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Quenta Roqueni, Book One

An Adventure in Middle-earth

By Vincent Roiron and Lowell R. Matthews

With Gavin Carey, Woodrow H. Kroll III, George Photopoulos,

Trevor Sanders, and Christian Wirtnik

Copyright 1999

Chapter VI: Kirdan's Inn Quest

Kirdan remained in the unsavoury inn as his companions left on their own tasks. Rising from the table, he made his way to the innkeeper. "Excuse me, sir," Kirdan said, coughing first to get the innkeeper's attention. "I shall have need to settle accounts with you and to gather up the belongings of my companions." There was no need to leave his lord's belongings or the things of the others in this pigsty of an inn any longer.

The innkeeper looked at Kirdan with a pitiful air, but Kirdan felt some contempt and loathing in the man. Kirdan sent him an unsympathetic glance, paid the three coppers the man asked, and moved to gather up all the gear of his companions. He distributed it among the horses, which he would have to take to new lodgings. He made sure the horses were not overloaded and then took their reins into his hands and led them out of the stables and towards the Thalion. At its gates, he spoke to the sergeant posted there.

"Excuse me, sergeant," Kirdan began. "I am Kirdan, squire of Carangil D aacute;cilion. I seek to impose on you our horses and gear while I seek out lodgings here in town."

The sergeant glanced at Kirdan's livery, which bore Carangil's coat of arms, and abruptly stood to attention. Unused to this kind of treatment, Kirdan let pass some long heartbeats before he realised the man was waiting for instructions. Perhaps any knight is a real noble here, thought Kirdan. He certainly mistook my device for that of a true noble. "If your men could please help me, sergeant...." The guard platoon took charge of the horses and led them to the stable. Kirdan noticed that his master's destrier and the beautiful horse that was probably Elen aacute;rion's were already inside. "Take care of them until I'm back, please. Do you know where we can find a clean and fair inn in this town?"

"Of course, Sir, you should try the Blue Oak. Many merchants and even some noblemen go there, when they don't stay here."

"May I ask where this Blue Oak Inn is located?" Kirdan inquired of the sergeant.

"Of course, Sir. The Blue Oak is in the southern part of the town, along the Iant Formen [Northern Road], you cannot miss it! The place is a good one, and the cook is the best fifty miles around!"

"Thank you, sergeant," Kirdan smiled as he thanked the man. "You and your men have been most helpful." He then sought out this Blue Oak Inn, judging if it was the sort of place that would befit his lord. The Blue Oak was obviously a cosy place, with rich velvet cushions on the wooden benches, warm wood panelling and well-waxed furniture. The place was clean, and a wonderful fragrance came from the kitchen. Kirdan thought that the sergeant was probably right about the cook. There were a few patrons, obviously some rich merchants on their way along the Northern Road, discussing things of their trade with local clients. Satisfied by what he saw, he stepped inside, glancing leisurely about at its patrons and workers before stepping up to the innkeeper. The serving maids were charming and obviously well treated, and welcomed him with genuine smiles. The innkeeper, a kind chap with a potbelly, welcomed Kirdan: "What can I do for you, my Lord?"

"Good sir," Kirdan began, "I seek lodgings for myself and for my lord as well. Do you have any vacant rooms?"

"Yes I do, as is most often the case so early in the morning, except during the trading fair. How many of you are you?"

"Well, I think a suite would be perfect, provided there are three good beds and a room for a retinue of three. Of which I am, my good Sir, so don't call me my Lord. We also need accommodations for a half-dozen horses, and we will have our dinner here. There are two lords among us and four who will fare on a lighter meal. As for the lunch, I suppose we could have it here also, otherwise I'd warn you in advance."

"I don't have so grand a suite that you would have three single bedrooms, but two of the suites on the second floor can communicate. You will have three rooms and one for the retinue, and a resting room as well. That should be perfect. How many nights do you intend to stay?"

Chapter VII: Knightly Ventures

Checking that Carangil was following him, Elen aacute;rion started walking towards the stables to get his horse. As always, a surge of pride overwhelmed the young knight at the sight of the magnificent stallion. "Did you sleep well, my boy?" he asked the horse with an affectionate voice. "Get our horses ready," he ordered the stable hand. "We ride to the Thalion."

"My, that's a handsome fellow," Carangil chuckled appreciatively. He selected his own destrier for the occasion.

