Chapter 10b.

Next Chapter as per se. Thanks for any reviews in the past or future. As you might guess, I don't like dwarves so I do my best to combat this. I don't know if people agree but I cannot help either way.

Valentai walked slowly up the hill, over the ford and up to the elven camp. The way was guarded and well lit now as it became obvious that such a service was needed. Valentai did not need it yet, it was still mid-afternoon as he saluted the guards and walked to the gates of the fortress. The guards thought about asking him his business, saw who he was and hurriedly saluted. Valentai walked into the massive camp, walking along the rows and rows of tents, Valentai happily noted that everything was perfectly arranged. At last, he came to the tents of the cavalry, set apart from the others by the stables, farriers and picket lines of horses. Finding the right tent, Valentai walked to the largest tent and knocked on the tent pole. A lieutenant who was apparently the aide to the captain saluted.

"Lord Valentai, can we help you?" He asked respectfully.

"Is both the captains in?" Valentai asked in reply and the elf nodded.

"Of course Lord Valentai. Let me just tell them of your presence." The aide said and disappeared into the tent. After a half minute he returned. "Come in lord." He said graciously and Valentai ducked into the tent.

The tent was almost identical to the one that Valentai had stayed in when he first met the two cavalry officers. It seemed merely to be two tents joined together with the central wall removed. On chairs sat the two captains in a mix of military and civilian clothes. The two stood and saluted, standing at attention. Valentai would have thought this amusing if he had not been concentrating on keeping a straight face. He waved his hand.

"At ease my friends. I am only here semi-officially." Valentai said and the two elves relaxed. Lauronwë smiled.

"Well that is good. Lieutenant, you may go for now, be back tomorrow." The cavalry commander said and the elf saluted and strode away.

Alderána smiled at Valentai and waved him to a seat. "Sit please Lord Valentai. There is not much wine as Lauronwë has already drunk it." She said happily and her commander glared at her.

"Merely getting you back my lady." The elf said in reasonable common, which the other elf did not speak. Alderána glanced at Valentai who smiled. He provided a translation and she cuffed her commander on the arm.

"Traitor." Lauronwë muttered and changed the subject. "So, what can we do for you? Other than humiliating me of course." He asked and Valentai shrugged.

"Other than that particular pleasure, I have come to fulfil a long held desire of Captain Alderána." He said and chuckled when the two looked confused. "I have come to take the captain away, at least for a few months. Here." He said and handed over the written order from the High King. Lauronwë took it, read it and handed it on. He looked at Valentai.

"I do not understand. Why is my second in command being dragged away to lead twenty escorts in a trek in the wilderness?" He asked in genuine puzzlement.

"I have been trying to work that out." Valentai said truthfully. "I believe that it has something to do with the fact that we need a cavalry officer of high rank to be with us. I am not the High King so I cannot tell you but I fear that is the situation."

Alderána nodded. "I see. Very well, I will come but I feel this is a strange order. Nevertheless, I will follow it."

"It is a shame to lose my heavy cavalry commander but much must be risked to gain an alliance." Lauronwë said and turned back to Alderána. "You are going to visit the dwarves, how absorbing for you. Just remember that someone somewhere is doing a proper day's work." He said with a little annoyance.

"Not in this camp anyway." She retorted and looked to Valentai. "I will be there at dawn the day after next." The captain confirmed and Valentai stood.

"Thank you for your hospitality my friends." He said and walked out the opening. When he was gone the two elves looked at each other.

"An odd day so far my hawk." Lauronwë said thoughtfully, using his pet name for her. She frowned slightly.

"Very strange, can you manage here?" She asked and saw his face. "I was being serious Lauronwë." She said softly and he nodded.

"I will be fine. Just be back in four months, things will only get harder if the troops do not have their real commanders."

She nodded and walked to the tent exit. "See you tomorrow?" She asked and he nodded.

Valentai walked back down into Imladris, he had just over a day and he had to plan the route and baggage. At least Aëorith would come with him. That was a good thing. As the sun set, the Prince of Santäissa crossed the ford and descended into Imladris.

Valentai sat on his horse as the son rose. It was the day of departure and Valentai mentally ran over everything he needed for the journey. It felt strangely good to be riding out into the wilderness again, even if he did have twenty cavalry escorts. Valentai was not wearing his battle armour or even his old clothes. He wore a blue silk undershirt with an elven infantry under tunic over the top and a simple green cloak. He had more formal clothes packed into a saddlebag but the effect was not to seem overly important to an attacker. He had his sword of course and had made sure the Aëorith had had one as well.

The aide rode up beside him and Valentai smiled. "Ready Aëorith?" He asked and the elf nodded with a mix of eagerness and apprehension.

"Yes Lord Valentai." He said resolutely.

"Then let us go." Valentai said and rode up through the gate. He checked his bags for his papers and agreements that Gil-Galad had given him as copies to the ones that Tiraldórë had. Valentai rode up the steep path and on until he neared the ford. On the far side were his escort and the ambassador, all of which saluted as he rode over. The cavalry were all heavy cavalry, but in deference to their task, they wore neither helmet nor cuirass. They instead wore infantry armour but kept their heavy, straight swords. Alderána rode forward, dressed like her troops. Beside her was the lieutenant from the tent and Tiraldórë. She saluted.

"Lord Valentai, I am glad to see you again." She said formally and the prince nodded.

"We had best get on captain; it is a fair ways that we must go." He said and the elf nodded.

"May I introduce my lieutenant, Adrehal?" The second in command bowed.

"Pleased to meet you my friend." Valentai said and the elf smiled. He was in many ways, a typical junior officer, half again as old as Aëorith with black hair and a fair face. Alderána called the cavalry to ride on and they at last departed Imladris and rode on.

