Thanks to everyone! I'm also working on continuing my Silmarillion tale, The Court of Ardor.
Beneath Aldarion's House
Damn, this bite itches. I'm going to clean that oversized rat's teeth if it's the last thing I do…demon or no demon.
Holding up a lantern, the mercenary's feet sloshed through the water in the basement of Aldarion's House, a structure that was once the glory of Lond Daer. The explorers had come in through the sewer entrance into what looked like a commode.
"Creepin' into the king's privy…just the way I like it," he muttered as he scratched the wound on his belt.
Haedorial examined their surroundings and shook his head. "Looks to be more of a dormitory for the servants rather then the king's privy. I'd say the royal quarters would have been above us, but washed away by time. Look out for the sea urchins," he said as water sloshed around them.
Valandil led the way through the dormitory into a hall filled with water. A stone door was partially wedged open and the sound of the water slapping against the rock echoed.
"There's a lot of silt out here," said the knight as he entered the hall. His lantern cast an eerie glow which the group followed. Sloshing through the silted walkway, they wandered through empty rooms, shorn of their Númenorean glory by the passage of eons. Everywhere they went, Haedorial would scribble notes in his book.
"Damn silt…damn rats," Mercatur muttered. It seemed that the further they went, the worse his mood became. He caught the bard staring at him and locked the smaller man in eye contact. Haedorial quickly looked away.
That's right, bookmaster, you think you know it all, huh?
Mercatur grunted and the wound burned like he was being stung by bees. This time he bit at it to ease the itching. That poultice Firiel gave me isn't working anymore. This is driving me mad. I wish that bard would stop babbling about all that lost history crap.
As he massaged the wound, they sloshed past three wide staircases up, which were clogged in rubble and debris.
"We're not getting up that way," said Valandil as he prodded the massive stones with his sword. "Just one of those rocks weighs a ton or more, I'd guess."
"Aldarion's House would have been mighty indeed," Haedorial chimed in. The bard glanced back at Mercatur and his eyes betrayed his fear. "We must hurry, good knight," he urged Valandil, "We must hurry."
They pressed on through ever deepening waters, until the silty morass was up to Mercatur's knees. The mercenary grunted in pain, holding the wound tight. He set his lantern down on a stone that protruded from the water. "I've got to sit a moment."
Firiel rushed to him, leaving a wake behind her. She felt his forehead. "You're burning up! Valandil, we've got to stop. Mercatur is feverish. The wound's infected."
"It's nothing, woman. I just need a moment's rest."
She ignored him and began mixing another herbal pack. "Here, I need to dress the wound. Let me see it…damn, stop being so stubborn," she said with an edge of frustration and seized the injured arm. She unwrapped the red bandages and took in a deep breath. "It's not clotting. It's completely infected…. How can that be? It's only been a few hours."
"Just burn it already. I've been through worse."
Firiel was about to say something when Haedorial interrupted. "Kind lady, if you could spare a moment of time, I may be able to shed light on this situation. I need you to step over here, however."
Firiel nodded and set down the finished herbal pack. "Mercatur, apply it to the wound," she advised and then stepped away with the bard.
Mercatur did as he was told. Never cross the lady when it comes to herbs and stuff. I'd just as soon she burn this stuff out though. As he held the pack to his injured arm, he saw Firiel's eyes grow huge as Haedorial told her something.
He felt a surge of anger. What's he told her? I don't like no secrets. He stood and took a couple of sloshing steps, but something called to him. He stopped and turned about. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" one of the men in red shirts asked. "I didn't hear nothing."
Firiel's eyes widened in horror as he told her about the Nurga. "If I'm correct, the ancient Beffraen were occasionally afflicted with lycanthropy…they were shapeshifters. I don't know if any of your herbs can help him."
"There must be something we can do?"
The bard looked from side to side. "We must watch him. It seems that the disease has spread much more quickly than normal. He could succumb to the malaise within hours."
Mercatur's outburst caught everyone's attention and Haedorial grabbed Firiel with strong hands. "We must press on and quickly. We don't have much time."
Trying to focus the visions that had been passing through his head, Haedorial led the group onward into a series of large rooms. "This was the smithy," he announced as he waded into the middle. As he raised his lantern, the reflection of a hundred lights illuminated the room. Firiel gasped as the lights twinkled off of the dark water. Haedorial looked up and, to his amazement, an elaborate chandelier dangled above them. "Such was the mastery of the Númenoreans that their works could withstand the tests of time. Ahhh, what have we here?"
"Careful, now," said Firiel, cautioning him.
