Chance Encounter: Legacy of the Third Age
Note: This is the fourth instalment of the Chance Encounter series. The previous instalments are Chance Encounter, Chance Encounter: Pirate Kingdom of Troy and Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth. It is recommended that you read those before you read this one, or else you'll be very confused. On the other hand, if you're interested in this story but can't be bothered reading all the previous ones, send me a message (complete with a way for me to send a reply to you) and I'll send you a summary of the previous instalments.
Finwë was King of the Noldor. The sons of Finwë were Fëanor, and Fingolfin, and Finarfin...Fëanor was the mightiest in skill of word and of hand, more learned than his brothers; his spirit burned as a flame...He became of all the Noldor, then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand...he it was who, first of the Noldor, discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the Earth might be made with skill.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion.
Germany, 437 B.C. (1349, Third Age)
The wind and the rain lashed his body. His drenched robes stuck to his skin. The old man cursed and struggled to free his beard from a bush which seemed determined to trap him. Asatarë had never thought that he would need to take a mortal form. He had been quite happy in Aman, not enquiring about anything which was happening in the East and focusing on his arts with the wind and the air. However, Manwë had had other plans for him, and one did not refuse Manwë. Asatarë had been surprised when he had heard that he had been summoned. Although he was a Maia, he did not have the great power or wisdom of the likes of Melian and Olorin. (1)
Lightning lit up the sky, and more rain poured down. Would this dratted storm ever stop? The canopy of the forest gave him little shelter. Small droplets gathered on the leaves and became bigger droplets. In the end, Asatarë ended up as wet as he would have been if he had been travelling out in the open.
Under his arm, he clutched a chest of metal. Manwë had entrusted the chest and the item inside it to him. It was his task to keep it hidden. 'Why in this cold, wet and miserable place though?' wondered Asatarë. Perhaps the Vala had thought that this would be a safe place, being somewhere in the middle of the wilderness and in a world which no one, save for Eru and the Valar, knew about. But did it really have to be somewhere so wet?
And his treasure? On its own, it was almost useless. That son of the Noldor, Fëanor, had made it before he had made the Silmarils, and it was one of four jewels. "Alone, they have not the power to do much," Manwë had said. "Together, they are a force to be reckoned with, if they should fall into the wrong hands." The Maia did not know who else had been sent to guard and hide the other artefacts, but he pitied them, just as he pitied himself.
"Who knows?" he told himself in an attempt to be optimistic. "Maybe they have ended up somewhere even wetter and colder." He longed to light a fire, but he had no means to start one without using his otherworldly skills, and that would attract far too much attention. Who knew what dwelt here in this dark forest? He did have a tinderbox, but no fire would be able to burn this soaking wood.
Asatarë was so occupied with his predicament that he did not notice that he was being watched, that was, until he felt something prodding his back, and heard a harsh guttural voice saying something in a language which he did not understand.
The group of barbaric warriors escorted Asatarë back to the village. Their bodies were completely covered with tattoos, and it was hard to tell what colour skin they had. The village was a cluster of
low buildings built out of wood, and with thatched roofs. The Maia glared at them, wishing that he had a more sinister appearance.
One of the warriors shouted something. The villagers came out to see what the commotion was all about. All Asatarë could see was the gleam of their eyes. It was rather dark; these people did not seem to be fond of torches or lamps. Someone pushed through the gathered villagers. As he drew closer, Asatarë deemed that he was their leader, for the warriors dipped their heads in deference to him. The leader barked out something. Before the Maia knew it, someone had snatched the chest and the jewel from him.
"Give me that!" said the Maia, but since he did not appear too impressive, no one paid him any heed. The leader shook the chest. On seeing that there was something inside, he and his warriors tried their best to open the lock. The Maia wished he could do something to deliver himself, but he wasn't supposed to use his skills to harm people, not unless they were harming him. And while they had captured him, these people did not seem interested in injuring him. "That comes from Aman, do you hear me? Aman!"
The leader growled, and with one swift move, grabbed Asatarë by the neck, causing the Maia to drop his staff in surprise. He jerked his head in the chest's direction. The meaning was clear; he wanted Asatarë to open the chest. Without his staff, he was helpless, and the Maia had no choice but to do as he had been commanded. 'Manwë will not be pleased,' he thought. He opened the chest.
"Don't you dare touch it," he told the gathered people. "It's dangerous. It's from Aman." That didn't make much sense, but the Maia was just saying it for the sake of saying something. They didn't understand him anyway.
There was a collective gasp. From inside the chest, light issued forth. The jewel was glowing. "Isil," said Asatarë. That was the only thing he could think to say to them, and speaking to them made him feel more secure, as if he was somehow in charge.