For eight days the column rode in virtual silence. Sometimes stopping at human villages and other times sleeping in the open, the riders pressed on. Through plains, forests, hills and rivers they rode on. Occasionally, one of the elves would point out a feature and its significance and history. Valentai was enjoying himself; with no mountains of paperwork to deal with he could actually enjoy himself. On the eighth day after their departure, the riders came down to a wide flat valley. The mountains were closer now they had turned south east. They were still a week or so from the dwarf mines and had cut across country and crossed a shallow river to come back. Now they came to a fork in the road. One road, more run down and cracked led off east but soon turned north east to a thick area of trees and hills. The main road was better maintained and led almost due south, the road to the dwarf mines and the south of Arnor. Valentai nodded and started to ride south but stopped after a few moments. No one had followed him; they stayed at the fork in the road. The elves had their heads bowed and Valentai rode back to them. He looked from one to the other and none could meet his gaze. Confused he looked to Alderána.

"Captain?" He asked and Alderána gritted her teeth and looked him in the eye.

"Lord Valentai, we have a request to make." She said firmly. Valentai's brow creased but nodded.

"I am listening, go on." He said.

Tiraldórë put in. "We have made good time so far Lord Valentai and we can afford a slight detour. Down that road is the ruined city. The capital of Eregion. The broken fortress." He said with genuine emotion. He spoke next in common so that only Valentai understood. "I ask you Lord Valentai, no I beg you. Please let us go for just a few moments. We will make up the lost time I promise."

The elf had ridden forward. His voice was low and there was a terrible pain in his eyes. The other elves had known at least what he was saying in theory and looked similarly oppressed. Valentai was genuinely surprised by this and nodded.

"I did not realise." He said in Sindarin, loud enough for the others to hear. "Of course, I did not know we were here already." He said and waved on. The elves looked relieved and turned their horses and rode on. Valentai had noticed that he had not seen a human town in nearly a day. Perhaps this was the reason that none dwelt here. They had passed various ruins but most were nothing significant like a town. He had been told that the area where he was now had been the real heartland of the land of Eregion.

The road was overgrown and ruined; as they pressed on they passed more and more ruins. Valentai rode on, something was bothering him but he could see nothing. He caught a glitter of metal by the roadside and rode towards it. He saw what looked like a helmet, shadowed in the woods. It appeared covered with blood but as Valentai stopped his horse he felt an arm on his elbow. He turned to see Tiraldórë looking at him grimly.

"It is not really there Valentai." He said and the hero looked back to see it gone. He saw what looked like a skull just a few yards beyond. The elf chuckled grimly. "This is the reason why there are no settlements within fifty miles Valentai. You come here with an open mind and you will follow the trail for miles."

"What is this place?" Valentai asked as he urged the horse on.

"We are approaching the capital of Eregion. Ost-in-Edhil, it was destroyed by the darklord and there were few survivors. Only Vallarië, Keldoräth and perhaps a few others escaped. It was the second worst day in the history of Santäissa." Tiraldórë sounded sad. "My father and I were far away, fighting with Anderón's company but we learned that the rest of my family had been butchered here along with all the others." Valentai patted the elf on the shoulder. There was no bitterness in the voice, just hollow regret.

"I feel for you. At Morinath, Nantaris said he saw the last stand of Sartorë. It is like this." Valentai said and the elf nodded.

"Here we are." He said dully and Valentai rounded the bend to see the city of Eregion.

Through the gap in the pine forests and steep cliffs that lined either side of the road was the crumbling stone of the ruins. A gate with ruined posts lay before him, the whole scene overrun with grass and creepers. Beyond the gate was a long, mostly ruined stone bridge with gaping holes where it had fallen in. A swift river ran beneath and Valentai was not surprised to see what looked like bones at the river's bottom. The cavalry dismounted and secured the horses. When this was done, Alderána came to beside him. She looked pained.

"It has been fifteen hundred years of men since I was here and it has changed little. None can dwell here now."

Valentai nodded and walked across the bridge. Before him was a short gap after the bridge and a wall and second gate. The wall had a great hole in it and the gate had been broken. Valentai walked through it in a daze, ruined buildings spread in every direction. It was as though a town larger than Imladris had been laid out in streets and blocks and then ravaged and destroyed. Everywhere was rubble and plants. With Tiraldórë by his side he walked on until he came to a courtyard which must have been great once. It had been a round courtyard with what looked like a place where a tree would stand, surrounded by fountains. A great building had stood at the far end but someone had taken a conscious effort to dismantle it. Aëorith came to his other side and was looking around with awe. Tiraldórë nodded to the fountains.

"That tree that grows in Imladris was grown from an acorn of the tree that stood there. That is the palace of Celembrimbor and where he made his masterpieces."

"How did the city fall?" Valentai asked, despite himself.

Tiraldór's handsome face went dark with anger. A bitterness entered his voice that had been absent so far. "A traitor, a traitor in the pay of the darkness showed them a weak spot in the wall. He got his just end though. Vallarië caught him as he tried to flee with his ill-gotten treasures."

Valentai looked at the elf whose mood had turned dark. "That would not be pleasant." He said mildly, thinking the anger of the elf that had just had his city and father betrayed and destroyed would be far from pleasant.

"The great grandson of Fëanor gave him a far quicker death than he deserved." Tiraldórë said and turned, indicating the conversation was over. Valentai had never seen the elf so angry but the hero knew he had reason for it. He now understood the suspicion of the silver haired lord of Imladris in accepting him. Vallarië would not accept it happening again.

"Let us go." Valentai said. As those around started to walk away, Valentai turned back and fastened his necklace about his neck. It was glowing slightly, always a bad sign. The prince almost turned again when he heard two voices on the wind, from another time and place.

"Father, we must escape!" The voice of Vallarië came across the wind half muted. It was loud enough though to hear the emotion in the elf's voice.

"No Vallarië. You must go. My place is here with my people!" Came the voice of what must have been Celembrimbor.

"I will not have you slain like my brother!" Vallari's voice was pained.