The two young nobles rode to the Thalion through the muddy streets, and soon reached its gate. Elen aacute;rion announced them, and they were immediately ushered in. A sergeant came to meet them in the yard and asked for their business. He agreed to escort them to the lieutenant's office, located on the first floor of the palace. The place was rich still, but not as well kept up as Elen aacute;rion would have believed the princely mint would be. He thought about the price of the mercenary army the prince had to maintain, and though he knew that some Houses of Arthedain grumbled about the duty asked by the King, he was convinced that Arveleg and his predecessors had made the best choice by keeping the Houses under tight control. That was what had allowed Argeleb to nearly reform the realm of Elendil some fifty years ago, until that fated day when Dunnish traitors had ambushed him, breaking the dream of a reunited kingdom with the King's death. Still brooding in those dark thoughts, Elen aacute;rion entered the lieutenant's office.

The lieutenant was still young, no more than thirty-five years, with raven-dark hair, bright and intelligent eyes, and a warm smile. Not surprisingly, he was called Gailen, "bright eyes." "I hear you suffered a misfortune while staying at the Fattened Ewe. Will you please tell me your tale, my lords," he said while looking at Carangil and Elen aacute;rion.

Elen aacute;rion was surprised that the lieutenant knew nothing of the exact circumstances of the theft. "Did not the sergeant report the theft and my intention to pay you this visit? This is strange. Anyway, it seems that someone entered the room I was sharing with my two travelling companions and relieved us of two purses and an amulet that is especially dear to Sir Berek of the Beijabar. We have investigated the matter somewhat and we have found out that there was only one thief, probably one of those Dunmen as he left traces of that perfume those scum often use." The lieutenant frowned at that. "It seems that he entered the inn through the stables. Sir Carangil's Elven companion, Master Aeglorias of the Greenwood, followed the thief to a basement in the Dunnish slum. Unfortunately, the thief escaped."

"I am sorry, Elen aacute;rion, to have you repeat your tale, but though the sergeant reported the theft, I wanted to hear it from you. With each testimony, part of the tale disappears. I suppose that since you are pretty sure that your burglar was a Dunlending, you want me to close the Dunnish town and to search it, right?" asked Gailen with an obviously pained air.

"From your reaction, Lieutenant," Carangil noted, "that would appear to be something you would prefer to avoid. I think it might be excessive at that, and could perhaps provoke unrest, even a riot. We are open to suggestions, of course, but our best bet will probably be to try to find Sir Berek's amulet by its unique nature." The lieutenant seemed obviously eased by Carangil's placatory words.

"Well, that was my initial plan," said Elen aacute;rion, "but I think we might just be able to avoid that. Even as we speak, my companions are investigating the matter. In case we are left with no other option, however, your co-operation will be greatly appreciated."

"Before such dramatic measures are taken, perhaps we should try to arrange a meeting with Rogda, the village elder."

"That sounds like it could be a very good idea, Lieutenant," Carangil nodded. "I would be more than happy to meet with him."

"You must understand that move will be unofficial, and that you will have to go there alone, even though I can offer you the courtesy of an escort. There is one thing you must understand, however. Those Daen are not like the Hillmen of Rhudaur; they don't live the way we do, but they are neither wicked nor to be bullied lightly. They accepted to live with us, and the..." he groped for the word, prince, though the word king was not far behind, "Prince... granted them many rights."

"That's important to know," Carangil nodded seriously. "Thank you. It also puts things in a different light, Elen aacute;rion. They could be convinced to help us if we approach them correctly."

"I will send one of my men to see if you can meet them. Until he comes back, feel free to visit the public parts of the palace. The gardens are particularly beautiful with the coming of the spring." Gailen stood and opened the door. A sergeant then escorted Carangil and Elen aacute;rion to the palace. He showed them the gallery on the first floor, which was decorated with busts of the former kings of Arnor and princes of Cardolan. They were also shown some beautiful but ageing mosaics and frescoes, and then the sergeant led them to one of the most beautiful gardens either had ever seen. Even in far Ithilien, Carangil had seldom seen such a nice arrangement of flowers and plants, such a well-merged relationship between architecture and gardening. The sergeant left them in the southernmost corner of the garden, which was actually an orchard. Carangil and Elen aacute;rion helped themselves to some young fruits, and enjoyed the rest.

