THE PATHS OF THE DEAD
April 16 - 18, 3020
Far away to the southeast, the long call of a single hunting hound cut through the stillness of the night. Ceolwulf heard it first, and instantly he was on his feet, reaching for his sword belt, and then buckling about his waist, he shouted, "Vardamir! Fetch the horses! Get the women mounted! We must ride! They have found us!"
Moving quietly among the horses so as not to frighten them, Ceolwulf helped Debanni into her saddle as Vardamir helped Adibe onto her horse. When Vardamir had mounted his own, Ceolwulf handed the boy, Candon, up to him, and soon the boy was on the back of Vardamir's horse. Then taking the reins of his horse and the lead lines of the two pack horses, he was quickly in the saddle. "Keep close together and follow me!" he shouted back over his shoulder, and with a wondering thought, he questioned whether he could find his way through the dark woods at night or not. Above the trees the stars were shining brightly. To the north he saw the Ringalóke, the Ice Dragon of the North, and using the star around which all the others pivoted as a guide, he led them north with the sound of the chilly waters of the Blackroot River to their left.
His horse's footsteps moved rapidly through the woods and crunched through twigs and branches, making it easy for them to follow. Trusting to the horse's good sense not to crash into trees and fall into holes, he led them forward. On they rode through the dark, the faint cries of the hunting hounds behind them driving them ever onward. The Easterlings liked their sport of hunting men, and they had bred great beasts with keen senses of smell to do their bidding, and eagerly the dogs trailed their prey, their noses to the ground, baying now and then in their excitement.
Ashtum's men-at-arms had been promised a rich reward for finding the outlaws and bringing back Ashtum's daughter, for he had had worthy offers from other lords for her hand in marriage, and he was desirous of forming an alliance with another powerful lord. As high a reward for the return of Debanni had been placed on each head on the outlaws who had kidnapped them. Little had been said about a reward for his wife, but one had been offered, far less generous than the one for Debanni. Lord Ashtum himself, still recovering from wounds received at the hands of the outlaw captain, stayed in his sickbed, and young Lord Atar fell into a fit of rage when he was told that he could not go with the soldiers, and pouted when he was denied of his grand adventure. Swearing vengeance when he grew up, he vowed that someday he would hold the heads of the outlaws who had taken his mother and sister.
After they had passed the boundary of Mittalgondor, they had encountered the soldiers of Lord Argante and the lord himself rode at the head of his troops. After explaining their mission of capturing members of an outlaw band and returning the kidnapped wife and daughter of neighboring Lord Ashtum, Lord Argante had dispatched fifty of his soldiers to join in the hunt.
On and on, the men of Ashtum and Argante had followed the hounds as they trailed their quarry and they had rejoiced when they had found Ceolwulf's lame horse wandering in the woods around the hill of Erech. Holding torches aloft, they found the last campsite of the outlaws near the Erech stone around midnight and their glee was increased for they knew that the pursuit must go slower than they because two of the members of the outlaw band were riding double.
By noon, they came to a deep and narrow ravine and Ceolwulf led them up it, the river, now a small stream, trickling on the left. The baying of the hounds was closer.
Debanni portrayed by Madurz
Adibe and Candon portrayed by Eowyn
Vardamir portrayed by Hobbitness
Narrator and Ceolwulf portrayed by Angmar
Vardamir: *Vardamir's keen eyes
dart constantly across their surroundings, his ears pricked for
the whereabouts of their pursuers. The flight seems as though
they are bound in a single moment for eternity... A moment of
panic, of intense exertion, but of high adventure as well. Flushed
and perspiring, Vardamir tries not to look at the water, for he
longs for a drink, and he is sure his horse does as well. Candon
was frightened at first, but as time wore on, he felt safer with
Vardamir and began to enjoy the excitement of the chase. Now,
however, the exhausted boy leans back against the man...ready
to fall asleep despite the danger of the situation.*
Vardamir: *Vardamir looks down at him with a little worry...he has had little food and drink and almost no sleep. Vardamir contemplates asking Ceolwulf to stop for a drink...but no, that would be madness. They would be caught! Vardamir urges his horse onward in elvish, and passes the time by translating the phrases for Candon.*
Adibe: *It was morning now; the company had been riding since late the night before. For some time Adibe had heard the long, baleful cries of the hounds following them - the search party of Lord Ashtum. For a moment, she felt a vague sense of surprise that her husband would send men to search for her, but then she knew that of course he would for Debanni was with her. Nothing lay behind her, death, perhaps, it would seem, lay before her; and still the wild man led them onward on a mad race for the head of the valley. There, he said, was the entrance to a secret path through the mountains, one once filled with dire peril and grave danger, but supposedly now cleansed from the evil spirits who once haunted its dusty corridors.*
Debanni: *As Debanni rode on the horse with tightly clenched hands on the reins and a rapid heartbeat, she had wished that she was able to give into relaxation back at the camp and fall into a most needed slumber by the fire. She had slept and eaten little in her time as captive and she swayed slightly on the saddle then righted herself. She looked to her mother and they exchanged a knowing look and understanding about the hunting party behind them. She knew not of her fate..only felt a deep despair. Debanni felt helpless as she rode. She felt that no good would come of this day at all. She looked to the others with her and tried hard to keep her senses about her.*
Narrator: By noon, they came to a deep and narrow ravine and Ceolwulf led them up it, the river, now a small stream, trickling on the left. The baying of the hounds was closer. "Faster!" Ceolwulf urged, but the slope led upward and was steep. Ceolwulf cursed all the fates and slowed his horse. *
