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Quenta Roqueni, Book One

The Theives of Metraith

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 III: The Search Begins

Jiff checked his meagre purse, which was still under his neck. Jumping to his feet, the young D uacute;nadan checked to see what the thieves had taken. Relieved that they had taken only money, he turned to the others: "It seems only money is missing. I will go and have a word with the innkeeper."

"I'm sure I heard something during the night," said Jiff. "But I was sorely tired and I fell asleep again soon enough!"

"You heard something at night, hmmm.... Well, Jiff, did you hear or see anything that might help us find the thief?" Jiff slowly shook his head. "Hmmm, I think we then better try to follow these tracks and investigate the stables, maybe we can find a clue there. Elen aacute;rion, how about if you go ahead and tell the innkeeper what happened, I think you have far more experience dealing with authorities than the both of us. Jiff and I will try to find something at the stables and ask around among the lower folks."

Seeing Elen aacute;rion rush off through the doors, Berek rose, carefully looking for signs of the intruder by night. Checking first the window, then the floor, and finally the door, he tried to gain evidence as to how the thief might have entered and left the room. When he grabbed his chest, he uttered a small curse, and even reinforced his investigations. Jiff was surprised, as Berek even opened the window, looking at the outside flank of the inn, and finally uttering some strange sounds that sounded quite like a rustle in the leaves on a autumn evening. Using his Waildyth, the language of nature, Berek spoke to the wakening town: Friends of the bear, a brother needs information. Come to the inn.

Finally, he searched his belongings. How had the thief managed to get his coins? He checked to see whether his gems, including the two hidden ones, had also been taken. He was relieved to find them still in their hidden pouch.

"Well, friend Jiff," Berek said, lowering himself to one knee next to the door. "It seems we had a night visitor from outside—see these signs?" Making a sour face, he added, "Hmmm, I know I promised you we'd do some tracking, but I believed it would be a different game." Picking at the piece of mud in the corridor, Berek looked at it intensely, his nose somewhat prickling.

Following Berek out into the corridor, Jiff asked, "What do you make of these tracks, sir?" He then took a piece of the mud and tried to see if he could see what Berek could make out.

"Hmmm..." Berek replied, carefully scanning the piece of mud Jiff was crumbling in his hands. "I can't say whether or not we will find the thief, friend Jiff, but, hmmm, judging from the horse dung you are squeezing he seems to have passed next to the stables... and not very long ago, ya see, the dung is still fresh, there are still fly eggs in it."

"Ugh!" cried Jiff, throwing the dung to the ground, his face looking appalled.... He wiped his hand on the floor to remove the remnants of the dung, then went quickly to the bedroom to wash his hands in the small basin of water.

Berek had a look at the door for signs of forced entry, but didn't notice anything peculiar on the door or on the crude lock. But Jiff's keen eyes noticed small scratches on the metal: the door's lock had been picked.

"I see the scratches on the door meaning we have been burgled from the outside, but I don't quite understand what you can tell from this mud, other than it was once on the boot of a man! Do you think we'll be able to find our thief?"

"We hmmm... certainly will try! I suppose that Elen aacute;rion went to see the innkeeper. Let's follow the tracks...."

Taking the stairs with Jiff following close behind him, Berek saw Elen aacute;rion in the dining room, speaking to the innkeeper, and decided to try to find some other members of the inn's staff. The cook was the next choice, and so they entered the kitchen where they found the innkeeper's wife in the process of boiling eggs, cooking bread, and preparing other morning dishes. The woman had little to tell them: she woke early each morning and last night went to bed late, so she generally slept heavily. She was neither particularly polite nor horrified, so they suspected that she didn't care much about what happened to their money. With the number of customers on the northern road, the woman probably thought one angry client was not worth the trouble. They left, and Berek was quite convinced that they had been robbed by a person within neither the party nor the inn. Why should either have picked the lock and made all those tracks?

Berek and Jiff departed, following the tracks through the back door of the inn. Outside the ground was very muddy, nearly flooded from the rain that had fallen during the night. Berek shook his head. "I fear, friend Jiff, no tracking will serve us in this inner court. You see, the ground is far too muddy, filling all tracks with rain, and the horses destroyed nearly all signs on the ground. Anyhow, let's walk along the edges of the court, the thief must have left it somewhere, either over a wall or through the gate. Therefore, we should also take a look at the outer walls, looking for a place where the thief might have climbed down."

Bent over, almost sniffing at the ground, Berek started to trail along the edges of the court, eagerly followed by Jiff. Unfortunately, neither the inner edges of the wall and gate nor the outer walls or ground provided further tracks for them to follow.

Jiff looked disappointed and inquired, "If we can't find any more tracks, Sir, we should go and speak to some people. Whom might we first talk to?"

Berek reflected a short time, then replied, "Well, let's start with the inn people who get up early, I'd say: the kitchen staff, the stable boy, and the people delivering goods. Then, we should try out people who have been on the road at night... but only as a second step." I guess I should not go inquiring at the whorehouse together with young Jiff, thought Berek.

Re-entering the building, Berek and Jiff saw Elen aacute;rion, still involved in a discussion with the innkeeper, so they decided not to interrupt their conversation.