After a while, the sergeant came back, and asked them to follow him. They went back to the lieutenant's office, where Gailen explained that a meeting with Rogda had been arranged. A young man obviously of mixed origins guided the two young D uacute;nedain into the Dunnish town. The few inhabitants they met on the streets looked at them with indecipherable eyes, neither hostile nor friendly. They soon arrived at the western end of the town, where a building was built into the base of the tower that stood above the road. Their guide knocked on a wooden door, and a burly guard soon answered the call. He ushered them in without a word, and led them to a big room, where a man sat at the end of a long wooden table, among what appeared to be some elders and councillors. Two younger men, the taller of which wore a dark-red beard and looked like a younger Rogda, guarded a familiar figure, for the young Jiff was obviously their prisoner. Elen aacute;rion and Carangil looked at him with perplexity, then Elen aacute;rion nearly spoke in anger but Carangil restrained him with a pat on the arm in a placating gesture. Elen aacute;rion looked at Carangil, and then nodded, well aware of the fact that his companion seemed more at ease with social matters than he was. Swallowing anger, he calmed down....

Chapter VIII: Hunting a Different Kind of Game

Meanwhile, Berek and Aeglorias crossed the streets and were soon at Oget's door. They were ushered in by a very surprised guardian, and a number of female heads soon appeared in the building's windows, chatting in excited tones. Aeglorias requested entry in the tone of a man obviously used to being obeyed, and they were soon in a shady resting room, where the women soon arrived, laughing and speaking in high-pitched tones.

"You should speak, friend Berek," uttered Aeglorias in Berek's native Atliduk. "I could prove too much of a distraction for those poor souls." Berek noticed a look of pity in Aeglorias' eyes, and a kind of sadness he had seldom seen before in his life.

Nodding, Berek raised his voice. "My ladies..." and was greeted by a good amount of high-pitched laughter. "Hmmm... well..." Berek said, even lowering his voice as the women approached even further, standing now nearly close enough to touch. Trying to focus on his interest in information, Berek sought out who he believed to be a group leader among the women, a slightly older woman who had already spent some time in this business and who was not as flattering as the rest of the flock.... He locked his eyes on the women in the second row.

"Please give my companion and me a moment of you time. Last night an incident happened over at the inn that proves that the streets aren't safe any longer in this town. A burglar entered the rooms of honoured guests...." Making a bit of a dramatic pause, Berek cast an obvious look to stern Aeglorias at his side, and the giggling nearly ceased. "...and stole his belongings. Now this is a severe incident, for who can say, hmmm, next time he might enter another house where he knows bounty might be made...." Berek had thought about including a hint not only about loss of money but also about criminals raping poor ladies, but he dropped the idea quickly.

"Hmmm, now the Firstborn Lord at my side and me, we want to put this criminal to an end ourselves, even before the town guard gets involved in the matter. You could take part in catching the rogue. Please, who of you have had an opportunity to watch the street in the second half of last night? Could you tell us whether you have seen anyone acting strangely and sneakily, and have you seen any Dunmen pass by?"

"Pah! Seen! You mean smelled!" said one of the younger wantons. The older one cast her a deadly glance, and the younger shut up.

"We saw nothing, Lord," said the older woman, looking at Aeglorias with awe. "But I can tell you that all the thefts were perpetrated during a stormy night, when there are few clients going in or out of the house. But why do you ask us if we saw a Dunman? Did you or your friend see the thief?"

Switching to Atliduk, Berek softly whispered to Aeglorias, "Friend, seize the opportunity to take the female who smelled someone apart and question her in detail; there is something she knows.... Threaten her with obscure Elven magic, if there is need...."

Berek stepped forward, blocking away the older woman from the younger wanton, and said in his heavily accented Westron, "Thank you very much for taking the time for us. I am sure you will give us all the help you can provide, hmmm.... Please be assured, that neither the Firstborn Lord nor I do want to misuse your time or prevent your location from attracting customers, hmmm...." Glancing sideways, Berek saw Aeglorias touch the younger female on her shoulder and gently lead her away. The older woman, who tried to keep track of the events, however, could not see anything besides Berek's bulky chest....

"Hmmm, you said, mistress.... How may I address you, lady?"

"Zeuga," came the short reply.

"Hmmm, Zeuga, you said that all of you did not see anything, hmmm.... So did you have the possibility to watch the streets last night?" The woman shook her head, still trying to keep eye contact with the separated wanton. "And then, you surely know that your, hmmm... colleagues had no possibility to watch the street neither, hmmm. I am sure that you have a leading rank in this house, yet please allow me to talk to each of the ladies separately later on, I am sure you don't mind. THEN..." Berek's voice rose for a moment as the older lady started to interrupt, "you said that all of the thefts were perpetrated during stormy night.... Hmmm... say of how many thefts do you know?" Standing ready to interrupt any physical closing of distance to the younger woman as well as any verbal outburst, Berek studied Zeuga's face carefully. What does she really know? Berek wondered.