He reached down slowly and brought up a coil of wire and a small, silver hammer. He slowly examined the coil and then handed it to Firiel. "I think you could make use of this – it's a coil of Numenorean bow string. Incredibly preserved, it I might add."
"And the hammer," she asked.
"I suspect it belonged to the smith. It has a few barnacles and things growing on it, but it should be as good as new with a little work. Just at a glance, I'd say it was mithril…but I can't be sure."
Valandil took a quick look. "Sounds like we're on the right track."
Haedorial nodded. "Indeed we are. We must keep moving though," he said as he led them from the smithy back into the hall. He kept up a good pace, wading quickly through the silt toward the southern face of the basement. He reached another open doorway into the stone and pointed urgently. "I feel that the way is through here. Something is drawing me." Through the dim light, he saw Mercatur's pale face and knew that time was running out.
The bard strode through the muck toward the rear of the large chamber and began probing the walls. "It's here…I know it must be here."
Firiel came up and stood beside him. "What are you looking for?"
"A secret door…I sensed it in a vision."
In the distance, a shriek echoed down the corridor and a chill ran down Haedorial's spine. "The Nurga, it's coming…." He began to press at the wall more urgently and Mercatur began to twitch. The bard pointed back and called to Valandil, "Watch him!"
He turned back to the wall, not wanting to see what was coming. "Focus…focus," he whispered to himself. As the Nurga's wails grew in volume, Haedorial's hands found the niche in the stone and he pressed forward. A deep click was heard and then the roll of tumblers. "We're in!" he yelled back and then pushed the wall back.
Haedorial rushed in and almost fell down a long stairway. He braced himself on the rusted railing and Firiel caught him, holding him steady.
"Hurry," she said and he sped down the stairs along with the murky water. Screaming and the sounds of fighting echoed downward and Haedorial's breath came in ragged gasps and his heart pounded like the hammer of a smith. He landed in a deep pool of water at the base of the stairs and water splashed all around him. He quickly pushed open the stone door and the muck flowed into an unseen room.
Firiel was hot on his heels and the sound of screaming grew fainter.
Dear Varda…dear Varda…save us!
Haedorial could hear Mercatur bellowing in pain while hewing about with his axe. He pushed his way past the opening and he was greeted by an unexpected sight.
By the Valar, do my eyes deceive me?
His eyes swept across a long room, new, as if the tile had just been laid. The walls were whitewashed and a crystal chandelier dangled above, lit with tiny points of light. A man stood at the center of the room, dressed in archaic Númenorean robes. Before him stood an ebony pedestal, which held a large crystal rhombus. The man's hair matched the pedestal except for streaks of gray at his temples. He turned and looked at Haedorial and motioned to the crystal, which gave off a faint, violet light.
This cannot be. How could he survive so long? thought Haedorial. What does he want me to look at?
The bard stepped forward on clean, white tile, inching toward the crystal. He looked into the man's eyes, which were just empty sockets and he gasped. The man pointed urgently toward the rhombus.
I must look…I must.
At the base of the stairs, Firiel looked back up, aiming her lantern that way. Screaming and snarling echoed downward and her gut tightened at the horrid sounds. Valandil appeared at the top of the stairs and she breathed a sigh of relief. His sword was bloody and his surcoat was covered in gore.
"Don't wait!" he ordered and waved her ahead. Then, he turned and she could hear him slashing at something.
She moved through the door into a long, abandoned chamber. Water surged into the room, swirling on the floor. In the lantern's light, she could see Haedorial sloshing toward the center, where an ebony pedestal stood, holding a glowing crystal.
"Haedorial, what is that?" she asked, but he didn't seem to hear her. Instead, he looked blankly into space, talking to someone who wasn't there. "Who are you talking to?" she asked in a near panic.
The sound of people running down the stairs could be heard now and then the splashing of feet in water. Valandil rounded the corner and turned with sword in hand. "Something's wrong with Mercatur! The last two workmen are dead. The Nurga is just behind me!"
Firiel set her lantern down and drew her bow. She had restrung her bow with the Númenorean wire and nocked an arrow. Valandil squatted into a defensive stance and set his sword to thrust. His chainmail glistened in the dim light and he looked back at Firiel. "We'll make our stand here."
As shrieks erupted into the chamber, followed by the giant lycanthropic rat, Valandil drove his sword into the beast's chest. An arrow followed, sinking deep into its flank. The Nurga wailed and hurled Valandil back into the silt with a blow from his arms. Mercatur walked in behind the Nurga, twitching and growing hair by the second.