They had some more luck with the stable boy. He had been sleeping in the hayloft above the horses now that the weather was warmer, and last night he had heard the horses snicker loudly enough to wake him. In the heart of the night, he had seen a dark silhouette that had left the inn by the back door. He had been too afraid to challenge the silhouette, however.

Seeing the stable boy was very young and little shy, Berek lowered himself to his knees, trying not to frighten him with his sheer size. "Lad, it was good not to approach that shadow, who knows what he might have done... hmmm... young Jiff here at my side has senses nearly as keen as yours, but he was only stirred in his sleep by the intruder. By the way, I am Berek. What's your name, boy?"

"G aacute;rion," came the swift reply, together with a brightening of his face.

"Hmmm, G aacute;rion, a good name... When you saw the silhouette, G aacute;rion, how did you know it wasn't one of the inn staff? Was he of extraordinary size, did he carry something, or move like a stranger? Did the animals seem to recognise him—you know, most animals, especially horses, are very clever?"

"He smelled... he smelled funny," answered the child, looking at the half-bear in front of him with an anxious look. "He smelled like those people up town.... The inn horses fear them—they are all horse thieves, that's what Mich always says."

"Hmmm... who is this Mich, the innkeeper?" asked Berek. As the kid nodded, Berek turned to Jiff. "I heard that the Dunmen use certain perfumes?"

"Why, Sir, yes, sure they do," Jiff replied. "Most of them use some kind of smell—how will this help us find our man?"

Berek faced G aacute;rion again: "Well, boy, did this smell bring you any memories, about flowers perhaps, or maybe the freshness of the ocean? And could you recognise any clothes he was wearing, or perhaps something he was carrying. Please try to tell us what you smelt and saw and heard. And..." Berek continued, "...do the funny-smelling men from town often visit this inn? What was approximately the time, was there still some left before the sun rose? Do you know any people who might have been on the road during that time, perhaps people delivering goods to the inn? If you had to go to town in the middle of night without anyone seeing you, which way would you choose to go?"

Berek, seeing that he was pushing the stable boy with all his questions, paused. "Don't worry, boy, you already helped us a lot. Just try to remember piece by piece what happened."

"Mich do not like them, so he doesn't allow them in the inn. He wore a cloak for the rain, and he was not tall. No, nobody was out, not in the rain in the middle of the night, except maybe at Oget's house.... If I had to go unnoticed, I would go to the road and enter the hill town from the north, Sir."

In the inn, Elen aacute;rion took one hard look at the innkeeper. "Sir, I and my companions chose to stay in your establishment thinking it safe. Obviously this is not the case. I think it outrageous that thieves can enter an honest man's room and leave with his money under the shadow of the palace of Thalion. When the town watch arrives, I want a word with their leader." The young D uacute;nadan studied the faces of the other patrons gathered there. They seemed like honest men but who could be trusted in these troubled times? The young D uacute;nadan shrugged and went to join Jiff and Berek.

The innkeeper bowed and apologised, but it was quite obvious he would be of little help. Elen aacute;rion didn't find his companions in the inn, and soon went to the stable, where he found them speaking with the groom.

Chapter IV: Enter the Southerners

Among the other patrons, the most notable guest was another young D uacute;nadan lord like Elen aacute;rion, obviously in the company of what appeared to be his squire. From their clothing, it was evident that they were from the South. The young lord looked in Elen aacute;rion's direction while the latter spoke to the innkeeper. The young lord's squire was a good-sized youth with a muscular build, long raven hair that was braided, not unlike some Dunlendings, and laying down to his shoulders. His grey eyes seemed to pierce what they surveyed. He was dressed conservatively, but wore an ornate bastard sword.

"M'Lord," the squire said in a cautious tone to his lord, "What do you make of that exchange?" His piercing eyes swept over those in the room....

"I don't know. What say you we find out? I'll offer him a drink." The newcomer rose and approached the knight and innkeeper, who noted his differently styled clothing and towering height, one inch short of seven feet. "I could not help but overhear you tell of your plight, comrade. Will you let me buy you a drink while you wait for the watch? Perhaps my friends and I can at least soothe your anger at the wicked twists of Fate."

The young D uacute;nadan knight turned and looked at the two strangers. Their build and features showed them to be D uacute;nedain, but their clothing was strange, much like that of the few Gondorians Elen aacute;rion had seen in Tharbad. "Sir, by looking at you I reckon that you come from the Land of Stone. If it is indeed so, then you have come a long way to have a drink with me. I am Elen aacute;rion Aerthoron, Roquen of House Orr oacute;menya."

"I am Carangil Anrohirion D aacute;cilion, Roquen of House D aacute;cilion of Ithilien," the Gondorian replied, holding out his right hand. "My squire is Kirdan Giraldion of my House. Please, when you have finished with our host, come join us." He switched to Sindarin. "'May we always keep the Faith of our Fathers, honour the memory of the Land of Gift, and stand forever and ever strong against the Shadow.'" Carangil and Elen aacute;rion actually looked a lot alike—both had jet-black hair and towered above most common men in the room, but Carangil's skin had a southern tan while Elen aacute;rion was substantially paler, though he also had the colours of a man used to a life outdoors.

Elen aacute;rion then told Carangil that he wanted to see what his travelling companions had found, but that he would happily share a drink as he would come back to wait for the militia. He went to the courtyard, where he waited shortly for them.