"You have no choice my son. Go whilst there is still time. Find this traitor. Warn the king."

"I will not leave you!" Vallarië said and Celembrimbor's voice snapped.

"Get out of here. Keldoräth! Get him away."

Then there was nothing. Valentai stood in the gathering dark and stared at the scene before him. It took little imagination to imagine that day. The necklace stopped glowing and Valentai nodded, he had a new respect for Vallarië, and Keldoräth. Especially for the bodyguard who had had to drag the elf away.

Tiraldórë came back and stood beside him again. "It is not wise to linger at night Valentai. What is real and what is not becomes confused."

"I heard it." Valentai said. "I heard Vallarië and his father when they were parted."

Tiraldórë nodded grimly. "I as well. The land remembers Valentai. Come let us go."

Valentai turned his back on the city of death. The power of the place had been great, enough to make his necklace glow.

Valentai mused about that as he rode on, to the true road. It was dark but the elves around him wanted to put as much distance between them and the city of death and it seemed, so did the horses. The necklace protected him from mental attacks; it glowed when something was trying to control him. It had not failed him yet which meant.

Valentai turned to Alderána who was riding sadly beside him. "It was the anger of the place. The sorrow of the place transmutes to anger in the minds of those nearby." He said. The elf was jolted from a daze by the words.

"I suppose so." She said more normally than before. Valentai nodded, he had been right.

It was six days later. It was late spring as they drew near to the mountains. As they rode down to the place marked on the map, they passed the pass of Caradhras which even in this month was wreathed in snow. The landscape had become rockier and there was less forests around. As they passed they saw small defended settlements where outlying communities of dwarves lived. Tiraldórë was by Valentai's side as they crested the last hill and looked at a long valley leading to a sheer cliff. A wide river flowed down past this cliff and all around them was small houses and signs of settlement. On the long, high cliff wall was a great entrance way of stone guarded by a strong garrison. A well crafted stone bridge led over the swift river. Valentai nodded in approval, it was just how he imagined it. He turned to Tiraldórë.

"I suppose that you know them?" he asked and the elf shrugged.

"I have met the king if that is what you mean. I have known n fifteen generations of the house of Durin and they are all pretty much the same."

The elf sighed and Valentai laughed. "They are indeed but do not let them hear you say that."

"You like dwarves?" Alderána said, intimating she did not.

"I do not dislike them, that is certain." Valentai said carefully.

"Then let us meet them." Tiraldórë said lightly and rode forward.

Valentai followed him down the hill and onto the plain before the rock wall. A great water wheel in the distance turned as the water from up the stream drove it on. Valentai dismounted and jumped to the ground. The elves did likewise and Valentai turned to Alderána who looked uncertain.

"You coming captain?" He asked politely and she grimaced.

"I do not think so Lord Valentai. I cannot speak to them and I have heard that dwarves have strange views of elf ladies having command." She said, looking slightly embarrassed.

"True enough captain." Valentai laughed and patted her shoulder. "Set up a camp out here. And try to stay out of the way of the dwarves." He said meaningfully and she nodded seriously as he walked away. "Aëorith, with me." He ordered and the elf was instantly beside him. The dwarven troops and civilians were coming out to watch the two elves and Valentai as he walked to the gate. Tiraldór's negotiator instincts seemed to take over and he quickly walked ahead to the bridge guards who looked up with faintly hostile expressions.

Tiraldórë bowed and the dwarves around them came closer, from what the elf had told him, Valentai knew that the ambassador had not been here for twenty years.

A dwarf captain who seemed to be in charge walked forward. "Who comes thus to the gates of the hold of Durin son of Tharin, Lord of Khazard-Dûm?" He asked and Tiraldórë smiled.

"I am Ambassador Tiraldórë, negotiator of the High King of the Noldor, Ereinion Gil-Galad. I would bid entry to his halls so that the plans and designs of my king might be taken before him." The elf declaimed in almost flawless common. Of all the elves, he probably spoke it the best, after all he spent very little time in the company of other Eldar.

The dwarf nodded. "If three are you there are then enter you shall. I would ask the names of your two companions." He said stoically and Valentai nodded.

"I am Prince of Santäissa, Valentai Dal-Moriath Telequéntai." He said formally and bowed. The dwarf looked a little suspicious but nodded and looked to Aëorith who did not look like he was able to answer. Valentai sighed. "He is Lieutenant Aëorith of Lindon and my aide." Valentai said and the dwarf nodded.

"Come, follow me." He commanded and the three representatives of the elven army followed him over the bridge to the mouth of the cavern. Valentai strode over the bridge. Four dwarves were following them and three were in front which to Valentai's mind was a little excessive. Valentai turned to Tiraldórë who was trying to remain straight and resolute.

"Aëorith, let the two of us to the talking. Unless you are spoken to." Valentai said in Sindarin and then considered what he had said. "On second thoughts, just don't say anything." He said and patted the elf on the shoulder in a vague and friendly way. If anything, the blonde elf looked relieved and Valentai smiled and walked on.

They approached the gateway and the captain turned and walked stiffly back to them. "I must ask that you lay aside your weapons here. It is not a matter of trust." The dwarf said gruffly.

"But one of prudence." Valentai finished the sentence and unstrapped his sword and gave it to the dwarf who looked at the pommel. He looked to Valentai who nodded. The dwarf drew the blade. The whole weapon was in fact only slightly shorter than the dwarf and he saw the thick fingers feel along the blade. He looked up after a moment.

"A fine blade lord prince. How old is it?" The dwarf asked.

"Hard to say really. At least four thousand years old. I have owned it for almost thirteen hundred years." The dwarf looked up at him incredulously. Valentai smiled. "I am Prince of Santäissa, the elf city and chief of staff to the High King. My words can be trusted captain." He said in a friendly way but with a touch of steel as though he dared the dwarf to contradict him. Finally the captain nodded and sheathed the blade and sat it aside. Tiraldórë and Aëorith handed over their weapons but neither received anything more than a cursory glance from the dwarf before he gestured them in.