Narrator: *On they rode between two steep cliffs and then they came to a broad gateway in the side of the mountain. It had a high arch carven with runes, and a chill air whispered through the opening. Ahead of them lay darkness. Ceolwulf called a halt and was quickly off his horse.*
Narrator: *"Vardamir!" Ceolwulf shouted. "Get torches from the pack saddle and light them with the tinder. We go on foot from now on. You go ahead and lead the women."*
Vardamir: *Vardamir jumps off his horse and hurries to the pack saddle. He pulls out two torches, rubs pitch onto the cloth-covered ends, and frantically tries to kindle flame by striking a tinder*
Vardamir: *He tries repeatedly--nothing. He groans in frustration. Ceolwulf glares at him and is on the brink of yelling at him to go on.*
Vardamir: *Finally a flame kindles. Vardamir shoots a triumphant look at Ceolwulf.*
Vardamir: *Vardamir lights two torches and hands them to the women, who have dismounted. Then he lights two more torches, hands one to Candon, and carries the other himself.*
Vardamir: *Ahead into the doors of death, eh? Vardamir thinks. How brave of you, my friend Ceolwulf. Well, if we do not meet again until after we pass the circles of the world...* *aloud he says* Farewell, Ceolwulf! Come, ladies, we must hurry!
Adibe: *Adibe takes the torch from the other outlaw's hand. She casts a glance towards the dark doorway, like an open mouth waiting to devour them all. A shudder goes down her spine and she draws nigh to her daughter, her presence a comfort in this evil place.*
Debanni: *Debanni held the torch tightly and stayed right at her mother's side. She sighed deeply and her lower lip shivered a bit. What was she walking into? Behind her on their tail was a search party for her. She should be hoping that they were found and that she was returned to see her brother again. She also thought of the uncertainty of this retreat. What would happen if they were to be free? Could it ever be possible? Most likely, no. But to be certain to be sentenced to live a life as her mother who ached in all her time of marriage with her father. But what a time was this to be thinking of such things!*
Debanni: *She was calmed only by the fact her mother was near, and no matter what she would stay by her side. Through any peril, she would not leave her. And so...onward*
Vardamir: *Summoning his courage, Vardamir lifts his torch, takes Candon's hand, and smiles over his shoulder to the women* Let us be off! *He strides into the dark entryway*
Adibe: *With one hand, Adibe holds the torch, and with the other hand she holds the reins of her horse. She wishes instead she could hold her daughter's hand, like she did when she was a little girl and had awakened from a nightmare. Now they were both like children, frightened and helpless, but these were not childish fears. Neither knew what lay beyond that dark doorway; it had an evil feel about it, and she wondered if the shades that it had been said once haunted the inside of the mountain had really departed from their abode.*
Adibe: *She bites her lip in her anxiety, and looks to her daughter, smiling weakly in hopes to relieve some of the fears, but knowing nothing could assuage them. Then she begins walking forward, following the outlaw, whose form had been swallowed up by the blackness of the doorway, and the only sign of him was the dim light of his flickering torch. She steps inside the cool chamber, and looks with concern to her daughter to see how she is faring.*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf glanced down to the lead ropes of the pack horses that he held in his left hand, and for a moment thought of freeing the horses, but no, he thought, the gold is upon their backs, so he led them onward. The lead pack horse stumbled and the one behind shied, rearing, pulling the rope out of Ceolwulf's hand. "Hurry, Vardamir!" he said as he led the one pack horse that the other followed.*
Narrator: *On they walked through the wide tunnel. All was dark except for the light of the flickering torches. Ceolwulf looked over his shoulder and far behind them down the tunnel he could see the light of other torches, the torches of the search party.*
Ceolwulf: Hurry, Vardamir! *Ceolwulf says again, and on they walk, looking ever backward at the lights behind them*
Vardamir: *Vardamir runs as fast as he can, practically dragging Candon with him. "Vardamir?" Candon says, for he thought Vardamir's name was Castamir.*
Vardamir: I will tell you later! *Vardamir pants to Candon as they run* We're going as fast as we can, Ceolwulf! Come, run! *he yells back to his friend*
Adibe: *She pads quickly over the dusty ground beneath her feet; she wonders how many it has been since this place had seen any water. The trickling of the Blackroot ceased long ago. The air is cold, and there is a foreboding feeling all around her; a place of great emptiness, yet not. She must not think overmuch about it, for fear of spirits will only make her discomfort increase! She keeps looking over at her daughter beside her, greatly worried for them both, and then looks back towards the dim glow behind them.*
Debanni: *Each deep breath Debanni took was heard loud in her ears and as her feet pounded on the ground, they matched her heartbeat. Loud thuds and the whisper of her breath becoming louder still to her ears. The sound of her own fear perhaps? Amazing how she found so much strength despite the lack of food and sleep. Her hand, which held the torch, shook a bit and she looked over to her mother with an equally concerned expression*
Narrator: *"By Bema!" Ceolwulf thinks. "What folly possessed my mind to ever pick such a path as this!" The loose pack horse snorts in fear and the other horses sense this. Ceolwulf yanks at the rope of the trembling horse, who balks and then rears, pawing the air. A shudder goes down his back as the bolting pack horse pulls loose from his hands. "No!" he screams as the two pack horses run past Vardamir and the women and on up the cavern into the dark.*
Narrator: *Suddenly, they come into a great empty space and there seems to be no more walls on either side of them. Something glints in the torch light; a skeleton of a man clad in gold gilded armor. He lies upon his face, his hand reaching up and clawing at a shut door.*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf shouts* Go on! Go on! I will stay behind!