Upon Elen aacute;rion's arrival, Berek and Jiff quickly shared the information obtained. "Hmmm... it seems to me that we need some more questioning before we will find that Dunlending.... Let's split up and talk to some more people. Jiff, why don't you continue talking with the stable boy, and maybe talk to the other inn staff afterwards? Your age should make them most accessible for you. And Elen aacute;rion, I guess you should try to negotiate with the militia when they arrive, being an important member of society your rank should really do some good. By the way, I am not only missing money, but even more painful, an amulet, a family heritage has been taken from me. It's shaped like a calm breeze in the woods, and I definitively do not like to have it apart from it. Me, I will go out on the road following the possible escape route and drop in at Oget's for more information. Agreed?"

"You are right, I'll go back to see the lad... but I think if I take some food along with me, for him to eat whilst we talk, he might be more responsive—I know a good meal inside me always makes me feel more like talking and thinking!" With that Jiff headed off to the kitchens to obtain food for the boy, some bread, cheese, and a glass of milk, enough for himself too as the excitement left him feeling rather hungry. Then he returned to the stables and found the boy tending to the horses....

Berek left the inn, and took the muddy streets toward the big stone house that was the local whorehouse. The town was obviously wealthy, and the big palace of the D uacute;nadan lords, the Thalion, was quite impressive, looming above the other houses with its three stories. Though not exactly a fortress, it was fortified, the way some Beijabar houses were, and Berek couldn't help remembering his faraway home.

In the gloomy morning, Oget's House was silent, as silent as it had been noisy the night before. Berek knocked powerfully on the door. After a while, an evil-spirited, ill-shaved little man opened the spy hole.

"We're closed! Come back tonight!"

"Hmmm... I'm not here for business, I wanted to ask you...."

"If you are not here for business, then you are wasting my time!"

"Wait! We were robbed at the inn last night, and I wanted to ask you if you had heard anything...."

The man grumbled and then said: "I see. Come back in the afternoon, two hours before sunset. You should take some money, too. My girls are the prettiest north of Tharbad!"

The man closed the hole abruptly, leaving a surprised Berek looking at a silent door. Scratching his head, Berek walked the muddy streets, starting to buzz with the usual morning activity. Return in the afternoon and bring some money, hmmm.... I fear these women will need some coins to loosen their tongues. Maybe Jiff's limited funds will at least gain us entry into the house, though I am not much inclined to enter... hhmmmmm... hope I don't slip and hurt myself, things might turn out nasty.... However, how to get money....

Slowly his hand reached down to his woollen trousers, feeling the two nimble jewels sewn inside, just below the belt. Maybe I will have to part from them far sooner than I expected, but my amulet is not to be valued with money for me! Berek thought.

Re-entering the inn, Berek looked for Elen aacute;rion and Jiff to share his findings.

* * *

"Hello there, G aacute;rion," said Jiff, petting the horse to which the boy was giving his attention. "Once that fine beast has breakfasted, how would you like to share a quick bite with me? We can talk some more then too...."

"Yes, please! I'm hungry! But so are the horses!" G aacute;rion groomed the horses with care, making sure they all had something to drink and eat, and then came to Jiff. "Wilf will put the manure away. He's nearly as big as your friend!"

Jiff found a spot to sit somewhere inside the stables and unpacked what he had brought from the kitchens.... "Help yourself! I have brought enough for us both and you look quite hungry!"

The boy helped himself to some buttered bread and then disappeared through the door. "Comin' back!" A few minutes later, he was back with two steaming mugs of tea. "Well, she didn't even ask why I took two...."

During the meal, Jiff chatted to the boy. Much of the conversation had nothing to do with the night before. Jiff asked G aacute;rion about his parents, his friends, what kids in Metraith do. But Jiff did manage to get in a number of relevant questions too. He asked G aacute;rion what he had seen, heard, and smelled the night before. He asked whether G aacute;rion could identify the thief's perfume; whether he would know it again if he smelled it, or had smelled it before and where; and where Jiff might obtain a similar perfume for himself. And so on....

The boy was quite happy to chat with Jiff. He had been born on a poor man's farm south of the town, and his numerous older brethren were enough of a taxation on the farm. During last year's summer farm, G aacute;rion's father found him this place, and he felt lonely. Though he suffered no mistreatment from Mich and Merta, they were not kind to him either. The boy had little time left for playing or learning, and there was little future for a groom. G aacute;rion dreamt of becoming a Ragger, one of Cardolan's famous mercenary pikemen, but from what Jiff knew, such an existence was an unhappy one, except for officers or enlisted members of one or two successful outfits.

"Well, the perfume, y'know... it's more grease'n perfume! Like all those smelly Dunlendings! Why'd anybody wanna buy that? And I never go't the Dunnish town, Pa' tol' me not to. Not that I can do anythin' anyway." With that, G aacute;rion spoke again of his hard work. Jiff noticed that the stable was comparatively cleaner than the inn, and that G aacute;rion did his job pretty well. He was obviously far more intelligent than most stable boys, but what could he do? He was himself half a fugitive, and penniless....

"But I have smelt this one before. Other guests have been robbed in the past, you know. Nobody found anything, mind."

The two then heard a clattering noise outside as the militia arrived noisily at the inn.

Jiff, hearing the clattering outside, stood and peered cautiously over the top of the stable door. He watched carefully and kept out of sight until the militia entered the inn... then he returned to the lad.

