Wondrous is its wall-stone, laid waste by the fates.
The burg-steads are burst, broken the work of the giants.
The roofs are in ruins, rotted away the towers,
The fortress-gate fallen, with frost on the mortar.
Broken are the battlements, low bowed and decaying,
Eaten under by age. The earth holds fast
The master masons: low mouldering they lie
In the hard grip of the grave, till shall grow up and perish
A hundred generations. Hoary and stained with red,
Through conquest of kingdoms, unconquered this wall endured,
Stood up under storm. The high structure has fallen.
Still remains its wall-stone, struck down by weapons.
-“The Ruin” (unknown author) Old-English poem, 8th century.
Ost-in-Edhil. Words cannot do it justice. The Companions glide in silence in among the great ruins of this once the grandest of all Elven citadels. Although not a single structure stands unharmed, and wild growths cover most of the parts that are not all rubble, their shapes and locations give testament to how it once must have looked: geometrical and angled, completely foreign to the aesthetics that the Companions have encountered before, as unlike Annúminas, Deadman’s Dike, Twisted Hill or Tharbad as to Rivendell. Wordlessly, Hunter disembarks and drags the canoe and Jack up onto the bank, and the others follow. Jack’s heart beats fast.
“I don’t like this,” says Hunter. “I… sense something.”
“Yes,” says Eldacar coming up next to him, “I sense it too. A presence. Something foul has taken abode in this place.”
“It was a mistake to come here, I told you all along!” says Salabon. “We should leave this place at once. In fact, I know of a place not far from here, where there is rumoured to be these healers…”
Beoraborn takes up his usual stance when he has the urge to slay something evil. “No. We have come this far. I wish to see this place.” Jack is already far ahead.
“Jack!” calls Hunter, suddenly fearing for his friend once more, but he is relieved to see the Hobbit turn around, smile and wave. “Very well, we stay on the paths, we do not enter buildings without cause, and we stick together.”
They walk among the eerie and desolate structures, all angles and alien design, even to Eldacar. Whatever these Noldo built here, it looked like nothing else in all of Middle-Earth.
“Why is it so dreary here, Eldacar?” asks Salabon.
“I know not,” replies the Elf. “It is possible that these stones retain some of the essence of what transpired here. It is known to me that the Enemy appeared among the smiths and bade them craft for him magical talismans that he could force his will on others, and that when found out he destroyed this place. But that is literally thousands of years ago, before Westernesse was swallowed by the oceans. And the Elves that dwelt here are as alien to me as they are to Men or Hobbits. I have no knowledge of their ways, save that they were builders and delvers, wise and ingenious.”
“Were they all slain by the Enemy?” asks Salabon.
Eldacar smiles hollowly. “No, my friend, they were not. But they left this place, after its destruction, and went from this world. From the Grey Havens they set forth on the final journey across the Sea.”
“We must be weary for new Haunts”, observes Hunter. “Like the stones that bewitched Jack, I can sense these stones murmuring.”
“Yes,” says Eldacar. “There are voices in them still, but I do not understand all that they say. I do not believe them to be evil, but caution is certainly good.”
“Look at this,” rumbles Beoraborn. “A sign!” And true enough. They have reached a crossroads, and by the side stands a signpost, almost entirely covered in ivy, but still standing, after so many years. He reaches up and clears the sign. “What does it say?”
“To Khazad-Dûm,” says Eldacar. “To Moria.”
“Moria!” exclaims Salabon.
“Oh yes,” says Eldacar. “The Dwarves of Moria were great friends of the Hollin-Elves.” He is unable to explain more, as Hunter exclaims: “Where is Jack?”
The others look around, and there is no sign of him.
“Confounded!” cries Eldacar. “That Hobbit should be kept in a sack!”
“Fool of a Fleetfoot, where are you know?” cries Hunter.
Tracking Jack in the dust is easy: these roads have not been traversed for centuries. They lead through some garden where the immaculate fountain still spouts water, through a hedge under which the Hobbit could easily have snuck but the Men have to cut through, and through some derelicts. The tracks lead into a building that seems to be largely subterranean, and Eldacar exclaims: “The Halls of the Smiths! These are the Halls!”