"Welcome to Khazard-Dûm, realm of our forefathers." He said and Valentai turned back to the dwarf.

"My thanks but, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, we are proceeding onward to Lórinand to the east. Would it be possible to have our escorts informed of this so that they might follow us through and wait on the far side?" Valentai asked and the dwarf nodded.

"Aye, it can be done. I will send the message on," the dwarf said. Valentai nodded and led the two elves inside the great realm of the dwarves.

Valentai, with long experience, expected the halls to be dark but this was not the case. The roofs of the interiors were high and fashioned with great stone patterns that were set about with intricate sets of semi-precious stones. The rooms were lit by great lights fuelled by oil or other means to make the interior of the underground palace seem like a sunlit room. To add to this, great mirrors reflected light through shafts down so that natural light came through the room and filled it with a grey light. Valentai nodded and walked forward, his head up and his gait, gracious. He nodded to the many dwarves he passed and walked on. Tiraldórë came to his side.

"They are sending the message on to the king now and to Alderána. The cavalry will be taken the straight route, though the processional way whilst we go for the grand tour." Tiraldórë said in Sindarin and Valentai nodded. "You seem to have impressed them." He said with humour in his voice. "They will show you every hall they can."

"I am not complaining. If it gains their trust then I will sit down and tell them about iron plated mine shafts." Valentai said and the elf laughed.

"You never did meet Turindë did you?" He asked and Valentai shook his head.

"Not to know. Not to talk if you know what I mean." Valentai said neutrally.

"A genius as far as such things is concerned. Like most geniuses though, he is a little eccentric." Tiraldórë said and Valentai smiled.

"He is in the right army then." Valentai said happily.

The dwarf walked back and nodded to them. "If you will follow me ambassadors, we will show you some of our homes." He said and Valentai smiled expansively.

"Feel free captain. It has been many years since I visited such halls as these." He said and the dwarf smiled at the compliment. As he walked ahead, Valentai turned to Tiraldórë. "Although that is probably a good thing." He said in Quenya so he was sure he would not be overheard. The elf just contained a smile.

The dwarf walked in front and Valentai surprised himself as much as anyone else by being at his side and talking to the dwarves. Finally they came to a long and low hall of stone which Valentai guessed was at least a hundred yards long. The room's edges were supported by massive pillars of stone and the floor was a mosaic of bright colours recalling events in the history of the dwarves of these mountains.

"This is the hall of the ancestors." The dwarf said proudly. "It was built; I am told when fair kings still lived in Nargothrond and Gondolin." The dwarf said proudly and Valentai nodded.

"The mosaics on the floor are incredible; it must have taken a decade." Tiraldórë said, with calculated interest. He knew as well as Valentai that the best way to make a dwarf side with you was to almost agree to everything they said. The dwarf nodded as they walked on, through the long hall until they finally came to a great wooden door which stood open. Valentai saw a flight of stairs that led down to a long room which eventually led to a door guarded by four dwarven guards in full plate armour and great two handed axes. The room they entered into now was supported by pillars in the centre of the room. It seemed that the space he was in now was a great audience chamber for benches sat along the walls and on the floor. The dwarven captain broke away and walked to speak to the guards. As he did, Valentai turned to Aëorith.

"I want you to remember everything important Aëorith. Do not say anything, even if asked. I will make speech for you. Understand?" He hissed and the elf nodded. Tiraldórë smiled and took his arm.

"Relax Valentai; the king is not so bad."

"That maybe so but we must not show any weakness. We must be firm. You do the talking and I will come in where needed."

"If you insist Lord Valentai." The elf said and then spoke in common as the dwarf reappeared. "This must be the audience chamber of the king."

"It is ambassador. Now if you will follow me, the council is waiting."

Valentai walked past the guards and into the throne room of the king. The room was a large square room, a room some thirty foot above them shone with light as a whole crown of mirrors illuminated the chamber. Torches hung on the walls so that the room itself was well illuminated. Directly opposite them was a throne of stone and wood on which a well built dwarf with a grey beard sat and watched the new entrants with a stoic face. Beside him on a smaller throne was obviously his son for he was similar in all but he had a brown beard and a younger face. To his left was a dwarf with a black beard with a mighty scar across his face. Valentai stood for a moment and stared across at the king who returned it with his dark eyes. Finally the king rose and nodded.

"Approach ambassadors of the elf king." He said gruffly and Valentai walked forward. To his left was a table set with maps and scrolls which had obviously been prepared for this meeting. The three ambassadors walked across the hall until they were just five yards from the dwarf king who was obviously expecting something. Valentai bowed slightly and the two elves beside him did likewise. If the king was disappointed, he did not show it.

"So what brings two elves and a man to my halls in the name of the king of the elves?" He asked with a hint of gruffness. Tiraldórë, more used to tact than Valentai stepped forward.

"We have come from the combined army of men and Eldar now camped in Imladris just two hundred miles away. Our two nations have been united by a common cause and so we come to talk to you for it is not just us that will be affected by the current darkness."

The dwarf king nodded slightly and waved to the table. "Let us sit where we might discuss matters easier." He suggested and Valentai led the way over to the table where he sat facing the king. Tiraldórë was to his right and Aëorith to his left. The black beared dwarf glared at Aëorith who looked down hurriedly. The king nodded when he was seated.

"As you are aware, I am the fourth of the name Durin, the name of my forefathers. My father died many scores of years ago and I still rule these mansions and defend my people from the evil that besets them. This is my son Baugir." He pointed to the prince who looked only sixty or so years old. Valentai nodded to the dwarf and looked at the scarred, black haired commander.

"And that is Morgrim. Sometimes called Morgrim the Black for his beard. He is my chief commander of war. As you can see he lost his eyes fighting the orcs of the mountains but we have beaten them back every time and we will continue to do so." He looked from one to the other. "And why are you here specifically?" He asked bluntly and Tiraldórë coughed slightly.