While Aeglorias spoke in whispers with the young woman, Zeuga answered Berek, "I know of three such thefts already, and stop wondering what I know. I know nothing more, but I am an old woman, and I know that things are not always what they seem to be. Tilva there dislikes Dunlendings with passion, and has the wit of someone her age. The lord will learn scarce more than dreams and fabrications of a young dolt that wanted to attract attention. One more thing I can say: Few people would pass unnoticed close to this house, even in the heart of the night, except when there is a storm."

"How did you get to know about the previous thefts? Have there already been people investigating, and if so, who, or do you have any contact with innkeeper Mich? Furthermore, I would like to know if you can remember any hmmm... clients who visited you yesterday. Please, don't misunderstand, I know that an important part of your business is discretion. Still some clients leaving or arriving might have noticed our burglar passing by."

"Metraith is a small town, and the guards came to hear us before. And there wasn't any client last night, during the storm."

Berek grumbled, because old Zeuga seemingly told the plain truth. Taking a glance over to Aeglorias, Berek saw that the conversation he was having with Tilva was low-level activity as well. Sighing, he said loud enough for Aeglorias to hear, "Hmmm, what a pity you can't help us with any information of the nightly by-passers.... Still, thank you for your effort.... Please accept that coin to spend together with your colleagues." Maybe, Berek thought, if there is something amiss going on here, one of the younger wantons might turn out to tell us something, for surely Zeuga won't distribute that single coin evenly among the others. Reaching in his pouch, Berek produced one of the two silver coins given to him by Jiff. "I am sure the Firstborn Lord would act far more generously if we could find any helpful clues. Well, you are surely in a position to hear much of the rumours in town, so if you come across any information you deem helpful, please contact us, leaving a message at the town guard. Hmmm, O Ancient One," Berek turned to Aeglorias, who slightly winced at that name, "shall we leave then to find the truth somewhere else?"

Nodding, Aeglorias turned to the wantons. "My thanks, ladies, and my thankfulness shall increase tenfold if we can get hold of the rogue! Farewell." Followed by Berek, Aeglorias turned and left.

Once outside, Berek innocently asked, "Hmmm, Ancient One, did you learn anything useful?" He broke out in loud laughter.

Aeglorias smiled at Berek's laughter, but there was little real pleasure in it. "What a pity, so young and already so wicked! I'd never understand, I guess. Well, this Tilva knew scarce more, but she was quite convinced the shadow in the night she saw from her window was a curly Dunlending.... I would believe her to be trying to dupe me except that she was able to describe the odour of the grease. So this time or in the past, she was able to smell it. But tell me, friend Berek, if you wanted to pass for a Dunlending, what would you do?"

Seeing the mixed mood of his companion, Berek returned to his usual calm style. "Aeglorias, I did not mean to be, hmmm, disrespectful. Please excuse my dramatic posing as an humble servant of a great lord, a better actor might have played another story. Hmmm... I know that although most Men wish for a long life a long memory can be a burden as well, and I am not sure whether or not to envy you for the years you have seen. It seems that our visit brought back memories to you.... Hmmm...."

"Not exactly memories, friend Berek, though I have already seen women, either Mortal or Firstborn, reduced to such a state, or worse. I pity them, really, and all the more those Mortal women who will never know...." Aeglorias looked at Berek with a slightly troubled gaze. "It is not always easy to deal with Mortals, and I know it is not always easy for you to deal with us. Sometimes, I envy my cruder cousins the Sylvan Elves, they have little time for philosophy.... What I meant, friend Berek, is that an Elven soul, whatever the pain and suffering she meets here, will find healing in the Halls of Mandos, and then will wander on the shores of Aman, freed of evil and suffering. These women, they have only those short lives, and though I understand how Eru's gift can be a gift indeed for them, I cannot fathom how they can stand their lives...."

Walking for a few moments next to his companion, Berek decided not to go deeper into history. "Hmmm... as for the information we obtained: If I were to do some robbing, I agree, it might make sense to camouflage myself as someone else. But then, I would definitively not choose something that could give me away during the night like a certain smell, thus hindering my stealth. I would more rely on a special clothing, style of hair and such, preferring not to be noticed above passing on false information. Therefore, I think we should still assume our thief to be a Dunlending. But you are right, let's keep in mind that it is only an assumption.... Tilva described him to be curly? I wonder whether that will really help us...."