"Just some silly watch-men... no need for us to trouble...." For some reason Jiff recalled his own past, and saw a lot of himself in the boy. Though their backgrounds were different, Jiff had always felt "on his own." He turned to the boy. "I must go now—thank you for all your help—but I will make you a promise if I can. If I am ever in the position to need a squire, someone to tend my horse and such, I will send for you... if you will agree to come, that is?"

"A squire," answered the boy with stars in his eyes.... "Of course I'll come with you! But don't dally, my father always said one must never be late!"

Jiff stood and said to the boy, "Finish whatever you want of the breakfast and make sure the cutlery and crockery get back to the kitchen safely, all right? I'll see you again." With a friendly smile Jiff stood and left the stable, heading for the Inn. He saw Berek in the courtyard, coming back to the inn with a frown.

With a sigh, the big bear of a man beckoned his young friend to come to his side. "Hmmm... friend Jiff, perhaps we'll need some of your precious money after all! I'm afraid the dames of Oget's house will ask for money even for a chat. Definitely not a place for you!" Jiff nodded his agreement, his ears reddening visibly, and followed his companion inside the inn.

When the two friends entered the taproom, they found Elen aacute;rion in the company of two other young D uacute;nedain, and having a discussion with a sergeant of the militia. From the look on Elen aacute;rion's face, things were not exactly going the way the young noble wished they would.

"So, if the thief is outside, why do you want me to search the inn?" asked the burly sergeant. "All I can do is call for witnesses, but I have no reasons to trouble the peace of the guests so far. Anyway, how could you prove that the money is yours? But I wonder how come some clients of yours suffered a similar fate repeatedly in the past, Mich. Are your locks so lousy that every thief in the region knows he can rob your clients?"

The innkeeper had little to say. He looked at his feet, twisting a dust-rag nervously. "Surely one of these Dunlendings!" The sergeant grunted—he knew the innkeeper's aversion toward the inhabitants of the upper town.

Then there was a commotion in the entry of the inn. Most people in the room looked with awe at an angry-looking Elf clad in mud and dust-stained, rumpled travel clothes. The Elf had golden hair and clear eyes, but those were currently darkened by fury. He stomped toward Carangil and Kirdan, and they got the peculiar notion that he definitely smelled like he had spent part of the night in a pigsty.

"Aeglorias!" Carangil exclaimed, relieved to see him once more. "What on Arda...?" He surreptitiously fingered his nose. "Are you all right?"

Aeglorias nodded, and then, while Elen aacute;rion tried to obtain some help from the sergeant, the Elf whispered in Sindarin with Carangil and Kirdan. "I was troubled during the night by some peculiar noises in the corridor. I saw somebody going out of one of the rooms. He had a conspiratorial air, and so I followed him on a hunch. The person left the inn by the rear door, and braved the storm. I was able to follow him into the Dunnish town, but he had obviously seen that I was following him, for he tried to lose me in the narrow streets. As his efforts at losing me proved unsuccessful, the night visitor jumped into the communal pigsty, and I pursued him. And then he went into some kind of dusty food cellar. There he was able to escape me and close the doors, leaving me prisoner in the cellars! I was released in the morning by a surprised housewife who came to collect some food."

"Oh, my," Carangil commiserated softly. "Well, then, we'll let you get cleaned up, and then this gentleman here will definitely want to hear your story, because I'm fairly sure yours is connected to his."

Meanwhile, Jiff looked at the Elf who spoke to the two D uacute;nedain. He had seen a few others in Tharbad, but the sight of them always made him think, what must it be like to have lived so long, and seen so many changes.... After a few moments he recovered, and with a smile and a quiet chuckle, suggested to one of the girls of the inn's staff, "Perhaps, my good woman, you would be kind enough to prepare a bath for our new friend here? He is certainly in need of one...."

Elen aacute;rion did not look at all satisfied by the guardsman's words. "In light of my friends' findings, I agree with you that a search of the inn is not necessary. Suggesting, however, that an Arthadan roquen might falsely claim he has been robbed is not only foolish but also dangerous. As for proof, the thief stole an amulet that my companion Berek values greatly since it is a family heirloom. Surely it will look out of place around the neck of a Dunnish thief."

The sergeant looked surprised and ill at ease. "Never did I claim that your word should be doubted, my lord. My point was that it would be hard to identify money. The amulet could help, however."

The young knight turned and walked towards Carangil who was engaged in conversation with the dirty Elf. "And now, Sir Carangil, I will have that drink. Perhaps your friend can join us, for the company of the Firstborn is a rare joy indeed." As Elen aacute;rion approached the Elf, he noticed the dirt and mud that plastered his clothes and some of his hair.

In a corner of the room, Jiff was speaking with a young girl from the inn staff. Aeglorias seemingly approved of what Jiff was saying, for he said, "That is certainly a good idea! And yes, I will certainly enjoy a drink, but I will scrub myself and change first!"