"We are here lord king to inform you of current news and to ask you to consider a proposal." The dwarf nodded. "As you may well, know, war with the dark power of the east has raged for nigh on two years now. The southern kingdom of men, Gondor is fighting the war almost by themselves for now but they cannot do so forever. Seeing this, the northern realm of men and the High King of the Noldor have formed an alliance with the single aim of defeating the dark power or falling in the attempt. To this end, an army of over a hundred thousand troops is encamped near to Imladris in the old lands of Eregion. This army is training and when it is ready then is shall depart for the south and fight against the enemy." Tiraldórë said and father and son nodded. Morgrim leaned forward and spoke bluntly.

"So what is it you want of us?" He demanded and Valentai mentally sighed at the obtuseness of dwarves.

"We remember well the alliance you forged with us in the wars of Eregion and before. A strong tie did your forefathers have with the elves of Celembrimbor. We have not forgotten and ever have we renewed those ties. We come therefore in the spirit of friends and allies of old to tell you what might be unavailable to you. We know that you have been troubled by the enemy to both west and east and we are aware of the aid you have gifted us in the past." Tiraldórë managed to say that entire speech without saying anything meaningful.

Morgrim seemed to sense as much and began to protest but Durin held up his hand.

"Peace Morgrim. I thank you ambassadors, well do my kin remember the alliances of old and though none remember them being made, we are dedicated to them. I know what it is you seek from me ambassador but I am loathing doing it."

"We have no expectations, desire or demands of you. We merely request that you remember the old treaties. I would not force you into something." Tiraldórë said and the dwarf nodded.

"We are neither ready nor desiring of war. My people must fight daily with the enemy and with the will of nature itself."

Tiraldórë nodded. The elf knew that once a dwarf had decided something, it was as good as settled. The elf nodded.

"I agree that a war is not preferable. However, is not the skill of the dwarves not just in battle but in the making of things?" He asked and the king nodded.

"It is indeed. I see what you are getting at. My people do not desire war but we do not forget our friends. Therefore we shall aid you as best we can with the materials of war and with aid from engineers." Tiraldórë believed that this was about all they would get. He would have accepted if Valentai had not intervened.

"Tell me lord king, what do you know of the enemy?" He asked and the king looked at him puzzled.

"Know? Very little." He said and Valentai nodded grimly.

"Indeed. I will tell you the facts. There is an army of more than a quarter of a million troops massing before the black gates." He let this sink in. "It is true my friends. We have summoned an army, a field army that will be about two thirds the size or so. We will fight them on the field but there is no guarantee of victory." He looked into the dark eyes of the king. "Let me put it very plainly lord king. Lindon has been stripped of people as has no happened since the fall of Eregion. I will tell you why, in that last war, the enemy came within bowshot of the walls of Santäissa. And yet, after so much sacrifice what could they do? Nothing. They were so spent by victory that they had no chance of pursuit. Now we face the same enemy again, the same one. This time, he has learned and however much you may wish otherwise, he has not forgotten the actions of your forefather Durin the third. Let me put it bluntly, this alliance is the last hope of the world, if it is defeated then there will be nothing to stop them from assaulting each and every kingdom. You are mighty lord king but you cannot face the enemy alone, no army can. That is why there is an alliance." Valentai's gaze had never left the eyes of the king who nodded slowly.

"And what do you expect of us? We are not as populous as the other realms." Durin commented.

"Numbers matter little. I have seen more battle than you can imagine and it is often just a small number of troops among the massing thousands that may turn the tide against the enemy. I know dwarves, they are warriors without peer in defence and brutal in attack also. I am not asking you to arm every one of your folk and push them to battle. I merely ask that you consider sending forces. At least to show the enemy that Durin's folk will not be cowed by the enemy."

Valentai stopped and looked at the three dwarves. Tiraldórë was trying to contain his amazement as Baugir whispered to his father. The Morgrim did also. The king sat back and grimaced. Valentai continued to stare into the black eyes until the king nodded.

"No person be they be man or elf or dwarf will be able to say that the folk of Durin acquiesced to the darkness." He said grimly and Valentai smiled.

"I knew that we could count upon the help of Durin's kin." Valentai said.

"Name your terms." Morgrim said and Tiraldórë spoke up.

"In terms of command, only the High King and lord king Durin will give orders to your troops. Of course, it is advised that you be open to suggestions. As far as position is concerned, you are part of the alliance and are thus under the direction of its commanders. You shall have a place at the council and may keep your own camps in times of rest." The elf finished and Durin frowned.

"Should we not be solely responsible for ourselves?" He asked and Tiraldórë shook his head.

"Lord king Gil-Galad is the High Commander of the alliance. He has overall command. That is the terms." Tiraldórë said firmly.

Durin nodded, ignoring his son's protest. "Then I accept your offer."

"Excellent, how many troops can you have?" Tiraldórë asked and the dwarf frowned.

"I do not think twelve thousand is an underestimate of our skills. Is that number advisable Morgrim?" He asked and the black bearded dwarf nodded slowly.

"We can manage that lord king."

"Then Morgrim will be my second in command. I will go to war myself." He looked to his son. "And you son, shall rule this kingdom. Rule it well for you shall have my brother to aid you." Durin said and his son raised an objection.

"Lord king, would I not be more valuable in battle?"

"No my son. I believe the ambassador's words. This is a decisive move. If we succeed then knowledge of battle will avail you little and knowledge of peace will be better. If we fail then you will be here to guard my folk for the last stand."

Baugir nodded acceptance and Durin looked at the ambassadors.

"I thank you for your words ambassadors of the king. He chose well in you. I have been told you continue on to the wood land realms yonder."

"We do indeed and we desire passage back through there when our work is achieved." Valentai said and the king nodded.

