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Of Tea and Trumpets, Part 6 (by Leafblade)

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Of Tea and Trumpets


A week later, in Caras Galadhon, Leafblade hobbled with a crutch toward a dinner table in the tent erected for the Order. Antwanette set plates of food down for them both. Already seated at the table, Faenel and Gwynnie were sharing a giggle at some private jest. As Leaf leaned his crutch against the table and lowered himself down into a seat opposite Faenel, Antwanette seated herself beside her father and poured them both some juice. Leaf thanked his daughter for the food and she reached over to pat him on the back. “It's what a good daughter does when their father gets too old to feed himself,” she replied.

Leaf sighed. “What would I do without you?” Gwynnie laughed merrily and Faenel smiled. Leaf liked how her eyes twinkled when she smiled. As pleasantries were exchanged, Dams approached the table dressed in a radiant cloak with the image of the White Tree embroidered upon it. Now, however, after the ceremony three days prior in which Dams, Scillari and Hart were all honored with officership in the Order, the primary color of Dams' cloak had changed from black to a deep, dark red.


“Goood morning, my kinfolk. I do hope I am not intruding upon a private dinner?” the tall elf said as he lowered himself into a seat beside Gwynnie.


“Oh, Dams, of course not,” Gwynnie said in a playful, chiding tone.


Leaf buttered some bread. “Dams, newest officer in the Order of The Tower Guard. Are you sure you're not too good to eat with us?”

A few smiled and all eyes turned to Dams in anticipation of the response to Leaf's jest. Dams chuckled lightly while pouring himself a cup of tea. “Leaf Leaf Leaf, come now. You know how I enjoy having a spot of tea with with the ladies.”


Antwanette chuckled and put an arm around her father while looking at Dams, “And we ladies enjoy having a spot of tea with you, Dams. Don't we, Dad?”


Leaf stopped chewing his bread, turned a glance to his daughter, and growled lowly. Gwynnie and Faenel shared a merry giggle.

“And Leaf,” Dams continued while raising his cup, “my eating with you doesn't mean I'm not too good to be eating with you.”


With that he gestured a cheers and drank from his cup. “Alas, ladies and gentlemen, I must be away. Please be advised,” he said while standing, “we have a meeting with kin leadership at noon in the tree of the Lord and Lady. Important matters to be discussed.”



  A Test of Fellowship


It was a stern, thoughtful group that Leafblade saw descending from the treetop housing of the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. He had not attended the meeting. Ladders were not an option yet. The knee injured in the troll attack on Thangulhad was still healing. There was something about drinking miruvor and the healing touch of the high elves that brought his recovery along much faster than expected. But he had a long way to go yet. He chafed to return to the patrols and skirmishes in Mirkwood with his fellow members of the Order. As the others approached, he got to his feet with the aid of the walking stick crafted for him by Eldiraen. He was leaning on it much less of late but the healers pressed him to continue to use it for the time being.


“Please attend us in the officer quarters, Leafblade.” Casandir's request was polite as ever. Such requests were rare, however, and came as a surprise to Leaf. He glanced to the others as they moved toward the Order's pavilion. The few glances he got seemed furtive and wary. He thought that odd.

Faenel and Antwanette were still descending the ramp that twined up the base of the giant mallorn. Not wanting to keep Casandir waiting, he decided to speak with them later. Curiosity was pulling at him.


“We're going into Dol Guldur.” Casandir sat still upon an ornately carved chair in the sparsely decorated tent.


Leafblade gaped at Casandir with some surprise. “With all the recent attacks? The reports of increased forces arriving from the Misty Mountains up the orc way?”


“It is necessary,” Casandir continued.

Leafblade leaned forward in his chair, hands resting around the carved walking stick as it stood in front of him as he so often did with his halberd. His dark eyes glanced to the others a moment before returning to Casandir.

“If you say it must be so, then so be it. But why? We've struck against the Warg Pens, the Sword Halls, destroyed Gorothul at Sammath Gul.” Leaf gestured at Dams standing not far away at the mention of the last. The tall elf had led that daring foray and himself had slain the sorceror that directed the forces of Dol Guldur. Dams gave subtle nod of acknowledgment in response. Leafblade continued, “And we've bloodied them in their attack on Thangulhad. What more can we hope to accomplish inside Dol Guldur? We've seen their response to the fall of Gorothul. They'll be more vigilant now.”