The dirt and the smell coming from the Elf did not go unnoticed by Berek, either. He sided with Elen aacute;rion and asked, "Hmmm... mud on your shoes and clothes, but it rained during the middle of night... overslept, yet staying in one of the town's—hmmm—cosiest inns.... I guess you had a good reason for a nightly excursion into town. Please, Sir, if you don't mind my question: What arose you? You might have overheard from the conversation with the militia, we had a nightly visitor and have been robbed. We think him to be a Dunmen, using a grease of a special smell, a man of normal stature. And pardon my rash questioning, Firstborn. I am Berek, hmmm, Berek's me. Apart from our gold, the villain stole an amulet given to me as a family heirloom by my father, who in turn received it by one of your brethren for saving him from the tusks of a wild boar. Any help you give us in finding the thief would be most appreciated; I am sure you don't want a gift of your people to end up in robbers' hands neither."

"Certainly not, friend Berek! Could you describe this amulet of yours in more detail?"

"It's difficult to do so, my Lord, but one will certainly recognise it when he sees it.... It seems to be a gift of your kind to shape beauty our words can't fill... hmmm... it looks like a calm breeze, gently striking the leaves of a golden tree in a moonlit night... and it's hanging from a Warg-leather thong shaped by my people, so apart from its sturdiness and material without ornament." Looking into the blank face of Elen aacute;rion, who listened intensely to Berek's description, Berek shrugged his shoulders. "I am sure, everyone who had seen would share my feelings and my description."

"But fate is a strong force after all, bringing together my father to save your brethren from a pig... and to meet you when help is needed, and help might be provided due to pigsty through which the thief fled! Did you gain any information that could be useful to find the thief, my Lord?? And, by the way, how may we address you?"

At Berek's words, the Elf laughed, a clear laugh of delight and genuine amusement. "Well, from what you told us, the kinsman of mine you saved was endangered by a boar, a much higher feat than saving me from the dirty pigs of the upper town!" Then Aeglorias sobered, and said, "From your words, Master Berek, I collect that your father's kin had a long history of assistance to mine, for those gifts are seldom given lightly!" He turned towards Carangil. "I think we should help them, my friend. But for now, if you will excuse me, I'll clean myself even if I have to scrub my skin raw be relieved of this foul smell...."

"We'll wait here for you, Aeglorias," Carangil replied, and turned back to Elen aacute;rion. "Now, then, comrade, why don't we have that drink, and get to know one another?"

Kirdan stood patiently by his lord's side, watching all with his piercing eyes. He smiled briefly as their Elven companion moved to get himself rid of the offending smell. Let's just hope your quick thinking will help us catch this thief, Kirdan thought to himself as his glance moved about the greasy inn, but in such a place as this.... I would have expected such things. His lordship and his companions should have taken precautions against such acts....

Elen aacute;rion listened to the conversation between the Elf and the huge Beijabar without paying much attention. Suddenly, with a snap he said, "I've got it! Berek, from what you said the thief was wearing perfume, which is a tradition among the Dunnish scum infesting these lands. So, he is one who keeps the traditions. Such Dunmen live apart from other men, in fact I've seen their slum here in Metraith. If we seal it off and search it quickly enough, we might just catch him like a mouse in a trap. Sir Carangil, this drink of ours will have to wait, I'm afraid. Now where is that guard sergeant?"

The sergeant had not left the room yet, and went to the young D uacute;nadan's side. "I'm not sure I'll be allowed to do that, my lord.... Perhaps we should go to the Thalion and ask our lieutenant what he thinks.... But I am not sure you would be able to find your amulet even if you close the door. The cellars in which the Firstborn spent the night are very large and have many levels.... If the thief has hid the amulet and the rest of his booty there..." the sergeant let his voice trail, and then left the room.

Elen aacute;rion asked Jiff to accompany him. Rushing after the guard sergeant, Elen aacute;rion managed to catch up to him just outside the inn. Taking him to a quiet corner in the street and making sure no one could overhear, the D uacute;nadan laid out his plan. "Sir, what concerns me most is the chance that the mission might be compromised because of a leak. I would therefore ask you to conduct a casual search of the town, work your way towards the slum and let your men know the mission shortly before you arrive there. My companion here," he said pointing to Jiff, "will accompany your patrol, to identify the amulet if the thief is careless enough to wear or display it on the street. Me and my other companions will join you as you approach the slum."

Taking Jiff aside, the young knight said, "I don't know if you can identify Berek's amulet, and it doesn't matter. The reason I asked you to follow the patrol is to keep an eye on them. Make sure they have no chance to notify the thief before we reach the slum. Oh, and remember: trust no one, including the sergeant."

Hearing the sergeant's words again, Elen aacute;rion realised that sending Jiff along with the patrol was pointless, since the sealing off of the slum could not be accomplished as quickly as he hoped. So he decided to visit the lieutenant in the Thalion later.

Speaking to the sergeant, he said, "Very well. Tell me the name of your lieutenant and I will visit him later today to request permission and assistance for a search of the Dunnish slum."

* * *

Disappointed, Elen aacute;rion and Jiff went back inside and sat at the table with the others. Elen aacute;rion was especially interested in the two D uacute;nedain, as they looked like men who could hold their own in battle. "Sir Carangil, I would like to introduce my two companions. This is Berek of the Beijabar, our kinsman from afar, and the youngster is Jiff of Tharbad, his companion," said Elen aacute;rion.

"A pleasure to meet both of you, Berek, Jiff. This is my squire, Kirdan, and our Firstborn companion is Aeglorias of the Greenwood," answered Carangil.

"What brings you to these parts, Sir?"