At the same moment Hunter cries out in excruciating pain. He savagely grips his head, and falls to the floor, twisting in agony. Eldacar, wise in his Elven ways, instantly reacts and pulls the blank amulet from Hunter’s neck, ripping it loose and tossing it along the corridor. The pain leaves Hunter immediately. “Jack!” he pants, but the others can naught but nod grimly: They all understood well enough. Jack is in dire straits once more.
They enter the hallway, cautious and weary. Hunter still struggles with echoes from the visions he received from Jack: Flames, beating wings, terror. Dragons? He spies a rack with medallions upon the wall, it is clear that one is astray, and but the scuffmarks in the dust, Jack has taken it. Hunter gazes upon them, but is seized by violent visions, and imagines them to be imprinted with the Burning Eye he has seen in visions before. “Beware!” he cried. “Evil talismans! Do not touch them!” Eldacar examines the amulets, and conceives them to be some sort of key.
“We may have need for these, my friend,” says he, reaching for one.
“No!” cries Hunter, and pushes him away. “I will not have yet another of my friends endanger himself so!”
Eldacar sees the desperation in his friend’s eyes, and considers. “Feredir, listen to me. We will need these. I can see that they are…”
“Should any of you fall to the temptation I will be forced to strike you down,” says Hunter, drawing his sword. “I cannot allow you to endanger us all!”
The others, shocked, take a step back. “Very well! As you say. Lead us on.”
Hunter turns his back and picks up his medallion, carefully stowing it in a strip of leather, Eldacar smoothly pockets four amulets.
Down and down, the corridor leads. They enter some sort of cave system, where there is also a road leading to an underground river. Clearly these were subterranean loading docks. Eldacar speaks a formula, and makes light appear from his hand, illuminating their progress. Hunter is awed. He is also starting to shake off the shock from earlier, but he is still slightly distracted.
“What tracks do you read?” asks Salabon.
Hunter looks down, and spies Jack’s immediately. But he is not alone. “By the love of the Valar…”
“What is it, brother?”
“These tracks, they were made by a dragon!”
There is no hesitation. No second thoughts. The Companions know Jack Fleetfoot is in danger, and they have to rescue him. An unspoken bond ties them together.
“It is weak,” observes Hunter. “It shuffles its feet and veers. It is dragging its wings. But it is large.” They’ve followed the tracks through a second tunnel, down below the first. There are many dragon tracks. “However, I believe it is somehow trapped. I seems to be circling the same areas.”
They are entering a new tunnel now, and before them two enormous door are revealed. Then, a booming voice: “ELF! I command all lesser beings, tremble before my might, and remove the Elf, or I will kill this one under my thrall!”
The Companions halt, shocked, but as the voice repeats its command, frantic glances and gestures decide it best for Eldacar to move out of sight.
“Lo, the Elf is gone now from this place, pray may we see our friend?” Hunter calls out, and the massive doors slide open. The three Companions are nearly overwhelmed with terror, when before them a terrible dragon appears, Jack Fleetfoot mesmerized behind it, moving towards the back of the great chamber, a small door set in the wall.
“Puny Manling! Puny Manling! That you dare face ME here, in mine own lair, speaks of your courage? I will devour you now, that songs may be sung of your demise – an honour to you! Unless you are Elf-friends, then I shall enjoy torturing you slowly!”
“Please, I beg!” cries Hunter, immediately. He casts one glance at his friends, his eyes alerting them.
“No Elf-friends are we, O Magnificent One, but pilgrims come to marvel at your august presence! The wicked Elf caught us and forced us down here, the better to snare you! It was only your glory that frightened it away, saving us! We thank you, Radiant Master, if you must devour us, it truly will be an honour.” and he bows, nudging the other two to follow suit.