“We cannot continue the harassment of their forces, Leafblade.” The voice of Nocona was little more than a whisper but it carried clearly to all within the tent. One had a tendency to forget the slender scout was present, such was her habit of blending into the background and escaping notice. From the shadow of a mallorn, she continued. “The Heren Ecthelion has confirmed our fears about Saruman. He has betrayed the White Council and the Free Peoples. Isengard has become a place of evil.”


Minbur leaned forward from her chair to speak. The afternoon sun glowed within the airy tent of the elves and nowhere did it glow more strikingly than when reflected from the golden hair and ageless eyes of the fair elf maiden. Leafblade momentarily lost his concentration and looked down to his feet out of respect and to hear her words.


…know, the Fellowship has moved on. Upon them rest all our hopes. While the Dark Tower of Mirkwood is engaged, the Dark Tower of Mordor will have reason to look away even as Frodo draws closer. We will make him take notice one more time before we move on as well.” Firm. He had only heard her speak a few times, but even so, her words on this day were more firm than before. Silent and steely, he found her gaze holding his for a moment as he looked up. She leaned back in her chair and said no more.


“We're moving on?” The question filled the silence quickly as Leaf's mind rolled through information being given to him.


“The Grey Company needs our help, Leaf.” Dams took a breath before continuing. “They're moving south and having a beastly time of it. Now the White Wizard changing his colors and fancying the One for himself. Not the cup of tea I want brewing before I put in my tuppence.”


Casandir stood and moved with graceful steps toward a vase of elanor, took a crystal decanter from an armoire near at hand and watered flowers of Lorien. “The Defenders of the Mithril Halls have already left for Eregion to gather and move southward. Much of the Blood of Numenor has left. Only your friends remain.”


The voice of Nocona hissed with obvious disdain from the shadows, “Heroes of Gankari. Swift Swords. Grace of the Valar. Gone.”


“They have not abandoned Lothlorien, my dear friend,” Casandir replied. “They have answered the call to action that we all must. The tide of our time flows toward conclusion in the south. We will gather as soon as we may and move to aid the Grey Company and contest the will of Saruman.”


“The Proteges of Iluvtar have agreed to stay and take part in the attack,” Nocona added reluctantly. “Though I hold little trust in any who would give themselves such an arrogant title.”


“I say, Nocona” Dams stood from leaning lightly against the armoire and took a few paces forward. “The Proteges have been stout here in Mirkwood. Not a tosser in the lot that I've seen.” Turning back from Nocona, he wandered across the room as he talked. “A bit of pride, attention to one's polish, it hardly makes one...


The voice of Dams faded into silence as his steps took him past the mirror atop the armoire. Whether it was a hair out of place or admiration for all being in perfect order, he leaned closer to the mirror and turned his head first left, then right. His hand reached for the hairbrush below the mirror.


Casandir smoothly stepped in front of Dams and picked up the conversation. “I believe our dear friend is trying to say that pride has its uses and we cannot let it cause doubt in our allies.”


“Yes...indeed,” Dams whispered absently as he raised the brush, pondering an adjustment.


“If we leave now, with the forces gathering around Dol Guldur, Lorien could very well be overwhelmed. We must strike a blow that will cast the enemy into disarray and allow the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood more time to prepare. We must strike down the Lieutenant.”


Leafblade felt his hands grow slack. The walking stick slid from his grip and rested against his knee. “The Nazgul? In the tower? You're going into the tower itself? After the Nazgul himself?”


Casandir nodded. Minbur nodded. Dams turned away from the mirror to stand beside the others in silent affirmation. Leafblade was dumbfounded. He looked from one face to the next while visions of a distant, dark, dreadful tower with fell winged beasts circling the summit passed through his mind.


“The Nazgul cannot be destroyed,” Leafblade responded. He was searching for understanding. “Elrond and Gandalf vanquished them at the Fords of Bruinen and yet they are abroad once more. What can you hope-”


“They will be sent back to their master for a time,” said Minbur. “They will need time to take shape again.” They were going. That much was clear. Why were they taking this time to speak to him?