"Ah-mahn," said the leader, not taking his eyes off the jewel, but making no move to take it out of the chest. "Ee-sihl." He pronounced every syllable slowly and deliberately, as if he was having trouble forming the sounds.
The villagers copied him, mangling the pronunciation. Asatarë didn't care. While his captors were occupied, he was inching towards his dropped staff. It was within his reach. The Maia grasped it. Manwë's plans were not about to be foiled by a group of enraptured barbarians. He pointed his staff at the leader. An unseen energy threw the man away from the chest and the jewel within. He flew back a few feet.
Panicked shouts were raised. All eyes turned to Asatarë, and he could sense their fear. Secretly, he was glad that it did not take much to intimidate them. Keeping his staff trained on the chief, Asatarë closed the lid of the chest and locked it again. No one moved, except the leader of this village. He got up, and then he did something which Asatarë had not expected. He bowed to the Maia, and the rest of the tribe followed his example.
From that day onwards, Asatarë stayed close to this tribe. The people seldom saw him, but all knew of him and his miraculous shining jewel. They believed he was a servant of their gods, and he did nothing to disprove that. The chief ordered a tall pillar to be built to house the jewel. The Maia could hardly object. These people were naive; they did not know what the jewel really was, and they had treated him well after his first encounter with him. There was no reason not to go along with their plan. They called the pillar the 'Tree of Life,' for it was built in the shape of a tree, and they believed that the shining jewel which it housed gave it life. For them, it was a link between the mortal realm and that of the gods. As for the jewel, they called it by the two words which Asatarë had used to describe it. Since they could not pronounce the Quenya, it gradually became known as the Irminsul.
Over the years, the tale of the jewel and Asatarë was all but lost, but the pillar remained. Irminsul, rather than being the name of the jewel which it housed, now became the name of the pillar instead. It hardly mattered to these primitive tribes. They came here to worship, and to ask favours of their gods. Asatarë watched this from afar, always on guard for anything that might threaten that which he guarded.
Germany, 772 A.D.
The trees were burning. The screams of horses and men were drowned out by the clamour of clashing weapons and colliding shields. The roar of war broke the tranquillity of the forest. In the midst of it all was a young man. His short fair beard was stained with the blood of his enemies. Red dripped from his blade. He shouted in Latin to his troops, and they surged forward, encouraged by his presence. His name was Charles, and he was the King of the Franks. Charles was a man of ambition, and his wish was to expand his rule beyond the borders of Neustria and Austrasia. The barbaric pagan Saxons of Germania were one of his main adversaries.
"For God!" he cried, raising his sword. And he truly believed that he was fighting for Christ, for was it not the duty of all Christians to convert the pagans and to turn them from their evil ways?
Asatarë could see the fires of war getting closer and closer to the pillar which housed the jewel. It was no longer safe. It pained him to see people with whom he had lived so long being destroyed, but Manwë had given him very clear orders not to interfere with the affairs of this world. "This world," the Vala had said, "is out of our jurisdiction, and you, as our servant, would do well to keep away from the business of the inhabitants. Otherwise, Iluvatar will be most displeased. We do not want to incur his wrath."
The Maia did the only thing he could do. He went to the pillar and retrieved the jewel, still inside its chest. Then he vanished into the dark forests of Germania. He did not go where he ought to go; he only knew that he had to get away from here.
Charles regarded the tall pillar, built in the shape of a tree. It sickened him. How could these people be so ignorant? Such pagan beliefs could only lead to Hell and the Devil. "Sire," said one of his captains. "I have asked the old women. They say that this is called the Irminsul, or the Tree of Life, and it is a link between Man and the pagan gods. What should we do about it?"
"Tear it down," commanded Charles. "Let it be known that no pagan demon shall withstand the might of Christ and His followers."
The soldiers hurried to obey. "What do you think, Einhard?" said Charles to his close friend and adviser. The little man beside him beamed.
"The world will remember this day," said Einhard. "The greatest of Caesars could not defeat the Saxons and destroy their pagan ways. You have surpassed them all, my lord." In his mind, Einhard was already forming a plan. It was not something particularly exciting, at least not to other men. He memorized every event of this day. When he was old, he planned to write a book about his liege, Charles the Magnificent. No one should ever forget this great Christian victory.
A/N: This is just the prologue. The first chapter should be up very soon. If that made you totally confused, send me a message, and I'll attempt to either explain it, or fix up the prologue so that it's comprehensible.
Historical note: In 772 A.D., Charlemagne, or Charles the Magnificent, did destroy something called the Irminsul. We don't really know anything about it, besides its name.
(1) Olorin was Gandalf's real name.