Firiel fired another arrow into the Nurga as Valandil struggled to rise in the muck. She moved to reach out to the knight, but her vision was blinded by an intense light. She tried to look away, but the whiteness surrounded her. The thought she saw Haedorial take out the corroded mithril hammer and strike it on the crystal. A tune rang from the blow and Firiel's ears were filled with the reverberating tone. Everything seemed to move in slow motion and she could see the Nurga flailing about, thrashing water and silt.
Firiel tried to call out to Valandil, but her voice was lost in the ringing of the hammer. Her legs seemed weighted as she moved ahead and she grabbed the knight by his surcoat. The Nurga shrieked and looked down at them. Firiel tried to draw her short sword, but the silver hammer flew past her and imbedded itself into the Nurga's chest.
The beast let out an unearthly wail and clutched at the hammer, but to no avail. It staggered and struggled in the intense light while Mercatur covered his rat-like eyes. With a final gasp, the Nurga pitched over backward, falling into the muck-filled water.
Then, all went dark except for the fluttering flames of the lanterns.
Firiel looked around, trying to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. All that could be heard was the groans of the Nurga and the lapping of water.
Haedorial stirred. "What happened? Where did the man go? What happened to the room?" The bard strode up to the dying lycanthrope as it breathed its last. He reached down to take the mithril hammer from its chest and the body began to writhe and change before their very eyes. It twitched violently, causing everyone to take a step back, including Mercatur, whose rat-like transformation had been reversed. The beast shrank until its form was that of a short, squat man, covered in blueish tattoos.
Firiel looked on the body with horror. "Was that…a Beffraen? How did you kill it?"
The bard looked equally stunned. "I…I think so. The man," he said, pointing back to the crystal. "He was Númenorean. He reminded me that lycanthropes cannot tolerate silver…and mithril is the finest silver in Middle Earth. Didn't you see him?" he asked, looking around.
Firiel shook her head. "I saw no one else."
Suddenly, Mercatur spoke, "Angmar's Bones, what happened? Where am I?"
The healer rushed over to see Mercatur's look of confusion. "You were infected by the Nurga…you were becoming a lycanthrope."
"A changeling…a shapeshifter."
The mercenary slapped the palm of his hand to his helmet. "Oh, great. What now?"
Firiel took his arm forcefully and unwrapped the bandage, to reveal a clean wound. "By the Valar, this wound is nearly healed. I'd like to take credit, but I think something else is at work here."
Mercatur shrugged. "It takes more than an oversized rat to bring down a Rhudauran," he said with a smirk. "So, bardie, what's that crystal you found? Is it worth anything?"
Haedorial let out a sly smile – the tension in the group had dropped remarkably and everyone seemed almost giddy. "What we have here, my friend, is Aldarion's own seeing room. As you may know, the Palantíri were given to Elros Tar-Minyatur, the First King of Númenor, who was of course, the brother of Elrond."
"Yah yah, get on with it," the mercenary said with a groan.
"Of course, dear mercenary…Why, many great gifts were also given to the Númenoreans by the elves to include seeing stones such as this."
"Well, that's great and all, but we've been hunted by an overgrown rat, nearly drowned, and all over this freaking basement…where is the Mithril Room?"
Firiel nodded at Mercatur's words – indeed, she was impatient at the bard's need for drama.
Haedorial took it all in stride. "Patience, dear fellows," he said and stepped back up to the crystal. "All shall be revealed."
The scene was magnificent. The rhombus came to life and glowed with an inner light that reflected violet hues across the room. As if by magic, the waters receded and the bare stone was replaced by white tile.
"Behold, the glory of the Númenoreans!" called Haedorial to wondered gasps.
Valandil staggered in awe as he stood in the room as it was in the days of the mighty kings of old. In the corner of the room, a fountain sprayed water over silver and gold figures of the Valar. Tall men of Westernesse strode into the room, led by a tall king, who towered over the knight and his friends. They gathered for the worship of the Valar and celebrated their kinship with the elves.
Haedorial motioned for them to follow and they walked through the walls like ghosts. Valandil gasped, but he stayed behind the bard as they moved through solid rock and sand to the nearby tower of Minas Iaur. There, they floated to the surface and saw the magnificence of the great city – tall spires; massive, squat sea walls; and a port that left Tharbad in shame.
Haedorial pointed to the ground. "Here, beneath us lies the Mithril Room."
Then, all went dark for a moment. Valandil opened his eyes and they stood on the wind blown dunes over ruined stone walls. "We're back on the surface?"
The smell of sea water and the sound of the surf filled his senses and Haedorial nodded. "Indeed, we are. Are you ready?"