"It is easy to use grease to make your hair appear as curly, or at least quite different from what it really is. Besides, you heard the loathing in Tilva's word, so probably most people would readily consider that the Dunlendings are to blame, even if they did nothing, if the thief took every precaution to make sure people will believe him to be one of them. I think we should tread carefully, lest we commit an injustice...."

"However, Zeuga, the older one, said that there have already been three thefts, all occurring during stormy nights. It seems that the thief chooses the time for his actions carefully, therefore being not a simple robber doing his daily work, hmmm. I am not sure whether she said all she knew, for she was very swift in her reply that none of her flock has seen anything... and she really cut off Tilva when she spoke up.... Hmmm, maybe the reward offered will loosen one of these tongues, but I can't see a possibility to force them open. Ho do you judge the possibility that there was knowledge hidden from us? And, I am honoured to hear my home-tongue Atliduk from you; have you ever lived among my folk?" Giving a short bustle of sounds in Waildyth, Berek added, "Have you been taught the language of the woods as well?"

"I used to be a patrol commander in Greenwood, so I have had dealings with your kind for a long time. Your tongue is close enough to that of my Sylvan cousins, anyway. As for your signals, I am familiar with most of them, but I cannot say I master them. Besides, there is always a danger of confusion with the sounds we use in the patrols... and I know your mastery of those signals is beyond what most of us hunters and wardens use."

Walking with a steady pace during their conversation, the two soon reached the town square where they were supposed to meet with Kirdan.

Chapter IX: It Takes a Thief...

Jiff began with a tour of Metraith. He quickly discovered a pub where all patrons were obviously Dunnish (or partly Dunnish). Some of the patrons were quite suspicious-looking, but after some words with the innkeeper, he quickly realised those people did nothing worse than poach in the surrounding noble lands, or cheat their clients on the cost of materials. The innkeepers knew about the repeated robberies at the Fattened Ewe, but knew nothing special about them. Since most of those people appeared to be "honest" craftsmen or trappers, Jiff decided to head for the Dunnish high town.

Jiff climbed to the main gate, on the east side of the earthen wall, and there entered the Dunnish town without challenge. Kids in the streets eyed him with curiosity, women fled his gaze, and men were obviously indifferent. Jiff soon found a sleazy bar. The owner was a big man with a dark gaze, who didn't mind the colour of his money. The beer was awful, and Jiff took only some sips before smiling towards the owner and beckoning him to approach.... As the man did so Jiff leaned across the bar and began, in a quiet voice.... "Barkeep, I have been looking around recently, looking for something I require and it has dawned on me that, being the owner of this fine establishment, and a local of the area, you would be the man to ask, am I right?"

The man replied, "That, my 'friend,' depends on what exactly it is that you require...." He let his reply hang in the air for a moment before continuing, "If you want beer or food, I am certainly the one to ask... as for knowledge, I have some, so please expand...."

Jiff smiled, realising the landlord was playing the same game as he, and went on.... "I require the services of a few men, with, specialised skills for a job in the next few days.... Do you know where or with whom I might enquire?"

"Depends on the kind of work, lad. If you want some labourer, you should go to the low town's square in the morning..." he looked at Jiff with a horse-like gaze. "Now, if you want qualified workers, it depends on what you are thinking of. You could go to the Crafter's club...."

Jiff put a bronze piece, then another, on the counter. "Ah, I see you are serious, lad, so what kind of people are you looking for?" Jiff began to explain that he had an opportunity to help rich travellers of his knowledge to get rid of part of the burden of their numerous gold pieces.... The bar owner smiled a wicked smile. "Well, perhaps you should look for Drukha, he and his band should be there around lunch time...."

"Drukha and his band will be where? Tell me, what is this Drukha like? I can't abide working with amateurs... and how many are the number of his band?"

"He is a strong and tall man, red-haired, with a dark red beard. He commands more than a dozen people. He can fetch more if need be. These guys are real terrors around here."

"Ahhh, but is he any good? I don't want just a couple of thugs, I need people with real skills and ability—but if this Drukha fits, I'll certainly seek him out...."

"Then you will be able to judge by yourself around lunch-time!"

Jiff replied, "Then I will return here at midday. Good day to you, sir...."

Jiff left the bar and moved off around the Dunnish town. He kept a check to make sure he wasn't being followed by anyone from the bar, or elsewhere, and made his way towards the cellar which Aeglorias described to check that out....