"We were really just passing through on our way to Fornost Erain."

"I could not help admiring the fine arms you bear. Such arms wielded by brave, virtuous men are sorely needed in my homeland. And brave and virtuous you must indeed be to ride in the company of one of the Firstborn."

Carangil smiled wryly. "I think you compliment us too much. Yes, we strive to be both virtuous and brave, but speaking for myself, I would not say I have reached either goal yet. And as for our companion, we were introduced to him by my mentor, the Lord of Dol Elenna, at his stronghold in the White Mountains. He has proved to be wonderful company indeed."

"My companions and I are also going to Fornost. Perhaps we can journey together."

"For my part, I would welcome your company," Carangil replied. "In fairness I must consult Aeglorias, but as he seems to like us D uacute;nedain, he will probably agree. He seems to think things are more exciting when we're around," he grinned wryly.

"Tell me more of the place whence you came, Dol Elenna, for I have never heard of a Mannish court frequented by the Firstborn save in legends of ages past. Unless this lord you name as your mentor is also one of the Eldar."

"We did not begin our journey at Dol Elenna, but rather at my father's estate of D aacute;cilion in Ithilien. We crossed the Anduin at Osgiliath, then took the road through An oacute;rien. I can't tell you exactly where it is, but Dol Elenna sits high in the Ered Nimrais in southern An oacute;rien. And yes, its lord and lady are Eldar, of the Noldorin Kindred. We joined with Aeglorias and parted from my brother Calrohir there. We then went back to the main road and travelled through Calenardhon to Minas Rochandil, my brother-in-law's keep near the Fords of Isen. We crossed the Fords and came through Tharbad to this town."

"By the way, what is the purpose of your journey? The army of my liege-lord the Hir aacute;ratar Orrom eacute;nyaron could use men such as you and risking one's life for a cause that is just is surely a step towards virtue."

"My lord father, Hir Anrohir, directed me to travel to Fornost Erain. There I am to seek out the captain of the King's Guard (who is a distant cousin on my mother's side) and to enter his service. Beyond that, I do not know what the future holds, except that we are both supposed to eventually return to Gondor, but not until after an appalling battle that will forever change the realms of the Faithful. As for joining the cause of your lord the... Hir aacute;ratar...." Interesting title, Carangil thought. "I suppose that is a possibility which I shall have to consider now that we have met. But I would have to discuss it with the King's Guard captain first, for I must obey my father's directive to meet him."

Berek, who had nearly finished his second mug of beer by now, looked up. "Hmmm, do you think you and your companions can spare the time to help us find that thief first? I don't know if your Firstborn companion who followed that burglar can provide any hints to his whereabouts, but I am determined to get my heirloom back before I leave that town!"

"I don't see why not, Berek," Carangil replied. "I was not ordered to ride like the wind, turning aside for nothing. Aeglorias looks intrigued to me, and I'm sure he'll want to turn the tables on the person who left him locked in a cellar. Besides, didn't he already say he wanted to help you get your heirloom back since it was made by the Elves of the Greenwood?"

"Excuse me, Sir Berek," Elen aacute;rion said, "but my curiosity got the better of me. A Lord and Lady of the Noldor! Carangil, you are a lucky man to have spoken with the living history of the world!"

"Indeed," Carangil nodded wistfully. What was that strange expression on his face?

Noticing Berek's impatience, Elen aacute;rion quickly changed the subject. "As I said before, I think our best option is to seal the Dunnish slum off and search it. In fact, I intend to visit the palace of Thalion and obtain permission for this later today. Unless of course Sir Carangil's Elven companion who managed to get closer to the thief than any of us can offer another way to catch him."

"We should ask Aeglorias if he can 'sense' the object somehow," Carangil mused. "I seem to remember having heard once that things made by Elves have some kind of 'resonance,' the same way the land remembers them in the places they used to live, like parts of Ithilien do. But Elen aacute;rion, are you sure sealing off the slum can even be done? It seems like doing that would cause more problems than it solves. The last thing we want is a riot."

"Hmmm," Berek added, "the Firstborn surpass mankind's knowledge for sure. Therefore, me too, I would love to meet a Noldor and learn.... Hmmm.... And I apologise for interrupting your exchange.... However, for the moment the knowledge needed does not affect ancient history but more the history of last night. What do we know? Somebody entered our room this night, picking the lock of the door. He left muddy footprints, indicating he came from the stable area. Leaving the inn, he was seen by the stable boy who described the thief as a normal-sized dark figure.... Hmmm, the Elf, who was in pursuit, was not seen by the stable boy, we have to ask your companion upon his return how he left the inn.... Furthermore, the stable boy said to have smelt some kind of grease, that indicates our man to be a Dunmen."

"I think, Elen aacute;rion, apart from searching the whole slum we could first try to get some more information.... Hmmm, let's see.... Someone could have seen the thief in the streets, especially the women over at Oget's, we could talk to them in the afternoon.... Then, it's still not clear to me where and how the thief was able to shake loose his pursuer.... Maybe investigating the area where he disappeared might give us an additional clue.... Finally, we might investigate at the town guard whether on his prior visits the thief stole something that is more suited to find and identify than a small amulet and money.... Perhaps some of the stolen goods have even reappeared at some place already. But you are right, searching the slum might serve as our last option, so visiting the palace in the afternoon surely is a good idea. What's your opinion on this, friend Jiff?"

