Morning of October 2, 3019

Frodo portrayed by Hobbitness
Narrator and Vartang portrayed by Wraith

Narrator: *Another early frost chilled the Morgul Vale the morning of October 2nd, and it was not until the travelers had traveled the nine miles to the Crossroads that the cloud lifted and the sun burnt off the last traces of the hoary hand of an early winter.*
Narrator: *Mautgoth Vartang had halted the column at the Crossroads to allow the horses to rest after their gallop.*
Narrator: *All the horses were winded after their long gallop and the animals stood with their necks covered with foaming sweat and their sides heaving.*
Narrator: *Frodo recognizes the Crossroads from the first time he had seen them with Sam.*
Narrator: *The fallen head of the statue of a king of Gondor, which looks as though it had been tossed carelessly aside by the hand of a giant, rests near the base, its staring eyes looking outward blankly at nothing.*
Narrator: *Drawings fashioned by orcs all over the statue proclaimed to all who saw that there was no Numenorean king in Ilithien.*
Narrator: *Pointing to the statue, Vartang calls Frodo's attention to the great stone head.*
Vartang: Shakh, this is the fate of all kings who oppose Sauron the Great. Gondor has gone long without a king, but now a new king sits upon the throne.
Vartang: *He looks down at Frodo and smiles a grinning leer of pure malice and hate. Vartang laughs, and his troops join in until it seems to Frodo as though their laughter echoes off the very mountains behind them.*
Frodo: *Frodo stares at the fallen head of the statue. It seems that time becomes nonexistent as the tragedy of the dead king and the now conquered city of Gondor work their magic*
Frodo: *He almost feels that if he turns his head, Sam will be standing beside him, and all that has happened since that moment they stood here fades away*
Frodo: *But Vartang and the soldiers laugh. To Frodo it is the laugh of Sauron, gloating over His regained Ring, gloating over Frodo and the fall of Gondor*
Frodo: *and the impending fall of the West*
Frodo: *This was the spot where he said, "They cannot conquer forever!" at the sight of the crown of flowers on the king's head, Frodo remembers*
Frodo: *Now Frodo wonders if he was right or wrong to say so. Soldiers of Mordor are all around him. Gondor has fallen. Sam is gone. The Ring is reclaimed.*
Frodo: *But the crown of small flowers still rests on the king's head.*
Vartang: Shakh, perhaps you would like to add your own inscription to the head of the fallen king? *he laughs, showing his gleaming white teeth*
Frodo: No *Frodo shakes his head solemnly*
Frodo: I will not profane his memory
Vartang: Shakh! I made provisions before hand to honor you
Vartang: My men have brought colors to write the inscription
Frodo: *Red and black, I am sure of it, Frodo thinks*
Vartang: *He commands one of the men* Sergeant, bring the paint!
Vartang: *a man gets quickly off his horse. When he goes by Vartang and Frodo, he bows to both of them*
Frodo: *He remembers the nobility of Faramir and Boromir--before his fall--and is Frodo to mock the glory of their people? Never; he is determined not to do it*
Vartang: *He carries a container of paint and a small brush, puts the container on the ground and dips the brush into it*
Frodo: Stop, Vartang
Vartang: *he looks down at Frodo* Shakh, the sergeant will write the inscription
Vartang: You do not need to trouble your hand in the task
Frodo: I do not want to leave any inscription
Vartang: It should be done for you
Vartang: *He looks down at Frodo* The inscription will be left and there is no denying it!
Frodo: the sergeant need not trouble himself either
Narrator: *The sergeant starts to paint on a clear spot on the base of the statue*
Frodo: I am sure the inscription will mention me. And I will not suffer falsehoods about me to be left here for the Gondorians to see!
Narrator: *Frodo can see the runes begin to form at the base of the statue.... "October 2nd of the year 3019 of the Third Age under the Sun. The Great Shakh Frodo Baggins of the Shire, Friend of Sauron, was here. Glory always to Mordor!"*
Frodo: I will not suffer them to read how willingly I "brought back" the Ring, how "loyal" I am to the Dark Lord!
Frodo: Erase it!
Frodo: Paint over it
Vartang: *Vartang looks at him* Shakh! I can see your humility is ever the first thought in your mind
Frodo: *He kneels reverently by the statue, shaking his head, and says softly* Faramir!
Vartang: *The sergeant finishes his runes and then around the inscription, he draws the outline of the Great Eye*
Frodo: *Frodo seethes*
Vartang: *Then he looks back and surveys his work, pleased with himself*
Vartang: *The sergeant then gets up, bows to Frodo and Vartang as he passes and mounts his horse*
Vartang: Shakh, we can never do enough for you
Vartang: Though we labored and toiled to the unmaking of the world, no amount of effort upon our parts could express the true gratitude in our hearts
Frodo: *He feels almost as though he were on his Quest again, when there was still hope, on that day with Faramir and Sam...and Gollum was the darkest companion he had.*
Frodo: *These new travellers from Mordor and Nurn, whom he has known for months, seem foreign, like figures painted into a scene, out of place*
Vartang: Shakh, a new day has dawned in Middle Earth, and you have helped bring it!
Frodo: *He rises slowly, turns a bitter knowing look on Vartang, then walks slowly toward his pony*
Vartang: *he looks back at the group* Cheer him, men! Let his praises ring!
Vartang: *The men all cheer and shout and raise their fists into the air*
Vartang: All hail to the Great Friend of Sauron! *they begin to chant*
Frodo: *standing by his pony, he strokes its neck and grits his teeth, closing his eyes tightly, trying to ignore the shouts..there is nothing he can do but endure it.*