He stood. What he started to say next pained him. “The healers said this morning my knee was not ready. I will stand by you but I fear I cannot move as you will need. The standard of the Order-”


“Will be carried by Keiros,” Casandir broke in with a hand raised. “You are correct. You cannot move as we will need. Nor fight, I deem, though your heart is willing. I've asked you here because we must go without you. Antwanette must come with us as well.”


It felt as though his heart had stopped. Time stood still in an infinite moment of silence as he searched for words. All that he managed was a hoarse whisper: “You can't have her.”


Silence answered him. The eyes of Casandir did not waver. Nor did Minbur's. Nor Dams'. They had already made the decision to take her. They had not even asked him. Just as they had done in Dar Narbugud. Only now he was present and still they had not asked him. Now they were speaking of an attack upon the tower of the Nazgul and facing the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur himself. He briefly had a vision of his daughter standing beneath the shadow of the Nazgul upon a fell beast. Anger, fierce and protective, flared within him.


“I am her father.” He had found his voice. Strengthened by the conviction of his duty to protect his child. He eyed each of the eldar before him angrily. He no longer saw dear friends. He saw people attempting to take away his family. He gripped the walking stick and gestured forcefully with it as he spoke. “I'm NOT going to let you drag MY daughter off on some fool's errand so you can toss her life away to die in shadow!”


There was a long moment of silence. Leafblade had crossed a line and while the leaders of the Order both understood his emotions, indeed had foreseen them, and were patient, he himself would later and ever after regret his words. At that moment, he was blinded by love for his daughter, surrounded by those who would take her into shadow, and ready to do anything to save her.


Casandir did not need to tell Leafblade that Antwanette had volunteered to go. All missions of the Order were based on the principle that those stepping into danger must do so out of belief in their goals, conviction of their purpose and love of their fellow members.


Casandir did not need to remind Leafblade that Antwanette, while young, had taken the Oath of the Order of her own accord. As such she was an individual member of the Tower Guard whose mind, thoughts and actions would be respected singularly and, if necessary, independent of her father's.


Casandir rose from her seat and stepped away.


Dams finally spoke. “Leaf mate, we're not tossing any lives away.”


Minbur joined, “We have a plan we expect to succeed.”


Nocona, stepping forward from the shadows, laid a hand on Leaf's shoulder. “We have scrolls left here by Gandalf. A long time ago he went into Dol Guldur alone to discover the identity of the Necromancer. He left a detailed account here in Lorien. We have a plan.”


Casandir returned from private quarters with a shining, silver cloth draped over her arm. She looked upon it as she moved and set it delicately down upon an ornate wooden table a few paces from Leafblade. “I believe in this mission, Leafblade. As I believe in your daughter and our need for her aid. As I believe in you and your love for her. Though I say to you that we will do all in our power to return her to you, no words of mine can banish the fear or hurt in your heart at what we ask. I can only offer to you a token of our conviction.”


Nocona let out a whispered breath of shock and objection as her hand fell from Leaf's shoulder. Minbur leaned forward in her chair but paused there. Dams' eyes moved from the table to Leafblade to gauge his response.


Upon the table, Casandir's fingers carefully arranged the mithril shirt that she had long worn into battle. “It was given to me by Gil-Galad when I was charged by Isildur with preserving the Scion of Nimloth during the War of the Last Alliance. I am unsure what foresight he had. The task given to me, he said, had no end that he could foresee. And so, he said, I and my purpose should have protection as capable of defying the shadow as any other known to Elves, Dwarves or Men.”


Casandir then turned toward Leafblade. It was a solemn and sincere gaze that she put upon the man before her. “The Order of the Tower Guard is not about Casandir or any individual. It is about a higher purpose and a dedication to one another in pursuit of that purpose. This,” Casandir gestured with one hand toward the mithril shirt that lay upon the table, “is a token of my dedication to the purpose we pursue in this mission and to my fellow Order members. It is a terrible thing I ask of Antwanette and her father. For this mission, I would have her wear this.”


The enormity of the gesture was not lost upon Leafblade. All the fire in his heart left him. He was beaten. His objections silenced. His defiance vanquished. His ire doused by Casandir's act. His daughter and the Order would ascend the Dark Tower without him.


And so the preparations began. They would cross the river and enter Mirkwood that night...

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Gah, I'm falling behind. I didn't know you were going to post a whole book-length story at once. Nice problem to have though. :-)

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