Vardamir: Don't be ridiculous, Ceolwulf! Come on, run!
Vardamir: *Candon screams when he sees the skeleton clawing at the door. Vardamir puts a hand over the boy's mouth and tries to quiet him* Shh! It's alright! He's been there for many long years. Nothing to fear! *he turns to the women and breaks into a run again* Let's go, let's go!!
Adibe: *Adibe gasps when she sees the dust-covered bones of the man. Somehow though the cavern is wider in this place, the heavy air seems more oppressive, closing around them, to smother and choke utterly, until they are like the poor man in the gilded mail. She casts a glance at her daughter, her eyes wide with fear, as she whispers* Hurry! Let us pass this evil place!
Debanni: *Chaos breaking out around them as the horses dart past them. The shouts of the men back and forth to each other. The scream of the little boy. A search party at their heels. And there between it all...her and her mother. Debanni stands there like stone or the skeleton nearby, through the moment of all of that. It takes her mother's voice to shake her from this trance and she bids her feet to move and carry on through*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf halts and takes the bridle off the horse, then slaps it on the rump and the beast runs forward with the others. Ceolwulf draws his sword, the red blade glowing and turns and faces their pursuers, laughing wildly.* "Come to doom!" he shouts. "Come to death!"
Vardamir: *At Ceolwulf's challenge, Vardamir halts for a brief moment. He turns around and screams* CEOLWULF, COME NOW, HURRY!
Vardamir: *But Ceolwulf does not answer. Vardamir longs to stand and fight with him, but he has the women and the child to think of...with his heart twisting, he leads them forward again at a run.*
Narrator: No! Go on! Go on! *Ceolwulf screams* They are almost upon us!
Adibe: *Adibe breaks out into a full run, pulling her horse along behind her. Ahead she can see the torch of the man wildly bobbing up and down as he runs. She keeps glancing over her shoulder at her daughter, trying to run at a matched pace with her. A glance behind reveals glowing amber orbs; the search party is gaining on them!*
Adibe: *She tries to hasten her steps, fear and despair descending upon her, like the oppressive darkness which looms above them and enwraps them with shadowy arms.*
Debanni: *"What was Ceolwulf doing?" She wondered, as she ran. She then figured he must have again slipped into his madness which clouded his reasoning and prevented him from running along with them.*
Debanni: *Her breathing sounded so loud and it seemed more and more, a difficult task. Her chest heaved and she moved her legs fast but they seemed heavy. Her mother, ahead of her and she felt as if she just could not catch up. She blinked over and over in the darkness. The light from the torches ahead leaving fiery trails as they moved up and down. She tried to keep her eyes focused and keep control and balance of her senses and concentrate on just getting through.*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf hears the ring of steel as the closest pursuers drew their swords and he rushes to meet them, swinging the red sword, his hand burning with the heat of it. His blade meets the closest and his attacker's sword breaks in his hand. Ceolwulf slices into the man's neck and the man falls backwards, screaming. Two come upon him next, and steel meets steel, but they are slower and he outmatches them. Soon he has them down on the ground.*
Narrator: *He laughs wildly at them and smiled as he watches the sword glow as it draws blood. The others halt for a while and watch in amazement. "It is a mad man!" they scream.*
Narrator: *"Kill him! Kill him!" their captain shouts, but the men hesitate, for all feared the strange glowing red sword. They stand and face each other, pursuer and attacker.*
Narrator: *Three dead men lie on the ground. Ceolwulf holds his sword aloft and runs towards the closest ones and they fell back. Ceolwulf laughs madly and shouts, "I am the ghost of Baldor the Hapless come back to take you to hell! Come now! My sword is thirsty!"*
Voices in the Dark: *"I can see them too," a voice whispers in the dark somewhere up ahead, but none of Ceolwulf's band hear the words, nor do their eyes see any living man.*
Voices in the Dark: *"I have seen them for a long time. They are coming closer. Go back and tell the captain. We will be ready for them..."*
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