"Elen aacute;rion, would it help if I went with you?" Carangil asked. "Two roqueni might be better than one."

"Well, as for the plan at hand, I certainly think it will be necessary to search the areas, but perhaps someone like me will stand out much less than the huge frame of my friend Berek, or the noble features of you other Gents.... Besides, I am used to the town-like lifestyle.... Perhaps I could go off on my own, and make a few enquiries with some of the Dunmen? I would, though, need some way to alert you people should I find our thieves den!" said Jiff.

Elen aacute;rion spent a few minutes sipping his wine and thinking before speaking. "I agree with both Sir Carangil's and Jiff's suggestions. But first I want to hear what the Elf Aeglorias has to say. I have a feeling he holds the key to catching the thief."

Chapter V: The Searchers Diverge

The five were still drinking and chatting when Aeglorias, nearly unnoticed in the noisy taproom, climbed down the stairs and sat beside Berek. He asked, "So, now that we have some hints and know whom the thief robbed, my dear Carangil, I suggest we take some time to help these good men. Berek, such gifts as your amulet are not given lightly, and will not be left in the hands of some burglar! What did you learn from those men-at-arms?" With those last words, Aeglorias looked at Elen aacute;rion with his piercing eyes.

"I thought you would say that, and I certainly agree, Aeglorias," Carangil replied.

"Master Aeglorias, it seems that this was not the first time some of the patrons of this establishment were robbed in their sleep. I get a strange feeling about the innkeeper. He voiced his hatred of the Dunmen but despite the thefts he did not warn us or take any measures to ensure our safety. I think something is wrong here," Elen aacute;rion noted.

"My... hmmm... thanks, Master Aeglorias, for the help you surely give us. Could you please tell us about the thief's pursuit, did you gain any information that might help us track the thief? And do you see any possibility of finding an Elven item by its, hmmm, resonance?" Leaning forward, Berek eagerly waited for the Elf's reply.

Aeglorias seemed somewhat surprised, and then answered Berek, "I'm afraid only a few Noldor could do such a feat, and of their kind I am not, being only an humble hunter. I've heard some D uacute;nedain have a similar talent, but I suppose none of you have it, otherwise you would have used it already. From the pursuit, I can tell you that your thief is swift and quite perceptive, for few people or beasts ever notice me when I track them! He is also light-footed for I was unable to find his tracks in the cellar where he lost me!"

"Hmmm... you surely are light-footed too, since the stable-boy who saw the thief leaving the building did not take notice of you..." Berek said while Aeglorias smiled in an enigmatic way. "Have you seen any people in the streets, who might serve as an additional source of information? Particularly, I am thinking about the women at Oget's, who might still have been around looking for... hmmm... clients."

Aeglorias shook his head, and said, "Nobody was out last night, nobody but a thief and a foolish Elf in the middle of a storm!"

Berek continued, "Well, still I will go there in the afternoon, if they haven't seen the thief leave they maybe have seen him arrive. But for that, friend Jiff, since you are the only one of our company with at least some funds, I have to ask you for some coinage to at least gain me entrance in Oget's house. I think, money will buy us a better chance for information than a forced investigation and interrogation accompanied by the militia... but then, hmmm... I am not the most charming person at the table...." Berek's deep, roaring laughter startled most of the companions. "How about if one of you would like to give me company, Elen aacute;rion, Sir Carangil?"

Jiff nodded his head and responded, "Though it pains me to part from my last few coins, friend Berek, you have bought my horse, befriended me, and believed in me. I owe you what I can provide...." With that Jiff removed a small pouch from his belt and handed it to Berek.

At the same time, Aeglorias spoke to Carangil in a hushed tone, using his native Sindarin. "Mellon, this is not a place for you. Hir Gilnor certainly wouldn't approve!" said the Elf with a disapproving air.

Carangil laughed aloud at that, and nodded. "No, he most certainly would not, and neither would Father," he replied in Sindarin. Nor would a certain fiery lady, he thought. He then switched to Westron for Berek's benefit. "I will decline your offer, Master Berek, and look for other ways to help. If you still need funds, I might be able to help you there."

Elen aacute;rion was troubled by Berek's suggestion. This man seems brave and resourceful, he thought, but he is little more than a savage. He cannot possibly understand that our only defence against the enemies that surround us and our only hope for deliverance is the purity of our spirits. "Sir Berek, I have never in my life visited such an establishment or mingled with such women and I do not intend to start now. If you believe that these women have some information we might find useful then you may try to obtain it. Should you fail, however, a proper inquiry will be made and we will visit this place indeed—at the head of a guard company."

"I will go with Berek," said Aeglorias. As everybody around the table looked at him in awe, casting stunned, shocked or scandalised glances, he continued, "I hope those poor souls will not dare distract or play with our huge friend in my company. And I doubt that the few coins our young friend can provide will help loosen their tongues, while the sight of my kin...." Aeglorias allowed himself a half-smug grin. "Besides, if I can withstand the onslaught of a whole pigsty, I certainly will survive the sight of some wantons...."

Carangil had the best laugh he'd had in days. "Oh, my, what would Hir Gilnor think of that?"