At the entry to the food cellars, Jiff noted two guards, so he decided to walk around and try to find another way to enter. After a long search, he found a ventilator whose grille was actually disjointed. By inspecting further, Jiff saw that the bars had been carefully dislodged, in such a way that it was very unlikely that someone would notice at a glance. Jiff wondered whether it would be wise to climb down the ventilator, and decided against it, because of the risk of being either sighted or caught in the cellars by angry Dunlendings. From what he could see of the ventilator, he deduced that the man was probably quite lean, for the ventilator was narrow.

After that he wandered around in the high town, but he couldn't find any other sleazy places and nobody proved particularly willing to speak with him. He soon returned to the bar to meet with Drukha.

The man was indeed strong and tall, at least for a Dunlending. He wore a heavy beard, significantly darker than his coppery hairs. He observed Jiff from under his beer jug, and didn't speak when Jiff seated near him.

Jiff approached Drukha, carrying a mug of beer in his hand, and pulled up a chair nearby.... As the large man did not say anything, Jiff began.... "Good day to you, sir. I understand you are called Drukha?"

"Indeed I am," the man replied in a gruff voice. "What business is it of yours?"

"My name is Jiff, Jiff Breetdawn. As for my business, I asked after a man who had certain skills, or who would know of people with certain skills, and the barkeeper kindly pointed me in your direction...."

"Hmpf..." sighed Drukha. "Don't turn around the keg. What do you want."

Jiff talked for a while with Drukha, telling with half-words what he was looking for. Drukha, who was obviously shrewd, led him to tell what he didn't want to tell, that he planned to rob a nobleman. At this point, Drukha made a hand-sign, and two heavy hands fell on Jiff's shoulder. Jiff was lifted from his chair, and an angry looking Drukha told him: "You will answer of that in front of Rogda my father!"

Despite Jiff's protest, he was half dragged, half pushed out of the bar, and then guided to a building at the base of the tower that stood far above the road, in the westernmost part of the Dunnish town. They entered a big room, where a mature man, his red hairs greying but his body still muscular, sat at the end of a long table, discussing hotly with what appeared to be village elders and councillors. Jiff gulped, not knowing what was going to happen. Drukha and the older Drukha, which Jiff thought was Rogda, exchanged a few words in the guttural language of Dunmen: "Father, this weasel wanted to hire me to waylay one of the king's men."

Rogda looked grimly at Jiff, who was trying to figure out what that meant, and was asking him what he had to say to this when the door opened, and a man ushered in Carangil and Elen aacute;rion, who looked at Jiff in absolute confusion....

Chapter X: In the House of Rogda

Elen aacute;rion spent some time trying to control his anger before speaking to the Dunnish elder. "I am Elen aacute;rion Aerthoron, roquen of House Orr oacute;menya. I have been robbed by one of your people and yet came to this meeting to avoid using force against you. And now you hold one of my companions prisoner. Release him at once! You have no right to hold him! Even if he has harmed you in some way, which I doubt, you must turn him over to proper authorities."

Carangil winced and reached over to Elen aacute;rion. "Wait, please, Elen aacute;rion...."

"Be welcome in the House of Rogda, men of the King. Before we begin to trade threats, since the situation appears unclear, we must try to light it first. But unless you are a stranger to this country, like your friend at your side, you should know that I am a proper authority, by word of the king!" said Rogda in heavily accented Westron. Elen aacute;rion was somewhat startled, then realised that the man was probably speaking of Ostoher, Prince of Cardolan.

Carangil noticed that the red-haired man who looked much like Rogda appeared really upset by Elen aacute;rion's words. "Gentlemen, please, let's all calm down. Elen aacute;rion, remember how the Lieutenant told us these people are the Prince's loyal subjects and must be treated as such. Master Rogda, I will certainly give you all the honour due to your position, and I ask your forgiveness for my new friend. Both of us are strangers to Cardolan."

"Your companion asked for thugs to rob a rich king's man in one drinking-place. We don't need no more problems with you new-come people. Thanks to Frogde's quick wits, we caught you 'companion' before he found any ill-oriented people to help him in his evil deed!" said Rogda.

"And I commend your quick thinking ... Master Frogde?" Carangil cast a questioning glance towards the younger red-haired man. "Jiff was trying to find a thief by pretending to be one himself."

"Master Frogde is the innkeeper," said the younger-looking Rogda. "I'm Drukha, son of Rogda!"

"My apologies to you both, then. I am Carangil son of Anrohir." Drukha nodded in acknowledgement.