Hunter has recalled Bilbo Baggins’ notes on dragons and their vanity: even obvious false flattery falls favourably with most dragons, and it seems to be working. The dragon appears to soften up somewhat. It is clear, however, that not all is as it should be with it. It is pale: almost translucently white, with only the mere hint of a tinge of green, blue or black. Its eyes milky and its form withered and sinewy. Its wings do not appear to have been large to begin with, but seem as shrunken and shrivelled as the rest of the beast. It is perhaps thirty feet in length, but appears somewhat stunted.
“Your words… It has been long since words so pleasing befell mine countenance. I should keep you… THE HUNGER! It consumes me! I must eat you now!” bellows the dragon.
“Oh, Jewel of the Skies! I beg of you, if you are in need of servants, please allow us to act as such, it would be an unspeakable honour! Is it not better with vassals to serve, who can attain substantially more sustenance than a mere mouthful? We can find food!”
“Do not presume, little thing! You ARE food!”
Feredir grovels. “I mean no offense, your Majesty! I only beg you consider this; who will praise you, serve you, worship you?” The dragon pauses.
Salabon is impressed. For someone usually so outspoken against deceit and trickery, Hunter’s training as an Outrider infiltrator has never been more apparent than now. And he is good at it!
“Your words ring with the echoes of sense and truth, and truly I did not think of that. But it means little, my hunger ails me now!”
Hunter turns to Beoraborn. “Quick! Run into the woods and fetch some large game! I saw deer tracks just outside the citadel. And you!” he looks at Salabon, and very discretely glances down at Salabon’s herbal pouches. Herbs does not fail to interpret the glance. “I shall aid him,” he says.
“NO! You will remain here, none shall leave! Bring the Elf to, that I may devour it! This I command!”
“Oh, but surely you have no desire to eat the Elf,” cries Salabon, “when it is common knowledge that they are very poisonous!”
“What is this foolishness?”
“’Tis true, I am a healer, I am versed in these matters!”
“Then I shall devour you in its stead!” bellows the beast and rears.
“Oh no! You must not! I have inside me the blood of the Kings of Númenòr, there is some Elven blood even in me!”
The dragon visibly recoils at Salabon’s words. “Unclean thing!! REMOVE HIM FROM MY SIGHT! NOW! I shall kill you all!”
Salabon has no choice but to leave, and Beoraborn uses the opportunity to bolt away. This suddenly leaves Feredir standing alone in front of a clearly mad and starved dragon. He swallows. Prospects do not look good.
Before the dragon has a chance to act, he cries, “Glorious creature! By what line are you begot? Of what mighty destroyer are you the son? For surely, your lineage is the noblest of all! I beg you, tell me your name that I might cry it at the top of my lungs in sheer idolatry!”
“My line? Name?!” the dragons pits. The air seems to almost ignite before it. “It is incomprehensible to the likes of you!”
“Oh, indulge me, Radiant Lord, let me bask in the song that it must be to hear!”
The flattery seems to be working rather well, and Feredir finds himself breathing a short sigh of relief. He soon steels himself, however; weakened it might be, but this immense monster could still kill him with but a thought.
“My name… is [incomprehensible to mortals].”
“Astonishing! Marvellous! Beautiful! But what may I call thee, the better to dress my worship?”
“You may address me by my mortal name, which is…” The dragon grows visibly confused. It shrinks in on itself as it mutters and spits. “Elves, filthy stinking lying Elves! They must be destroyed! They have taken it all. Taken it!!” Then it remembers itself, and it pulls itself up to its full height again. “You may call me Turukulon, and TREMBLE BEFORE ME!”
Jack Fleetfoot swims. He swims inside his own head, confused, afraid, broken. Only partial glimpses of what transpires around him does he fathom, most importantly that it now is his great pleasure to serve the most magnificent lord of all, the dragon Turukulon. Jack is only partially aware of another soul sharing the small chamber with him, chained to the wall and a mask of iron covering its head and face. No, Jack has more pressing matters, and he looks around him, the room being filled with pieces of precious metals. He picks one at random, and finds in his hands perfect tools. He starts shaping the platinum: when he is finished, the most perfect likeness of Dread Turkulon will be a fitting offering to his new Lord.