By Wraith
Far above them, peering over the brow of one of the surrounding hills, three men look down and observe, their voices hushed. One of them says, "Tis indeed a strange sight we see this morning. A party of travelers from Mordor and women amongst them!"
One of his companions points down the slope. "And see! A dwarf is with them."
"I think not, my friend," says the man who seems to be the leader. "If my eyes do not fail me, I believe that is our old friend, none other than Shakh Baggins."
The third man says sarcastically, "Perhaps they go to pay a call upon the new king."
The leader says, "Perhaps.... perhaps.... but we shall find out soon enough. We will cross the river again tonight and meet at the usual place. Our purse has become too light as of late, and we must needs fill it with such as we might perloin from the gentle folk of the city."
"Aye, captain," the second one says, "and mayhaps have a look at the beauties at the Blushing Maiden Inn."
The one referred to as "the captain" replies, his voice full of mirth, "There is more than one wench there for which I have a fancy!"
The other two stifle their laughter. "Since when was there a wench for which you did not have a fancy?"
A look in the captain's eyes cautions his companions to keep their silence to avoid detection, he says, "Mayhaps, mayhaps."
The three continue observing until they see the group below preparing to leave.
"Captain," the second man says as they watch the company below disappear down the road, "looks like we have another old friend down there - Vartang. I wonder now how much he offers for our heads?"
The captain laughs. "It is only a question now of who has a higher price on my head - Mordor, or the uncrowned king of Gondor. Whoever it might be, I am not eager for him to be impelled to pay it! I would rather my head remain upon my shoulders, for over the years, I have grown fond of it."
The three men turn away from the crest of the hill and move towards their camp in the woods. A small campfire burns in the clearing and by the pungent smell of herbs in the air it is apparent that a stew cooks in a small pot hanging from the tripod over the fire.
The captain and one of the men sit upon a fallen log, pull out their pipes and tobacco pouches, fill and light them while the third man tends to the fire.
"Captain," the second man says, "What you were saying back there about the bounty.... maybe, considering what we did," the man turns his head away and looks westward.
"Perhaps if we sued for pardon, it would be granted?"
"Perhaps... perhaps..." says the captain, "for the two of you, but not even a million gold coins could buy pardon for me!"
His companion is thoughtful as he sits looking at the fire and drawing upon his pipe.
"Captain, if ever a set of fools walked the face of the earth, it must be us.
"Here we sit on a log in the woods and freeze on a cold frosty morning. We are outcasts from two sides, when once we had a veritable treasure - one million pieces in gold. We could have been among the richest in Middle earth and what did you do with the vast wealth? Sent it north!
"Yes, I know, we all agreed, and it seemed a fine thing at the time, but still... what are we now but condemned outlaws, hiding in the woods?"
At that, the captain throws his head back in a robust laugh. "I like to think of us as practitioners of the gentlemanly calling of robbery."
"Highwaymen... that is all we are," the other says, and all three laugh.

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