
Mid Third Age
The Ice bay of Forochel


The King smiled wearily as his men gathered round, all of them talking at once, the stark relief apparent on their faces. The Elven vessel Círdan had sent to rescue them had arrived during the night; unable to reach the shore, the vessel hovered just outside the ice bay, its lanterns twinkling with an inviting golden light that beckoned to the stranded travellers. A huge sheet of ice stretched its long arm before them, creating a chill barrier that separated them from the ship. It was a relatively short distance, yet at the moment it might as well have been miles long.

Arvedui spoke quietly to the Chieftain of the Lossoth. “Jago, at long last our deliverance is at hand.”

The Chieftain watched the king, studying his worn features before replying.

“Yet looks may be deceiving. All is not as it seems. In my heart I feel a chill that has naught to do with the wind blowing across the ice today.”

“But we must go now. The ship awaits us and her crew will be eager to move on. Will your men aid us with their sledges? We have little to carry, but we nevertheless require help in moving the larger of our belongings.” Arvedui gestured at the palantíri resting just inside the entrance to the snow-hut he and his men had called home for all these months.

Not for the first time, Jago regarded the strange dark orbs with suspicion. He spoke urgently to the king, “Do not mount on this sea-monster! If they have them, let the seamen bring us food and other things that we need, and you may stay here till the Witch-King goes home. For in summer his power wanes; but now his breath is deadly, and his cold arm is long.” *

The other Lossoth shared murmurs of assent, shifting restlessly, casting wary glances at the ship. Their mutterings about the scent of danger on the wind and the threat of a storm approaching reached the King’s ears. Arvedui glanced at his men before turning back to the leader of the Snowmen.

“We must beg your assistance one more time, my friend. Will you not help us reach our ship?”

Jago shook his head in defeat. “I fear you will have cause to regret your decision.” Without further words he waved his arm at his kinsmen, beckoning them to ready their sledges for the trip across the ice.

The king’s men loaded their meagre belongings and the palantíri upon the ice sleds. Before they parted, the king turned once more to his benefactor. Slipping the ring from his finger he pressed it into the chieftain’s palm.

“I thank you for all you and yours have done to aid us. This is a thing of worth beyond your reckoning. For its ancientry alone. It has no power, save the esteem in which those hold it who love my house. It will not help you, but if you are in need, my kin will ransom it with great store of all that you desire.” *


Yet the counsel of the Lossoth was good, by chance or by foresight; for the ship had not reached the open sea when a great storm of wind arose, and came with blinding snow out of the North; and it drove the ship back upon the ice and piled ice up against it. Even the mariners of Círdan were helpless, and in the night the ice crushed the hull, and the ship foundered. So perished Arvedui Last-king, and with him the palantiri were buried in the sea. It was long afterwards that news of the shipwreck of Forochel was learned from the Snowmen. *

~~~~

Ages pass. The lands shift. Rifts open and the waters of the seas can be found far from where the ocean still laps upon the shores of that long ago tragedy. Deep within the earth danger lingers, keeping silent vigil. The menace sleeps; a dream of death and destruction plays on the fringes of awareness. Little by little the cavern transforms into a maze, the waters carving out an ever-deeper crevasse in the midst of curtains of colourful flowstone and delicate crystal anthodites that, at a glance, appear to be living flowers. The humid air carries the music of constantly trickling water that echoes from every direction. Further inside the depth of the twilight region, a rimstone pool has carved a bottomless pit into the rock, its edges yawning open as if inviting any who would come its way to enter. The pool no longer contains solely water and blind cavefish. Its dam now holds back something that better remains locked away in never-ending solitude.


Long she had dwelled alone in the darkness. Time meant nothing. Now she stirred, waking at last, sensing something important drawing near. The Key. The waters of the massive rimstone pool began to heave and sway like an ocean current driven forward by the swell of a ship’s wake as it passes a shadowy island. The skin of the sphere darkened, growing black as the ink in a writer’s well; the water’s surface boiled coldly.

Patience. . .Seek them as before. Remember. Lure them in, one by one. Deceive them. Use them. And then. . .devour them.

The water settled and the misshapen orb took on a hint of azure, appearing serene for a time before mad laughter erupted once more and the pool churned and spun around her crude home. Nothing would stop her now. But first, the final pieces must be reunited.

* Direct quotes from [iii] Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur: The North-Kingdom and the Dúnedain.




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