"Come now, before I quench you like a candle on a river." the Dragon uttered in the dark. Asfalon steadied his shaking hands, gripping the blade of his house so tightly his knuckles nearly glowed in the darkness. Striding out before the beast, glaring deep into its glinting, emerald green eyes he screamed "Victory to Arda!". Abruptly Dragons-breath consumed him, the blade fell clinking on the cobbles, its sound inaudible over the raging flames. And this, children is why we don't go north to the mountains because Dragons lurk there, lingering vestiges of an age of fire and steel where Men and Elves warred with the forces of darkness. "Tell us more of the Dragons!" the children squealed as the old man rocked back on his seat, a smile visible under the heavy beard and maze of wrinkles, "ah, well before I was born there was a time when the mountain of the Dwarves was held by a great dragon, named smog, no that's not right… Smaug! That was his name, a great Dragon even as Dragons are reckoned…" began the story, but that's a story not for this book, no this book tells of my own adventure on the roads of middle earth. No doubt the ramblings of my grandfather and the stories he knew by heart spurned those first steps out the door but it was what I saw on the open road, which I wished to tell in this letter. There had been years of isolation for the men of the valley from our Dwarven neighbors, Erebor was quiet and the gates were closed, and in the forests there were not even the whispers of Elves watching in the shadows. It was as if something was wrong and the creatures of the land had hidden until it might pass, many were glad but those with half a mind knew that this could only mean trouble. I was out in the fields one day when I found a spear, alone in a field where it hadn't been yesterday, nor the day before, and I would know as I'd walked the same path everyday for weeks now, to go to a particularly delightful raspberry bush which clung to an old stone fence, perfect for sitting. But the spear, it was just laying there and as I picked it up noticing its shaft was splintered, in the way a stave might be under the weight of a cart. I went about that day as usual and later I took the spear back to my grandfather, hoping he might enlighten me of its nature. After making some attempts to belittle its significance to myself and my curious peers he left for the alehouse and I followed, determined to hear the thoughts which made his brow furrow. He approached a group of men with urgency, I could tell this because he skipped the bar. I crept closer to hear his hushed speech, "…a spear, shattered by magic. It was one of the Rangers weapons I tell you, old Elvish make." Their dispositions soured as they chewed his words among themselves, too quietly for me to hear. My position by a table of grumbling drunkards was already dangerously close and I dared not move closer lest I interrupt and miss their reply; my patience was soon rewarded. "Our position is not to question the workings of such men, they actively look for danger and rouse it where it was sleeping before, lets hope their presence does not involve us and ignore this matter. Quiet any suspicions of this item and we can be done with it. Best to let sleeping Dragons lie I always say!" Grandfather nodded to them and proceeded to get himself a flagon of ale to wash away the questions at the back of his mind. My questions burned too furiously however; I decided to do as one of the heroes in Granddads stories might, to uncover the mystery. That night went slowly as I lay staring at the crack between the shutters, the only light which pierced the dark of my room, galvanizing myself for the tasks of the coming days which I was already formulating in my head. Balancing my quest with the commitments of my daily chores would not be easy and when finally the warm embrace of slumber came I dreamed of dark forests and men in cloaks, eyes and blades glinting in the black… After two days and no results from my inspections of the area surrounding the spear I decided that a new approach must be taken, I wrote a small note to Grandpa as my parents could not read and took with me my hunting bow, knife and as much bread, honey and sausage as I thought could go unnoticed. Making my way into the forest I glanced back at the glow of the valley and the lights of the homestead, not realizing that it would be a long time before I returned to the place of my childhood, and that childhood had ended with the steps I took into the night. After a few hours walking into the darkness; tripping on roots, slipping on rocks and resting to drink at small brooks I heard what sounded like singing in the trees but no matter how much I concentrated to find its direction I could not, it appeared to be all around me, faint and distant but without definable origin. suddenly it ceased and silence pierced my ears, the wind in the trees echoed the song but no voices could be heard against its gentle whispering. The song had been comforting and I was tired, so I decided it best to rest here at the base of a giant tree, nestling myself in its knotted roots to wake early and continue my wandering. It was only a few hours later when I awoke to hear the cries of a man in the distance, he called to a partner and as I picked my way through the roots, already becoming more visible in the dawning light the wind picked up and the voice was lost to the moaning of the woods. I wandered for hours searching out the source of the noise always on the look out, trying to keep the element of surprise in case I encountered some beast whose breakfast I might become. I came across a clearing, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I froze, it felt as though I was being watched. I couldn't see anything out there in the trees and these moments passed slowly. Finally I began to move with care around the edge of the clearing. There were twisted trees, splintered and shattered littering this clearing, it