Beoraborn runs. He is heading straight for the woods and as he is running so does his shape bend and ripple, until it is the shape of a bear running in his path. Beoraborn is an excellent hunter. In his shape of a bear he is nigh-unchallengable. Before long, the shaggy form disappears among the hollies, his thick hide not even phased by their rasping blades.
Salabon is in distress. He has left his brother to his own devices, in front of a dread beast, the worst they have ever feared. He must go back! He braces himself, turns, and is about to retreat down the passage, when he is violently dragged backwards, a hand clamped over his mouth.
“Hush!” breaths Eldacar. “I can hear all from this vantage point. I know Feredir’s intent!” He releases Salabon. “Go back outside, and forage; find the most potent killer your skills and lore can identify. Treat the meat Beoraborn brings down, and let us pray the beast is sufficiently dwindled that its senses do not detect the treachery. Now go!”
Salabon is still distressed, but his Elven Companion has given him purpose, and to this he leaps.
Meanwhile, Feredir has used every trick learned from Bilbo Baggins to entice, charm and flatter the beast. He has even managed to trick the dragon to roll, revealing to his eagle eyes the birth spot, the imperfection caused by the Wrath of Eru that the chronicles and Bilbo has revealed. It is close to the pit of his front leg, where the skin is soft to begin with. It will be nigh-impossible to pierce it there: weakened Turukulon might be, but not slow, never slow. Its erratic behaviour has more and more begun to manifest in wild, unpredictable movements, and it is clear to Feredir that even though few can rival his quickness, it is extremely doubtful that he will be able to draw his blade and dart across the expanse to slay the beast with one blow. As much as it pains him, this calls for more subterfuge. Had he but been carrying a spear…
He has now learned that the worm Turukulon, though thousands of years old, is not as old as Colargon, nor even of the same generation of worms. According to the books from the Library of Tharbad, Colargon was present at the Fall of Gondolin: Turukulon must have been spawned millennia later, although Feredir has very little knowledge of the times past to which the dragon refers, and knows not one of the names he mentions. It is not a reliable or straightforward narrative to begin with, and Feredir is not much the wiser for hearing Turukulon’s tale. What is clear, however, is that he has been trapped in these ruins for more than a thousand years, and that he feels tricked into coming here, the Elves being who tricked him and captured him. But this makes no sense, as it is clear that the Elves left this place long before even that, and that those so skilled as to dominate these halls would have found a way to slay the dragon, not leave him trapped.
Time passes, and Feredir is growing uneasy. His friends do not reappear, and he feels abandoned and cornered. He is seriously contemplating martial action, when the dragon suddenly forcibly ejects him from the chambers, charging him to find the others and bring the meat. “I can smell it!” he roars. “You must bring it here, lest I go in search for it and come across Elves! This I command!”
Feredir runs up the stairs, and is greeted by Eldacar.
He recounts what he has learned, and Eldacar grows sombre. “I believe I can slay the beast,” he says, “though not in honest combat. Treachery and subterfuge will do this work, and if I fail we may all be doomed.”
Feredir grabs his shoulder. “It may be our only hope. We cannot leave this mad evil alive, and we need to try everything to save Jack. If we give our lives for this task, at least we sacrificed them trying to do the right thing. No one can ask more.”
Eldacar nods. He does not like it, but some times the young Ranger’s moral compass points to the only path.
Salabon and Beoraborn return, the Bejibar with a freshly killed deer over his shoulder.
“I am sorry,” wails Salabon. “I could not find any substance of enough potency to poison a foe so great. I have failed you.”
“Do not despair,” says Feredir. “We still have a chance, and one that will make Eldacar a name of legend. Hear now our plan, and may the Valar look down upon us.”
