Yurga one-handedly grabbed at his hood as a gust of wind tried to blow it off his head. He yanked it back down over his face with unnecessary force, while muttering curses directed at the heavens and the mountains and, most of all, his traveling companion. It had, after all, been Runsel's idea to take this road, rather than the longer, but more travelled route. It was his own fault, though, really, for being too eager to get home and so letting himself be talked into this "shortcut."
"Oi! What was I thinking! Rain, rain, endless rain, and wind, and nary an inn or shack or shelter of any kind!" he grumbled not quite under his breath.
"Not true, my friend," consoled Runsel, slapping his companion amiably on the shoulder. There are no proper structures, that is true, but there is shelter enough just across yonder bridge."
Yurga followed the direction of his companion's gaze and could just make out a stone bridge not far off. Between the pounding rain and fading gray light of day, he'd have walked past it without ever knowing it were there had Runsel not pointed it out. As they drew closer, Yurga lifted his hood enough to toss a wary side-eye at his companion. The bridge looked ancient and was very narrow.
Runsel chuckled, then stated confidently, "You need not worry, Yurga. I've crossed it many a time. Ancient though it is, it's quite sturdy."
Yurga grunted dubiously, then muttered aloud, "sturdy or not, we'll never get the cart across..."
"You've too little faith, my friend," Runsel replied. "Have I ever misled you?" Yurga shrugged noncommittally, but then reluctantly shook his head. Runsel clapped his back once more. "I'll guide the horse, and you'll see... We'll make it across just fine."
Runsel was tediously slow, but Yurga was impressed, none the less, with the ease at which the cart crossed the bridge. He still saw no shelter, though, and scowled at his companion as he waited.
Runsel met the scowl with a grin and he and the cart rolled safely off the bridge. "Oi! I have never seen you so out of sorts, Yurga! Well, come, let's get out of this storm and fill our bellies, and perhaps you will return to good humor."
Yurga's scowl deepened, but he thought good and a dry patch to sleep upon might indeed set him right, so he followed after his companion. He raised a sodden eyebrow when Runsel pulled the cart around what appeared to be a jagged, lop-sided pile of rubble and disappeared. Yurga quickened his step to follow, but halted abruptly as he rounded the rubble to find himself in the remnants of what must have been some sort of pillared hall it alcove of some sort. There is not enough left to tell for certain, thought Yurga. Aloud, he asked, "What is, er, was this place?"
"I cannot say," answered Runsel as he unhitched the horse. "I knew it not when it was standing, not gave I ever met anyone that knew of it. Few, I think, know even if the ruin. I only discovered it by chance amidst a storm worse than this." He chuckled ruefully, then added, "It was so dark that I did not even see the bridge. It's a wonder that I did not end up drowned in the river below!"
"Is there more?" Yurga asked, as he marveled at the remnants of what must have once been very fine columns.
Runsel shrugged as he fetched a bag of oats and done kindling from the cart. He dumped a fair pile of the oats down for the horse, then set to making a small fire in a ring of stones that had clearly been used for many a fire before this. Once the blaze was burning steady, Runsel shook himself out of his sodden cloak, spread out a blanket, and settled himself upon the floor. "I explored a bit the first time I slept here, but the rocks that buried this place are quite unsettled. They rumble and shift and tumble quite unpredictably. Even this space has grown smaller over the years as broken columns have given up and tumbled down. Better to play it safe and keep to this section. The ceiling and columns here are quite sturdy." He peered up at Yurga, who nodded absent-mindedly. "Come, lets fill our bellies with this fine bread and cheese and gets settled into our blankets. This storm won't blow itself out before sunrise, I'm certain. We may as well catch up on our sleep so we may make better time tomorrow."
Yurga nodded again and settled down beside his friend, who was already tucking in to his supper. Perhaps, in the light of day, I might just have a bit of a poke around; I can do it while Yurga has his breakfast if he doesn't wish to join me.
It didn't take long to fill their bellies; wet and weary as they were, neither inclined toward conversation and simply ate. That task accomplished, they each settled down to sleep.
"Good night, Yurga!" Runsel bade, with a yawn, and rolled onto his side.
"And to you," Yurga replied courteously, despite the soft grunt that indicated Runsel had quite literally fallen asleep as soon as his head hit the bed. Yurga, though, was restless…unsettled by this place and lay for quite some time staring up into the darkness obscuring the high ceiling. What was this place? Oh, to be able to know…to have seen it in its full glory. I bet it was something!
Yurga hadn't even realized he'd drifted off until he started awake. Hmmm? What was that? Footsteps echoing? He fought the temptation to sit up and look around. It was light enough to see, for the fire, though fading, still burned, but he could see Runsel from where he lie and no one else could be there. They'd have noticed, even in this rain, if there'd been another on the path. This place has you spooked, that is all. Has you hearing things in your sleep… Go to sleep!
Resolved, he rolled over and closed his eyes. They jerked open again a moment later. It cannot be! I know I am not dreaming this time! Those were footsteps; I am certain of it! Rising slowly and quietly, Yurga moved to the cart and retrieved a torch, then lit it in the remnants of the fire and held it high for a proper look around. Runsel lay motionless still, save for his deep, slow breaths. But there! The steps again!