looked more like a gash in the woods than something natural. I heard a scraping sound far off in the trees and I flattened myself on the ground and hid. Then I saw them, limp bodies mangled into the splintered wood. There were three or four men, cloaked in green and grey with their blades drawn and their faces mangled as if they had fallen from a great height. It was unsurprising I hadnt seen them before as they were barely distinguishable from the rest of the carnage. Here were my Rangers, not as I had hoped; as the proud and glorious heroes of my stories but victims of some unnatural evil. I lay still there till I was sure I was alone, staring at the bodies. I hadnt seen a dead man since an old drunkard had been fished out of the lake in the last winter. His body had been swollen by the water and his skin grayed. These men were probably still warm but had been mangled beyond recognition. I resolved to move on again, terror no longer freezing me in place. Although I thought it best to stay in the shadows of the trees even if the Ranger's blades glinted at me invitingly. The forest grew deeper and I knew I was in true Mirkwood by noon, the light, which glimmered through the trees, became duller and it was as if night was descending early and a thought occurred, I was further from home than father, mother or myself had ever been. I was nearing the kingdom of the Elves and Radagast the brown that Grandpa had told so many stories of. Oh to meet Legolas the great hero of the war of the ring, or any of the Elves, fair and long lived. It was in the darkness of that night when I found them, three Rangers camping by a small river. They had made a fire, dug down into the earth so as not to cast a light, they had not heard me and so I crept closer, wondering if I should call out to announce my presence or not, how would they treat a boy in the woods? I did not get to finish my pondering before the weight and glint of a blade was lain upon my shoulder and a gruff voice out of the darkness said "Don't move, but do tell what a boys business is sneaking up on our camp?" I considered my response but resolved quickly to tell the truth "Curiosity sir. I, I found your men a ways back dead." The weight of the blade remained steady while the man chose his response "A terror plagues these woods boy, do you know its name?" "No sir." "Best then you leave, this is not a place for children. But that thing lurks out there somewhere, perhaps you will be safer with us. If you can promise not to make a sound then we will ensure you make it through the night, after that you will go home and warn whatever people you came from that they are not safe to wander in the night." "I am of the valley and my people do not wander far, I should like to join by the fire sir." "Do not call me sir, I am no housemaster or lord." The blade lifted from my shoulder and I glanced round to see the face of my new friend, but beneath his cowl only the tip of his nose and a shaggy beard were visible. He led me down to the fire and with a nod wandered back into the dark, the others barely noticed my arrival. I ate in silence and watched the flames while one of them whittled at a small piece of wood, the other two chewed bark and joined me in gazing into the dancing light. It was a long time before one of the others spoke, "A boy from the valley, wandering in the woods while Osellë núlë are on the loose and vile creatures roam the land. How many days has it been boy? And you're still alive." "Who are they?" "Witches, women who delved in sorcery and the black arts. They revived magic's we thought were lost and some of the nastier creatures lingering in the dark have returned in a scourge, this time imbued with a ferocity we haven't seen. Those men you found today, they found one of these sorceresses and her followers. Even the Elves refuse to wander after dark in these lands lest they are killed or worse captured by these machinations of evil and we have no way to fight such power." "Why do you come here if you have no hope of victory over this?" "The roots of evil delve too deep in these lands for us to relent; all that their growth requires is for the forces of good to be negligent In the face of oblivion… Now sleep." He leant back and drew his cape to his chin and I noticed the others were already silently slumbering lit solely by the remaining coals. I supposed the conversation over and settled into a restless sleep, visions of cruel Women and Dragons washed through my mind… A strong hand shook my shoulder, waking me abruptly to a chill dawn; the blanket having fallen from my shoulders and a light fog meandering through the trees I got up shivering slightly. The rangers hand went straight to my mouth as I went to speak and he signaled quiet, handing my things to me he indicated to follow him. The others were no where to be seen and due to the dark I had no idea which ranger I followed. We walked no more than 200 yards when we stopped, he knelt and I followed suit, I saw the hint of approval on his face as he glanced back. Time passed and it became lighter, he drew his bow and readied an arrow lifting himself to a crouch and leaning around a massive trunk. He drew the bow silently, without even the quiet rasping I had been trying to mute in my own draw and took aim at some invisible target. The moment he loosed the arrow he drew another and it followed the first whipping into the fog, he silently signaled for me to follow and made off in the direction we had initially been headed. Looking into the trees I saw two dark figures slumped against a trunk, arrows deeply embedded in their torsos; my curiosity had to wait. I chased the Ranger at some pace now, no longer sure of our course, I would be lost if I let him out of my sight. It was noon when we stopped, he put a hand on my shoulder indicating I should stay put and disappeared into the trees, he soon returned and spoke mutely "At dawn our watchman encountered some foul men, they are certainly