Book 2: Revenant
The deeds that men do proceed them and some of these perhaps they might wish left behind. But nobody, be he man, elf or dwarf can escape the ripples that past indiscretions cause. They follow him, gaining speed and force and soon, like a rolling wave, they overtake and overwhelm him. For some it is the noose of justice that catches up, for others the weight of conscience presses down with the passing of years and the faces of past victims haunt them in their sleep. For a few though, neither memory nor the law are their fate, the vileness of their acts causes retribution itself to take solid form and seek revenge, and soon they drink to the dregs the cup of woe they filled for themselves.
* * *
The Brown Wizard watched as the dust of the horses passed into the distance, leaving him with the task of sifting through the rubble of Ravenwood to himself. ‘Perhaps Saruman was right’ he thought to himself, The White Council have more to worry themselves with than the past evils of a single town on the edge of Wilderness. The assault on Dol Guldur and the unmasking of the true identity of the Necromancer had warned them, though too late it seems, that the great Enemy of the world had returned and would soon begin to weave the dark strands of his old plans anew and threaten to cover every hill and dale with the webs of his malice. And there were other threats as well, even without the return of Sauron, goblins were a constant menace to the free people of the world and unless Gandalf’s mad plan worked, the dragon of Erebor remained a force to be reckoned with.
So why did he stay? Perhaps it was because, where the others on the Council had sensed only the evil of the place, an evil that ran deep indeed, Radagast had felt the healthy soil that lay far underneath. It was this that made him wonder what had caused a place that had once been like any of the hundreds of hamlets or villages in the world, filled with people who were basically hard-working and good, become a place seeped with corruption and decay. This was important he thought, because if it could happen to Ravenwood, it could happen anywhere and if the roots of such evil could be laid bare perhaps the signs could be used to prevent other Ravenwoods from sprouting up and spreading their disease into every city and town.
But before all that could be accomplished it was down to business and Radagast pulled up his sleeves and began to probe the rubble for anything that would provide a clue to Ravenwood’s past. As he searched the grounds near what had once been the inn, something that had been upturned in the building’s destruction caught his eye and he moved towards it now to see what he had found. What he had seen, half buried in the dirt, turned out to be a small pipe, intricately carved into the likeness and form of a dragon. As he studied it closely, admiring the handiwork, the object brought back memories that tugged at the back of his mind, and he remembered that such a pipe had been the trademark of a notorious Easterling bandit who had terrorized the region some years back. He wondered what the pipe was doing here and why it’s owner had abandoned what must have surely been a precious object to him. Radagast gazed deeply into the dragon’s head, maybe the object itself held some memory that would help solve the mystery…..
* * *
Night fell on the border-guard settlement of Etheburg as soldiers of the Mark finished up the last of their official duties before wearily heading off to bed. The gates were locked, a ward against not only the bands of Easterlings who were trickling into the Brownlands at an alarming rate, but also the predatory cats that hunted at night, hoping to catch some unwary animal or traveler in their deadly claws. Soon, if this was an ordinary night, only the Nightwatch would be awake at this hour, keeping vigilance against the terrors of the dark, but this was not an ordinary night.
Activity and talk was still high around the fort’s jail, a dozen well armed guards sat outside, speaking quickly in hushed whispers to avoid a superior’s rebuke. The talk was about the prisoner who sat inside the most secure cell of the jail, waiting for the morrow when he would surely be hanged for his many crimes against the people of the surrounding lands. The whispers were not those of triumph as one might expect from catching a man who’s notoriety for cruelty and foul deeds were known for miles around, but amazement that such a man had shown up and willingly turned himself into the gate-warden.
His real name, nobody knew but he was known in the towns that he spread fear and violence through as the Dragon’s Maw because of his liberal use of fire as his weapon of terror and intimidation, and also for the pipe that he smoked which was shaped in a cunning representation of a dragon’s head. In recent years he had joined up with two other criminals of ill-repute and together they had caused much destruction and loss of life from the south of Mirkwood in the north, all the way to the borders of Lothlorien in the west. And this man, who had evaded all bounties and attempts at capture, sat quietly in Etheburg’s jail, smoking an ordinary clay pipe and awaiting his fate.
“It’s the damnest thing I ever heard of”, a guard by the jail’s lone window whispered to one of his fellows. “Who knows how many men these past three years were spent trying to catch the Dragon’s Maw without success and this afternoon he shows up out of nowhere and turns himself in.”
“It makes no sense to me either”, the other guard remarked. “With all the things he’s done, enough to put a bounty on his head great enough to make rich men out of us all, strange days I tell you, strange days.”
The first guard shook his head in agreement. “I mean he must know what tomorrow will mean, nothing but the noose is good enough for the likes of him and he doesn’t seem bothered by it at all. Why would he walk right into certain death?” The other guard shrugged and they resumed their duties with the rest of the considerable force set to watch over their dangerous prisoner. Smoke drifted out of the bars of window and a soft grim laugh could be heard from within that sent shivers down their spines.
“Because there are fates worse than death.” The prisoner thought to himself as he sat on the cold hard seat of his cell, the embers of his pipe casting a small amount of light on the sneer that crossed his face.
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