"It shall be so. We will be ready to march in four months."

"We shall talk more when I return." Valentai said and nodded to Tiraldórë.

Tiraldórë drew a piece of paper out of his bag and pushed it across the table. The dwarf king took it and read it. After a few moments he nodded and signed his name at the bottom of it. Valentai did likewise and Tiraldórë witnessed the signature.

"Excellent lord king. Until next we meet." Valentai declared and turned to leave. The two elves followed him and walked from the door.

Captain of Cavalry Alderána tried to keep her face neutral and calm as she walked through the long procession way. Inside she was feeling extremely nervous but would not show it. For a start, neither she nor any of her troops spoke common so they had not understood a word the dwarves had said. They had mentioned Lord Valentai's name and given her the three swords. She had followed them, knowing that there was little chance of them turning on her. Elves were always uncomfortable in places where they could not see the sky and despite the thin beams of light coming in, she still longed for the open air. The processional way was a passage way that led straight through the dwarf realm it seemed like a highway. The road could be blocked in a score of places by portcullises and heavy doors to prevent an enemy from marching through the entire dwarf realm. The road was wide enough for five of the riders to lead their horse abreast and still have several yards between them and the few dwarven spectators to either side. After what seemed an eternity, even to the patient elf, they came to a long and low ramp and beyond it was the natural daylight of the gate. She could no longer hide her happiness when she saw Valentai and the two elves and quickened her pace. Valentai turned as he heard the approach of horses and smiled. The two elves with him walked forward and Alderána saluted.

"Lord Valentai. It is good to see you again. I have your weapon." She said in a rush and Valentai placed a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"Calm down Alderána please." He replied calmly. "I am glad you find my presence so reassuring, we have only been apart for four hours." He pointed out as he took his sword and strapped it to his side. Tiraldórë came forward and saluted the captain.

"Had a pleasant time captain?" He asked seriously and she looked longingly at the day light. Valentai caught her gaze and nodded.

"I daresay it will be more pleasant when we are outside." He said and the two elves nodded approval. "Then we have now the most difficult part. I have been told that there is a great chasm ahead with only a narrow bridge over it." He sniffed. "Why I cannot say but they seem to think it will save them from attack."

Tiraldórë nodded. "The bridge is very narrow; it may be difficult for the horses."

Valentai sighed grimly and walked back to the dwarves who seemed surprised at the sudden reappearance.

"My lords and allies, as you can see we have horses which will find it difficult to cross the narrow bridge." The dwarf king nodded and smiled a little happily.

"Come with me Lord Valentai. I see you consider yourself an engineer but think on what I would show you if you please. Captain, assemble the teams." He ordered a dwarf whose loud voice suddenly made the place a hive of activity. Valentai followed the dwarf down to a section some thirty yards from where the three foot wide bridge hung over nothing. The king nodded to two others who waved a flag to the far side. Great ropes and chains were attached to levers and at the command the dwarves pulled. After so long, nothing really surprised Valentai anymore, at least things that were not alive did not surprise him anymore. Thus he only nodded as the dwarves used a capstan like device to winch up a mechanical wonder. With a set of clicks and the clank of locking bars, what stood before Valentai was a bridge. A bridge that covered the whole length of the chasm, but one that was twenty foot wide. It had old three foot high bars over the sides so the prince knew he must blindfold the horses. He nodded to the dwarf king.

"A remarkable invention. And it can be collapsed in a minute." He said and the king nodded.

"It can indeed. It was built by my grandfather and it is the most useful device he left for me."

"I thank you. We had best be going." Valentai said and gestured the escort forward. Predictably, all the elves were staring at the bridge in shock and Valentai smiled. "We wanted to know, so they have created us a bridge. Alderána, blindfold the horses if you will." He commanded and the captain could only nod and see to the task in a half daze. Valentai smiled at Tiraldórë who was looking at it in shock.

"They have never done that before. Is it new?" He asked Valentai who shrugged.

"His grandfather had it built. So I suppose they have just not wanted to show you." The elf nodded, thinking of the times he had to lead a horse over the narrow bridge or had to go without one and get a mount in Lórinand.

Valentai walked out of the gateway of the fortress of the dwarves last. He had never minded mines or caverns but he knew the elves did. He saluted the dwarf king as he saw the bridge split down the middle and return to its rest against the sides of the chasm.

Valentai turned back to the rocky valley he was in. It sloped down steeply from the gate over rock and outcrop to a grassy plain and the great forest just beyond. Valentai turned to his cavalry captain who was looking far better in the cloudy sunlight.

"So captain, your trip was well?" He asked and the elf shuddered. "They were not that bad were they?" Valentai asked in puzzlement.

"I am sorry Lord Valentai. It was a dark hole filled with dwarves." She said and Valentai laughed and clapped her on the shoulder. Tiraldórë tried to hide a smile. The captain tried to maintain some dignity.

"So how did the meeting go Lord Valentai? I see you impressed them."

"Yes, how did you do that?" Tiraldórë asked seriously. "They were loathe to give us an hour's help but now they have twelve thousand warriors marching to our aid." He said and Alderána nodded in appreciation. Valentai smiled a little smugly.

"It is all about leverage my friends. Dwarves are prideful, so use that to your advantage. Imply that their honour will be compromised if they let others do the fighting. Besides, they think that they are better than the Eldar so they will do anything to prove it."

Alderána smiled at that. "Indeed, we do not think we are better, we know." She said dramatically and Valentai chuckled.

"That may be so but just try to avoid saying that to them." Valentai said. "Let us be mounted up and make camp in the valley below us. I would trouble you captain to send a rider ahead to say we approach." She nodded and Valentai turned to Aëorith.

"Now my friend, did you remember what was agreed to?" He asked quietly so they would not be overheard.

The younger elf nodded and smiled bravely. "Yes Lord Valentai."