Jiff spoke up. "As I said before, I was asking those questions of you in an attempt to uncover the doer of misdeeds to my companions in an inn last night.... I really know of no nobleman entering the town tonight whom I wish to rob," Jiff chuckled. "It was just a story to try to let you reveal yourself as knowing the man who robbed us last night, though, you can't be the man, you are too large! The barman said you were some kind of criminal!"

"Do you back this boy's word?" asked Rogda, who then continued at Elen aacute;rion's affirmative. "So you here because you feel us suspicious. Why is it so?"

"Feel you suspicious? Well, if someone were pointed to in a seedy bar, by the barman, as the man I should talk to regarding wanting to do some illegal task, would you not think them a criminal? How then, sir, should I have viewed you?" Pausing for a moment, Jiff turned to Elen aacute;rion. "Besides, I found a new clue as to our thief, as soon as we can leave this place I will show you!"

Elen aacute;rion remained silent for a while, collecting his thoughts. The Cardolani must be mad, he thought, to invest common thugs with royal authority. What does this man expect me to do, beg for the money that was stolen from me? Turning to Rogda he said, "You ask me why I do not trust you? Because one of your people came into my room last night, and took all my money, leaving only the unmistakable scent of Dunnish perfume behind! And what have you done to help us catch him? You arrested the man we sent to investigate the theft! The question is not why I don't trust you, it is why I should trust you."

Carangil leaned close to Elen aacute;rion and spoke softly in Ad ucirc;naic, hoping Elen aacute;rion but no one else would understand it. "Cousin, consider this please, before you let your anger fly away with you like a skiff before a hurricane." As Elen aacute;rion obviously listened, and did not look offended by the use of the archaic language of N uacute;menor, Carangil added, "You don't know for sure that the thief had anything to do with these people. The Dunnish perfume might be a red herring. And their answer as to why they arrested Jiff is quite plausible. We'll meet our goal a lot more easily by securing their help instead of resistance."

Noticing the heat radiating from Elen aacute;rion, Jiff tried to calm the situation. "Now, friends, we should not continue with anger towards these people. Sure I was 'arrested,' but Drukha did think me a thief...." Jiff smiled towards Drukha. "Other than this mistake, now resolved, we have no quarrel with these people, and should accept their offer of help." Turning toward his two friends, he added, "Perhaps we should present to them what we know of the thief and stolen property, and see if they can give us aid?"

"That sounds wise to me," Carangil nodded. "Elen aacute;rion?" Elen aacute;rion shrugged, waiting.

"Please, I old and not understand well your quick speaking tongue!" said Rogda. "You..." he pointed to Elen aacute;rion, "...were robbed, true?" Carangil nodded in agreement. "And you..." he pointed to Jiff, "...tried to find him here. Why?"

Carangil looked over curiously. He thought he knew the answer already, but Jiff had mentioned something new....

It is a happy thing the elder doesn't speak Westron well enough to understand Elen aacute;rion's sortie, thought the young man. Realising the lack of understanding, Jiff began to speak in a slow, clear voice and short sentences. "My friend Elen aacute;rion was robbed last night," he said, pointing towards Elen aacute;rion. "A witness said that the man was wearing the perfume of a Dunnish man," he continued. "I came into your town pretending to be a thief to try to find the man who robbed Elen aacute;rion." Jiff paused, then added, "The barman at the inn pointed me in the direction of Drukha here. Drukha thought me a thief and brought me here! I now know Drukha is not our thief—indeed, he is too large to be! Do you understand now?" Jiff asked in an almost pleading voice.

Rogda smiled to the lad, and then said in Dunnish to his son, "Drukha, those men are in need of help. Please help them, since once more somebody tried to put blame on us...." He signalled him to free Jiff, who was relieved not to feel Drukha's iron grip any more. "We help you best way we can. Speak with my son, now."

Carangil could not understand the Dunnish exchange, but smiled in relief when he saw Drukha release Jiff. He did not know the young man well, but was glad that the situation seemed less and less likely to turn to hostilities as time passed.

"I am sorry, young man; you should have come to us rather than to rely on this dangerous game. The Firstborn already told us what happened. We would have helped you, and all the more so since the thief wants everybody to believe us to be guilty of the theft at this boor's place!" Though Drukha's accent was clearly Dunnish, he obviously spoke and understood Westron far better than his father. "You think you found something that would help you in your search, young man?"

"Indeed, sir, I did, whilst I was waiting for midday to arrive, and for my thief to turn up in the bar," Jiff smiled. "I took the liberty of visiting the cellar in which Aeglorias, our new Elven friend, was trapped by the...."