Following the sound, Yurga crept wearily deeper into the gloom of ruins. It looks unsteady, as Runsel had said, but the footsteps continued, and thus, so did Yurga. He reached a tumble of large rocks that seemed to black his path and paused, hesitating to go further. But there they are, just on the other side; I am certain if it! So he studied the rock pile, deciding which stones could be shifted without bringing the whole lot down upon him, and then promptly set to shifting those rocks until a space just large enough to squeeze through lay before him.
Yurga hesitated again and gaze back in the direction he knew his companion still slumbered.
Perhaps I go through and it all tumbled down behind me… Would Runsel come looking? Perhaps he would fear too much for his own bench! Perhaps he would not even think to look! He might decide I'd wandered out and fallen into the river…and he'd just leave…and I'd never be found!
Yurga turned on his heels, resolved to go back. But then…The footsteps; they sound closer now! I shan't have to go much farther…and he spin on his heels again and scurried through the hole he had made, careful to keep the torch ahead of him. He squinted in an attempt to make anything out in the deep gloom that the scant light of his torch barely penetrated at all.
"Come, you can light the great fire with your torch, and then the darkness shall be lifted."
Yurga nearly jumped out of his skin. "Who? What?" He stammered.
"It is only I," said the voice. "And you need not fear me, for my power had long since faded…nearly to naught by now."
Yurga saw the barest specter of light pass by as the torch was pulled from his hand. He followed the light of it as it danced across the room and then dipped a moment, and whoosh! A great fire burst to life, illuminating a grand fireplace in what must have once been a great hall. Yurga gazed around him, speechless and awe-struck.
"It is grand still, is it not, even faded as it is," mused the voice, pensively, stirring Yurga out of his wonder enough to look for the speaker. He found him near the fire, the light of which nearly obscured him. He seemed almost translucent in glow. So much darkness, now so much light…it is too much for my eyes, he thought.
"You knew this place?" Queried Yurga. "Before, I mean…"
The figure nodded. "Indeed! Many new of this place—the last homely house it was called, Rivendell!" He explained, melancholy coating his words. "A great Lord ruled here. Strong and wise and kind as summer was he, but he is gone now. Into the West. I meant to follow…but I never did. And now…now I think perhaps it is too late. Perhaps there is no path now… nothing left but to fade away as does the memory of this place.
The figure grew still and silent for a time, then. Yurga wanted to fill that silence with questions…about this place and its Lord and his people, and most of all about the figure sitting beside the fire, but he could not. The silence was too deep, too profound to disturb. So, Yurga simply stood and gazed spun the figure. Beautiful, he acknowledged, too beautiful for this world for this world, I think. Perhaps that is why he is fading away.
The figure began to sing, a sad and melancholy song that was more of a melodic chant that than a proper tune, Yurga thought. Nothing a man could dance to or hum as he worked. It was haunting though. It seemed to pierce him clean down to his soul, and soon Yurga felt tears rolling down his cheeks. Swiping them away, he sat to listen propped against a wall.
Yurga acknowledged the voice calling his name, but he resisted the tug of it. It was from another world—the waking world—and he didn't want to go back there yet. Here, in the world of the elf-song, the Hall was filled with light and warmth, song and merriment. He'd stay in this homely House forever if he could.
This time, the shout brought Yurga awake with a start. "What? Where?" He stammered, disoriented and half-asleep.
Runsel! Yurga sprang up as sudden recollection hit him like a stone. He smiled to himself. He did come looking for me. Good man, Runsel! "Here!" He shouted aloud. "I'm coming, Runsel!"
The torch had gone out, but faint daylight trickled though the hole, which was enough. Yurga recalled that nothing lay between him and the hole but space. He made his way carefully, all the same, and gingerly squeezed out the home he had made the night before.
"Yurga!" Exclaimed Runsel. "You old fool! Did I not warn you it was not safe to wander! You could have been trapped in there forever…alone, in the dark."
Yurga opened his mouth to say that it had not been dark, nor had he been alone, but he closed it again. Nay, he thought, let the memory fade. It is too bright and beautiful for this world. Let it fade and find a better world.
"Come now," Runsel prodded, with a shudder. "It doesn't bear thinking about. Let us get back out into the sunshine. We'll eat on the road, I think; will do us both good to feel the heat on us again."
Yurga nodded and allowed his companion to lead him back to the horse and cart.
"Hitch him up, would you?" Instructed Runsel. "I'll pack up our blankets and make sure the cart is properly tied down.
Yurga nodded, again.
"We needn't cross the bridge again," Runsel said, seemingly needing to fill the silence with chatter. "There is a path past this ruin that will take us up into the mountains and join up with the usual path near the top. Alright?"
Yurga nodded, but then seeing that his companion needed some reassurance that he was well, exclaimed with a grin, "Lead on, my friend! The day is wasting…"
Yurga grinned back and took charge of the horse. Watching his friend lead the cart away, Yurga turned for once last glance, then spun back around and dashed to catch up to his companion. The wind blew softly as the began their assent. On that gently breeze, Yurga heard a melancholy melodic chant.
"I shan't forget, I think, though the world may. And I shall be sadder for it, and gladder, too."