"Good, write it down so you do not forget and be ready at dawn tomorrow." The aide saluted and mounted his horse whilst Valentai stared down over the forest of Lórinand.

Valentai awoke with the new day and climbed to his feet slowly. It had rained in the night and his clothes were soaked despite the sheet that he had stretched over the tree he had slept under. He grimaced and tried to dry himself off but since there was nothing else dry he had little choice but to put up with it. He shrugged and woke his aide who lightly cursed the rain and then set to work. Valentai walked to where his horse was picketed and saddled it swiftly. Valentai nodded to Alderána who was also trying to dry herself off. Valentai smiled.

"A good night, yes?" He asked and she glowered at him.

"Not especially. Now I will be going into Lórinand with a wet uniform." She said in irritation.

"The sun will come out today." Valentai declared and she nodded.

The green valley was covered in a light mist which went down to meet the first trees of the forest. It was still a dozen miles or so to the woods and so Valentai had ordered the elves up and ready to leave at dawn. Alderána came over to Valentai and looked in silence down over the forest which was indeed bright on this spring day.

"Have you been here before Alderána?" Valentai asked and she nodded.

"A few times. The last time was just over three hundred years ago. Being where I live, I have no reason to even be near these mountains."

"Good. We take the horses through the forest."

There is a path that leads on the south bank of the river. The River Celebrant. We go on that road for many miles until we come to near the junction with the Anduin and then we head north east over the river and come to the capital." She said and Valentai nodded.

"Excellent my friend. How long will it take?" He asked.

"A day to get to the junction of the rivers if we ride fast. A day to cross the river and be at the capital for the morning after." She said and Valentai grimaced.

"But we cannot ride fast. There will be intricate political matters to deal with I fear and the sylvan elves would not want us galloping through their road. Time is not an issue." Valentai said. He turned to see Tiraldórë come up beside him.

"A fine but slightly damp morning to you both." He said and Valentai smiled.

"We were discussing the route Tiraldórë. Captain Alderána believes it will take four days to ensure we are there at dawn to meet the rulers." Tiraldórë considered the words and slowly nodded.

"I agree. If you do not mind me saying so Lord Valentai, I feel we should be off. I instructed the rider that we would be there at an hour after dawn and there is little chance of that now." He said and Valentai nodded.

"I agree. Captain, if you please." He said and Alderána saluted and turned to rouse her troops to action.

Within a quarter hour they were on the move and riding down the hills to the plains before the forest of Lórinand. The horses covered the ground quickly and within just an hour and a half they had negotiated the difficult rocky ground and rode on to the gates of the forest. To their left was evidently the Celebrant River which flowed shallow at this point and could easily be forded. Valentai saw where the river flowed into the river which he had been told was the Nimrodel River which came from his right from the mountains. Valentai saw a small party of the Eldar awaited him near the confluence of the rivers. A small tent was set up there and an honour guard waited with armour in the rising heat of a late spring morning. Valentai winced slightly as he saw the Eldar troops. They were wearing armour but it was so impractical that wearing none would have been a better option. Instead of the flexible metal lames of the high elven infantry armour, the sylvan armour was leather. Occasionally, it was metal attached to a framework of leather. In all, it was about as useless a piece of armour as Valentai could imagine. In his firm opinion and wide experience, a soldier either wore metal armour or none at all. All this armour could do was slow the wearer down. If he disapproved of the armour he thought worse of the swords they wore. Sabres were excellent for light cavalry but to give them to infantry was a mistake as they did not have the cutting height or strength of the horse. Valentai pushed this away as he slowed the steed and dismounted, jumping to the ground.

Tiraldórë did likewise whilst Aëorith stayed with Alderána as she set up a temporary camp. Valentai walked forward with Tiraldórë over the grass and into the shade of the first few trees. The honour guard saluted and as the two ambassadors walked forward, an elf walked into the tent and spoke into it. After a half minute an elf emerged and walked towards them.

Valentai walked beside Tiraldórë and knew he was being watched from the trees. Not being watched in an unfriendly way but with a mix of curiosity and almost interest. Valentai saluted the elf and bowed slightly, mirrored by Tiraldórë.

The elf nodded and walked forward. He seemed to possess the skills that were reputedly so lacking in the sylvan elves, tact and open mindedness. He was tall, black haired with blue-grey eyes and a smiling face which hid his real feelings well. He wore the impractical armour but wore a proper elven longsword at his side. Valentai supposed he had been a high elf once but had followed the lord and lady to Lórinand.

"Welcome ambassadors, I am Aronwë, ambassador of Lórinand and captain in its armies." He said with a bow. Valentai nodded.

"I am Prince Valentai Dal-Moriath Telequéntai, chief of staff to the High King and Prince of Santäissa." He said, he reflected that the titles came in handy sometimes.

"I have heard of you Prince Valentai. My lords and lady much desire to meet with the first non-elf to hold high command in the armies of the High King." The elf said smoothly and turned to Tiraldórë. "Ambassador Tiraldórë it has been many scores of years since last you were here. Appreciate your coming we do, both of you." He said.

Tiraldórë bowed again. "We come to have words with the lords and lady of Lórinand so that the situation might be understood fully."

"You are welcome to enter. We trust you and your honour. You may keep your blades in the presence of all but the three where no weapon is allowed."

"We shall not fail your trust." Valentai said, correctly choosing the right words.

"I knew you would not. We cross the Nimrodel ahead and move on the main road through the woods on the south of the stream. That will take us today and some of tomorrow. We cross at the narrow point before the junction with the Anduin and then up through the forest paths to the capital."

"Time is not an issue with us captain. Lead the way and we shall follow." Valentai assured the elf who nodded and pointed to the far side of the Celebrant.

"We will meet on that side within the hour." He declared and Valentai nodded and walked back with his friend to where Alderána had the cavalry ready.

"Captain, lead your troops down. It is as you said; we will begin the crossing when all is assembled." Valentai said and the captain nodded and went about her role.