"What a pair, an Elven hunter and a Beijabar tracker, bow and spear!" boasted Berek, clapping his huge hand on the table. Jiff caught one of the mugs, which danced dangerously towards the table's edge. "Thanks, Aeglorias, I am sure that we can convince these... hmmm... girls... that we don't want to speak to them due to their business, but more due to ours which is not at all the same. Especially going there in the early afternoon should prevent us from being mistaken for customers, and since I talked to one of the... hmmm... wardens... already...." Realising the scandalous impression he had made upon Elen aacute;rion and Carangil, Berek reassured them, "Please, Sires, I understand you might disapprove of our source for information, but nevertheless consider the importance of information that might be gained; are you going to dig for further evidence at the palace, then? And you, Jiff, going off into town? I could imagine leaving a message here at the inn or, hmmm, maybe more safely at the town guard, where we all could check in the middle of the afternoon for information after we completed our, hmmm, tasks...."

"So let us go, there is no need or time to dally any more..." said the Elf, rising. "Perhaps we should try to find a safer place for the night if we are delayed more than we would want to be? Perhaps you should go with Kirdan, Carangil, while Elen aacute;rion could visit that lieutenant at the Thalion?"

Carangil looked a little puzzled. "I'll take your suggestion, Aeglorias, but do you want us to go with Elen aacute;rion, or do you want us to try to find a better place to spend the night?"

"Both, if you can."

"I see," Carangil replied. "I should probably accompany Elen aacute;rion. Kirdan, will you try to find a better inn? We'll need to arrange a meeting place, too."

"Yes M'Lord," Kirdan answered with a tone of respect. "I shall endeavour to find more suitable lodgings. Also M'Lord, I would suggest the town square or some other large landmark of the city for the meeting place. Such a place would be easiest to locate by any of us."

Turning back from the door through which he was leaving, Jiff said, "I have just thought, if I am to be gathering information from the town, perhaps I will need more resources than simply my wits. Could I perhaps borrow a few coins for this as I have just handed my last penny to Berek there?"

"I will be happy to loan you some money," Carangil replied. "Would half a silver Tree be enough, or do you need more?"

Jiff replied, "If your coins are from the South, perhaps a silver is enough, but in Arthedain, it would have less value."

"I see. Kirdan, how much small change do we have? I think we can probably loan you two Trees in bronze and copper and three more in silver, without breaking some larger coins."

"Ahhh..." said Jiff smiling, "that sum will loosen far more tongues far more easily...." Kirdan picked several coins from the pouch and handed them to Jiff. He quickly made a count of the remaining coinage before securing the coin purse again.

"Thank you, Sirs," Jiff continued, "I will be sure to repay you as soon as I can. Meanwhile I hope the use I shall put the funds to will be of value to Berek and Elen aacute;rion. If we are leaving this Inn, would someone kindly take my pack for me? I think carrying it with me whilst making my subtle investigations may make me look a little suspicious...."

"I will keep your pack safe and in my possession until you have need of it again," Kirdan said, a slight smile playing across his lips.

"Also, I will need to know where to meet someone if it will not be here...."

"I think we should all meet here for lunch around midday," Carangil mused. "That way we can share news, and move if that's our decision."

"I would advise against returning here, M'Lord," Kirdan said, his voice filled with concern. He lowered his tone as he continued, "The sergeant mentioned that patrons here are frequently robbed...."

"All right, I'll take your advice. I thought most of the problems were at night, but I suppose we can't be too careful," Carangil replied.

Humming, Berek rose. "Hmmm, Kirdan, once you have found another place to stay would you please have someone, why not the innkeeper, move my belongings as well as Jiff's and Elen aacute;rion's, leaving a message for us at the innkeeper how to get to the place you have found? Let's meet at that new place, then, in the middle of the afternoon. We should allow enough time if we want to push a search of the slum in the late afternoon, though." He then looked towards the Elf. "Master Aeglorias, let's get hunting then, I don't need to take my equipment with me: I hope my tight garments will serve me better than a shiny armour in our confrontation! And to all of you, good hunting as well, we will meet you in the afternoon!"

"As I said, Sir, if I may make a suggestion," Kirdan replied, looking to his lord for approval. At Carangil's nod of approval, he continued, "Since no one can yet know what inn we shall be staying at, perhaps our meeting location should be a more central and obvious place. I would recommend the town square. I will try and select an inn close enough to the square so that I can watch for any of you who is there." He surveyed the faces of those around him. "Do any of you find this objectionable?" he asked, looking first to his lord.

"Not at all," Carangil replied. "Good idea."

Looking at the two young D uacute;nadan lords, Aeglorias so answered, "We could meet in front of the Thalion, or perhaps inside it. I am quite sure the commander of the place will find some temporary accommodation for you two, while your retinue is looking for a new place for the night. Jiff and Kirdan should tell such to the guards, I don't see why they should mean difficulties: Kirdan's proud countenance and good figure is that of one used to the nobility, and Jiff could easily pass for a young squire, I believe. As for Berek and me, I doubt any D uacute;nadan official would deny entry to one of my kind. Should that fail, the town square is certainly a good place to meet. May Elbereth smile upon us all! Come, Berek, we must now face our own challenge!" Aeglorias added, with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. Saying so, Berek and Aeglorias left towards Oget's.

"It is settled, then," said Elen aacute;rion. "Sir Carangil and I have to visit a certain lieutenant. See you all at midday."

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