servants of the Osellë núlë. Now we must continue to the woodland realm and the home of the Greenleaf's, let us hope my companions will distract any evils from our trail. Pray the Osellë núlë do not appear in the flesh, else more lives will be lost to their sorcery." "Those men back…" I had questions to ask, but he silenced me and began to move off again so I followed silently, nearly running to keep up with his brisk pace… My stomach grumbled and twisted, I stumbled due to the quick pace and my mind raced around what I had heard and seen in the past few days, usurping my humble reality. Once again we stopped, this time standing in a clearing and as I arrived at my companions side he rested a hand on my chest and spoke loudly into the trees before us; "A ranger stands before you, friend to the Greenleaf's!" a time passed and the silence persisted, finally the ranger began to sing into the trees. "The forests are quiet, the guards are asleep, we wait at your doorstep and at your kings feet, come welcome your friends and cast down your arms, a friendship was founded while Sauron was put down, the council of Elrond, it was but a start to a peace of the ages where all play their part…" He was cut off by the emergence of a tall slender figure from the tree line in front of us, the stranger picked up the tempo "those seated on thrones or those scraping the dirt are the children of Arda and shall not be hurt, so cast down your weapons and open your arms for friends here that wait and have traveled so far." As the silhouette of this stranger entered the light I saw the distinct elvish features, sharp ears and a slender graceful form. "I am Emlindir, and you know our language well. Thuranduil has left for the caves and does not see visitors, even rangers. All I can offer is for you to join those who still dance among the trees." We walked through some dense wood for a while and eventually came to a clearing; filled with lanterns and music it was an island of life amid the damp, dark forest. How we hadn't heard or seen something from beyond the clearing was beyond me but the trees here parted enough that the faint glimmer of stars was visible through the blanket of boughs above. The ranger turned to me and patted my shoulder, "If any companion of mine survived we shall meet them here. Drink and eat, I will find you before long but first I must discuss what we have seen with whoever leads here." He turned away and followed Emlindir, a pair of Elves came and walked me to a table where wine and food lay and we listened to the songs of the Elf bards, their abilities honed over centuries. I wondered if any of these Elves were the ones in the stories Grandfather used to tell, seeing as they did not age they could truly have witnessed the battle of the five armies or perhaps even the fall of Gondolin. They gave me drink which warmed my aching limbs and eventually my exhaustion began to overcome my excitement. I lay down in a pile of leaves, their enchanting melodies dancing me to the edge of dreams… Colors swirled and the faces of the cruel creatures from the forest leered out of the night. I awoke in the clearing alone, the Elves gone and my companion no where to be seen. The only evidence that what I had seen was real was a finely woven blanket draped across me and a small parcel of food which I immediately consumed. There was bread, rich with the sweetness of honey and berries of many kinds, a small strip of smoked meat much better than that which the old butcher near my home used to make. Home, I had almost forgotten that I didn't belong here, out in the world with Rangers and Elves and magical monsters. The crack of light I often gazed into was gone and I was out in the world like I had always dreamed of being, on a great adventure. But I could remember the warmth of the fire and the low rumble of my grandfathers voice, the games of my friends and the face of a girl who once held my hand a little too long... Abruptly out of the trees came my companion and he sauntered over to me with a smile, "I see you had your fill boy, naught left but crumbs." "It was very good but where did all the Elves go? I thought this was their camp." "Ah boy it was. I talked with the elders of this group and told them of the happenings which brought us here. They have decided to retreat from this threat for the time being and send for aid. These Elves are less adept with magic than some, they are however unequaled in their elusiveness and will play to their strong points until some who know how to combat dark magic arrive." "And what of the other Rangers, did any return?" His gaze faltered and I saw sorrow in his eyes, he looked down as he told me "They did not come and I fear their fates may have been the same as the others I traveled here with." "I'm sorry, if it weren't for me they would've escaped..." He cut me short, "Do not think it is your fault. We suffered near nightly attacks and the men I came here with could not contend this enemy. Luck is all that saved us, and the kindness of the Elves, do not blame yourself for that which you had no power to change." I decided that I wished to follow this ranger and help him if I could, "My name is Eldwyn." He looked up and placed a hand on my shoulder, maybe aware that our fates were now tied. "I am Kantha, and I head to Annúminas in Arnor, a great way from these forests but I shall take you home before I make this journey." "No." "No? What do you mean, would you like to return al..." "No, I wish to come with you. I am not ready to go home, what would I do there? I do not belong." "It is far." He paused, thinking about my request. "But if this is how you feel then I should enjoy some company." Getting up he indicated that I should follow and hurriedly I packed the few things I had into my bag, carefully folding the new Elvish blanket on top. We began into the woods again and I glanced back to the clearing. Hoping that I would see Elves again, their vibrant music echoing in my mind...