Lord Valentai rode into the three foot deep water of the Nimrodel just two hundred yards from where it became mixed with the deeper, faster Celebrant stream. Valentai urged his grey mare on and over the stream to the far side where Aronwë had assembled a similar number of sylvan elves who now waited on horseback. The hero did not miss the fact that they had no saddles and rode bareback and that they looked down on the high elven cavalry who rode with saddle, bit and bridle. Valentai could never understand why these elves insisted riding so. Lauronwë had been right; a rider trying to fight in battle without any means of controlling the horse was useless indeed. Valentai saw that Aronwë had a saddle and stirrups and this confirmed to him that he had been an elf of Eregion once.

Aronwë saluted him. "Lord Valentai, I am pleased to see you here early. When all are here we shall ride on."

Valentai nodded and rode to beside the elf to watch his party cross the river. At length he turned to the elf.

"You were once of Eregion were you not?" He asked the Lórinand elf ambassador who looked at him keenly.

"What makes you say that?" He asked in reply and Valentai smiled.

"If you do not mind me saying, you appear to be different in many ways to these Eldar around you. And you use a proper saddle and sword." The elf laughed.

"Observant you are indeed Lord Valentai. Indeed I am of Eregion. I was the ruler of some smaller towns in the north, around where Imladris stands now. I fought in many battles during the first war but eventually I had no choice but to leave with my lords and lady." He said sadly.

"Why come here and not to Imladris?" Valentai asked.

"At the time, Imladris did not exist." The elf said grimly. "And the land between the mountains and the sea were almost entirely enemy owned. Remember, even Santäissa was threatened with attack at one stage. I came here and never looked at living back there again." The elf said sadly.

Valentai nodded. "You are married?" He half asked and half stated. The elf nodded.

"Yes, she will not leave here and I do not blame her." He brightened. "As for the sword, it is the one that I used in Eregion and the saddle is because I am not a fool." He said happily and some of his escort glanced at him.

Valentai did not know what to say next so he was pleased that Alderána chose that moment to ride up to him and salute.

"We are finished crossing Lord Valentai." She stopped as she saw Aronwë. "Aronwë?" She asked uncertainly.

"Alderána I presume. You look well I see. And how is Lauronwë?" The elf asked with animation and Valentai sighed slightly as he and the duty was forgotten in the reunion.

"As annoying as ever. He has gained control over Osturin though." She said happily.

"Only by rank I assume." Aronwë said and looked back to Valentai's faintly amused expression. "We were friends in the time of Eregion's prosperity. Then she moved back to Santäissa and the war came and we see each other rarely."

Valentai nodded and Alderána saluted. "Sorry for the delay. We have finished crossing and the troops are formed up just up the road." She said formally and Valentai nodded.

"Let us ride then and talk when we are underway." He suggested and the two captains nodded and rode on.

After an hour or so, Valentai gave silent permission and Alderána rode back over to Aronwë and they continued to speak as they rode along the wide, stone path that led through the trees. The fast and deep river was to their left and the road followed the course of the river well, suggesting that it followed the original course of the discoverers of Lórinand. There were a few elves to either side that stood to watch the strange procession. The high elven cavalry could only be discerned from their sylvan brethren by their saddle wear and shadowed armour and swords. Valentai rode on as the day peaked towards noon. Aëorith rode to beside him. Valentai smiled.

"Have you been here before Aëorith?" He asked and the aide shook his head.

"No Lord Valentai. I had never even been to Imladris before you took me on."

"Well, a new experience for us both." He said and rode on.

As the sun was setting, the party came to a wide flat area of ground where the horses could be left to look after themselves. Nearby was a small jetty where small grey boats were moored and to the east was the great river Anduin. Valentai smiled when he saw the two captains still talking. He supposed that there was much to say to a friend you had not seen in three centuries. Valentai stripped off his sword and walked down the path to where the river engulfed the flow of the Celebrant. Valentai had heard much of this river and now he saw it was indeed an obstacle. The river itself was over two hundred yards wide and fast flowing. It also seemed to be very temperamental with currents which whirled and flowed together. Valentai thought of the difficulty of crossing a river even half the size and grimaced. He could do it if he had to.

"A formidable obstacle, yes?" Came the elven voice of Tiraldórë and Valentai nodded as he turned.

"It is indeed. Two hundred yards at least at this point." He told the elf who nodded.

"There are only three places where the river is narrow enough to bridge adequately. Osgiliath is built on one such point. The second point is where you suggested, north of Cair Andros. The last point is far to the south, near the entrance to the sea."

"It is a help though. If it were even half as wide, the enemy could cross anywhere." Valentai pointed out.

"Indeed my friend. It is a help and a hindrance." Tiraldórë said.

"It seems the two captains get on well." Valentai said lightly and Tiraldórë grimaced slightly.

"They do indeed. It is probably fortunate that the war came when it did as it broke up their relationship. That is a terrible thing to say but it is true." He said and Valentai looked from him to the two.

"How do they feel about each other?" He asked and Tiraldórë shrugged.

"I have no idea. They are friends and not especially close. Lauronwë is a better friend than he will be which is not to demean Aronwë." He said the last words quickly so he would not be misjudged.

"I can see I still have much to learn about the web of friendships between these armies." Valentai said and the elf nodded.

"I can see how difficult it could be. We pick up one change at a time but you have to grapple with them all which is not easy." Tiraldórë said earnestly and Valentai nodded.

"How do we cross the river with the horses?" He asked.

"We do not." Tiraldórë said and Valentai looked at him. "We cross by boat with half the escort. The remainder stay here and look after the horses. We walk from there. Besides, it is not good country for riding." The elf said and Valentai sighed.

"Why have neither these elves nor the dwarves taken horses into account?" Valentai asked, not expecting an answer. The ambassador merely chuckled and walked back to the camp. Valentai looked over the great river a last time and then turned back as well.