Eldacar has searched the chambers along the corridors, and found several workshops, with doors leading into the dragon’s chamber. Here, armed with strong tools, Feredir and Salabon sit poised, waiting for the dragon to leave, so they can sprint into the smaller antechamber and free Jack and the other prisoner. Eldadacar, or Bragol, sits hidden, magically veiled, in a nook in the wall around a bend where the opening is so small that the dragon must squeeze through to get to the meat. This will allow him a very brief window of time to carry out his dark business. Beoraborn takes up his place before where the dragon will appear, refusing to fall to subterfuge and intrigue. He has his mighty bow in hand, ready to face the beast and die trying.
The doors explode outwards, and the dragon, maddened with hunger, crash through the halls, trumpeting and bellowing like a rampaging beast. Feredir and Salabon run without a moments pause, and in quick strides are across the room. The dragon is now pounding up the corridor, trumpeting. Eldacar feels like relieving himself. Beoraborn grins, and says a small prayer to his Bear Totem. It is a good day to die.
Clink, clink, the manacles are broken, the mask removed, and the Companions are surprised to see a withered, frail Elf sitting before them, his eyes almost milky, his skin almost as translucent as the dragon’s. Feredir lifts the fragile form, and Salabon puts Jack into a sack. “Where to?” Feredir asks the Elf. He feebly indicates a set of doors, and they head towards them.
Within they are greeted by a set of elaborately carved Elven warriors, statues of mithril, but as they are to pass through, one of them moves! It is about to bring a menacing sword down on Feredir, as the Elf speaks a few words in a long-forgotten tongue, which stays the statue, and it becomes once more immovable. Salabon breathes a sigh of relief. So Eldacar was right: The amulets were keys, and Feredir refused to carry one. Within the chambers, Feredir carefully sets the Elf down. “Will you be safe? We needs must aid my friends.” The Elf nods, and Feredir runs. Salabon is right behind him, Jack forgotten in the sack.
The dragon explodes down the tunnels, and rounds the bend where the smell of blood leads it, maddens it. Turukulon roars so that the walls themselves shake, and the floor tremors, and launches himself at the narrow opening. For just a split second he is stuck between the walls, but just as fast he is lose. Fast, but not fast enough: In the time it takes the dragon to force its way through, Eldacar has his opportunity! Manifesting from the darkness he comes, his sword leading the way for him: The thrice-forged blade of Imladris plunges directly into the very spot Feredir has described, in such detail that Eldacar, in the timeless moment he experiences, can swear that he has seen it before. In, in plunges the blade, and the dragon breaks the very air with a shriek so piercing that Beoraborn drops his bow and covers his ears. The cry echoes down the corridors, and knocks Hunter and Herbs onto the floor. It pierces the spell that binds Jack Fleetfoot, who suddenly finds himself awake inside a dark sack smelling of raddishes.
The dragon rears around, and spies the Elf who has slain him.
“Elfling. You are my bane! You have in Turukulon reddened your glittering blade! Your sword has pierced my heart. Heed me! I curse you now! This shall be your bane.” But whatever Turukulon’s great death-curse, only Eldacar could hear them. To the others, the words were lost in the violence of Turukulon’s death-throes. So, too, is Eldacar, lost beneath the mighty worm’s form as it finally rolls over, dead.
Feredir and Salabon round the corner in time to see the dragon still its throes. “Eldacar!” cries Feredir in desperation.
But there is only silence.
Notes: Turukulon’s words to Feredir are reminiscent of Fáfnir’s words to Sigurd in Fáfnismál. Turukulon seems to emulate Fáfnir when he can, albeit a clearly demented version. Bragol’s mode of killing Turukulon is also not altogether dissimilar from the way Sigurd slew Fáfnir; Sigurd dug a large pit in the path Fáfnir used to crawl from his hoard to water, and hid inside it. When Fáfnir crawled from the gold he blew forth venom, but it flew over Sigurd’s head. When Fáfnir crept over the pit, Sigurd with his sword pierced him to the heart. Fáfnir shook himself, and beat with his head and tail. Interestingly, all similarities were coincidental at the time of play, although Turukulon did have Fáfnir-like dialogue retroactively inserted to create a stronger flavour of mythopoeia.