"You entered the food cellars," interjected Drukha with anger. But as Jiff told him he had merely observed the cellars from outside, Drukha's anger eased back.

"Though it was guarded and I could not enter, I took a look around and discovered a vent which, though barred, could easily be opened. It was designed to be thus... but the air vent is small so our thief must be of my size, or smaller...." On this point Jiff stopped, waiting for a response from Drukha or from his companions.

"And could Aeglorias not get out through it, or did he just not find it?" Carangil asked.

"I do not know, sir, whether or not Aeglorias noticed the vent, nor whether he could have used it for his own exit. It seems unlikely though as the gap is rather small, but it would be wrong of me to say either way, only he could answer either of those questions in complete truth!"

"We'll ask him when we see him again, then," Carangil replied. "Something else we'll have to ask him about—this thief seems to be able to do a lot of things we can't do but Aeglorias can. I wonder if that is significant?"

"Sir, what do you mean that our thief can do things which Aeglorias can do? To which things are you referring? And what do you mean as regards the significance? Surely not that the Firstborn and our thief are one and the same?" Jiff asked incredulously.

Carangil raised his left eyebrow. "One and the same? Certainly not. But I was just thinking it might be possible that our mysterious thief could be another Firstborn. The thief's cleverness, quickness, agility, light-footedness, and ability to operate very well on a dark, stormy night are all areas in which the Firstborn excel. (And I speak from firsthand knowledge, for I have lived among them for at least half of each year since I was six.) And consider the thief's main prize: he—or she—took Sir Elen aacute;rion's gold, yes, but also took an amulet of Firstborn make." He turned to the Dunnish elder. "That, Master Rogda, is how I and my companions came to make common cause with Sir Elen aacute;rion and his companions: Master Aeglorias does not want to see a precious heirloom uniting the Elves of the Greenwood and the Beijabar of the Anduin Vale lost."

"Ahhh, now I follow what you say, Sir Carangil," Jiff nodded, "and your suspicions seem to have a logical basis.... We should perhaps continue our investigations outside of this room then, unless these two gentlemen have anything to add which may help our quest? I would like, as I said, to take a closer look at the last known whereabouts of our thief, the cellar...."

Drukha nodded his agreement. "So your thief is as you or smaller... that means he is certainly not one of our men, but he could be a kid, or a woman. And I don't think he be one of us, because such a thing would be quickly known among our folks: He couldn't spend his money easily here, and if he went to the lower slum, he would be noticed easily by the people there!"

"As far as I can tell," Jiff said, "the knowledge we have of the thief is this: He has the skill to pick a lock, or else a key to the lock of the room.... I suspect the former due to the scratches I found on the door.... He wears the Dunnish hair ointment.... He is a fast mover, and both small and agile enough to use an air vent for escape.... Nor is our thief stupid, he had the forethought to prepare an escape for himself from the food cellar...."

"As I told you, I think he is either a kid or a woman. Most men here are herders or farmers, they couldn't use a ventilator to escape from the cellars," said Drukha.

"I believe that is all we know?" Jiff looked towards his companions, to see if they wished to add anything. Pondering for a moment, Jiff looked towards Drukha, and asked, "One final thing: Why were you angry when you thought I had entered your food cellars?"

"I thought the people I put on guard either wandered around or weren't attentive, that is all. If you want to see them, I'll show them to you, that is easy enough."

"Indeed, sir, I would be grateful to take a look at these cellars of yours, in case, in the freshness of daytime, I might spot something our Firstborn friend may have missed during the night.... Also, and this request might sound odd, I would appreciate an attempt to climb through the ventilator myself to see just how easy our friend may have found it, how much noise he may have made and so on...."

Drukha answered, "I will show you the cellar this afternoon, and you will have ample opportunity to try the vent."

Carangil turned to Drukha. "You said the thief wants us to put the blame on you. Do you then think that this person is masquerading as a Dunlending?"

"It could be, or so we think. Somebody from the village would have difficulties to sell his loot," answered Rogda.

Carangil turned back to Rogda. "There is also obviously no love lost between you and Mich at the Fattened Ewe," he mused, "and there has been a rash of thefts there from what we heard. Do you think Mich and the thief are working together and trying to blame you for it?"

"That innkeeper cries too loudly that the thief is one of us to be honest."

"So if we can solve this theft, we might be able to unravel a whole web of deceit, and Mich might be squarely in the middle," Carangil observed.

Editor's Note

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