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LOTR-Age of Man - The End of Times

The End of Times  

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The End of Times

by William King.

Chapter One – The Chase


Beyond Mirkwood at the far reaches of the Celduin, where the great river empties into the Sea of Rhûn, lies a forest and a land unknown to man. Legend has it that a desert of endless sand stretches forever to a city talked about only by travellers, but seldom has a person visited such a place. The rumours are both dark and mysterious, to be believed or dismissed as pure invention. That city however, has a name, Assakia, and a history, but we will come to that in due time.

The peace of the land is a precious gift, a jewel that shines on all the people of every country, both near and far. There is another jewel, less ephemeral that the storytellers say resides in that unknown city. That gem also has a name, the Goldamîr. It’s light, if you would believe the tales, is reflected in the sun and guides or blinds those who would seek to cross that endless desert.


“We've been here for days and nothing is moving in or out of the forest.”

“Patience Johan, the talk in the tavern was of a caravan going east.”

“The talk. There is always talk. Talk and drink, and nonsense.”

“The disappearances are not nonsense. Children don’t just vanish.”

“They run away... Sometimes. Often?”

From where they were camped they could see anything that came out of the forest on the path running next to the River Celduin. It was true this was an unenviable task, sitting and waiting.

“Aerandir and Círdan will join us in a day from now. Then you can go down into the forest.”

“But there’s nothing. I am sure the rumours are no more than repeated drunken gossip.”


Eldon settled back against the tree stump and lit his pipe. He didn't like being here anymore than Johan. Worse, the cold and damp made his old bones ache. They could not light a fire because the smoke would easily be seen and give them away. Although he too wondered if anyone was really coming through the forest, he remained silent.

As the sun went down, the mist engulfed the river and hid the edge of the forest. If the caravan arrived in the night it would pass them by unseen. Eldon made up his mind, if the others were not here tomorrow, he would send Johan down to the river to check for signs. They could not afford to miss the caravan.


Naaji tied the boys to a large broad oak tree and told them in their own tongue to sit. The ground was damp, moisture dripped from the over hanging leaves. The smell of decomposing flora and fauna hung in the air. Rasheeq occupied himself with the tent, whilst Hamdi, the youngest of the three, collected firewood.

“Is it wise to light a fire?” Naaji turned to look across at his cousin.

“I hate the cold.”

“Then take a boy to bed with you. He will keep you warm.”

“I want a hot meal tonight, not one of those wretched creatures. Look at them!”

Naaji glanced back. It was true, they looked miserable huddled together on the ground. Nothing like the dancing boys of Assakia.

“Hamdi! Get the fire lit. And feed the slaves.” That boy was always so slow. Rasheeq regretted bringing him along, but his father had insisted, said he needed to learn.

The tent was a simple affair, the floor covered with two handwoven rugs. A blanket for each of them. Nothing else, they travelled light. Most of their supplies were left on the eastern coast, awaiting their return.

An owl hooted somewhere deep in the forest. Night was rapidly encroaching, descending like a shroud to cover their encampment. The twigs cracked as the fire took hold. Food and sleep were all Rasheeq had in his thoughts. Hamdi had other ideas as he handed the dry bread to the boys under the oak tree. Taking the one at the end of the line he moved him around the tree, away from the tent. He pushed him into the rough bark. Another boy, the one attached to him, stared with fire in his eyes. Ruindolon was of mixed race, descended from an ancient ancestry of elves.

“I’ll cut his throat,” he whispered to Jasper, but not so quietly that Hamdi didn't hear.

Hamdi had a firm hold on the boy pressed up against the tree. Jasper could almost taste the damp lichen on the bark. His cheek twisted, chaffing against the rough surface.

“Don’t do that!” Naaji had seen what he was up to.

Hamdi, startled, let go his grip. He turned to look in the direction of his cousin.

“Why not?”

“These boys are not for your pleasure. We don’t want damaged goods.”

“Have you fed them?” Rasheeq demanded emerging from the tent.

Hamdi nodded.

Ignoring what was going on, he told Hamdi to prepare supper.

“Or do you want to feel my belt?”

Rasheeq was rapidly losing patience with the boy and thought one day soon he would need to teach him a lesson.

Another screech erupted from the darkness. A black almost impenetrable wall, broken only by the sounds of the night and the flickering light of the flames.


It’s the only choice, his father had said. We have nothing else, you have to make the journey. Years and years had passed since ever a Berber had crossed the desert to the Sea of Rhûn and the lands beyond. For centuries no one had ventured west, it was well known that dark forces covered those lands. In any event the journey across the desert was perilous. Only the book and the map it held within its yellowed pages, showed the route. Without knowing the oasis, without water, it was a journey doomed to failure. The book held the secret.

Rasheeq had tried to argue that they could cross the Black Sea, eastwards to the spice lands, but his father had dismissed this as fantasy. They had no money to build another boat and no money to hire one. You will go to the lands of the Goy, and bring back some boys we can sell in the market. That is not difficult? No, not difficult, not if the book was true, which fortunately it had proved to be. Otherwise they would never have arrived in the West, they would be bones turning to dust in the desert. Still, being a slave trader was not a profession of choice, only of necessity.


He knew in the morning they would need to detour from the river, exit the forest away from the obvious path. He didn’t doubt for one minute that they were being pursued. With the first light of dawn Rasheeq stirred, stretched, and sat up. There was no lying in. The hard floor whilst softened by the dampness, let that same humidity creep onto his skin. It was not a pleasant awakening. As he exited the tent he glanced at the huddled shape of the six boys they had taken from the two villages. ‘Time to move,’ he thought.

“Hamdi! Naaji! Get up!” He poked his head back inside the tent.

“We’re leaving. Break camp.”

“And breakfast?” Hamdi complained, but too late, Rasheeq was elsewhere.


Eldon lit his pipe, Johan watched the old man draw and inhale. His eyes followed the wispy smoke as it curled around in the still morning air, merging with the fine mist that rose up from the forest below. The dampness crept across the leaf covered hilltop like a cold blanket covering the ground.

“I've decided we cannot wait for the others. I will leave a message for them. Fetch my pen and ink.”

Johan carefully withdrew the writing materials from one of their sacks. He flipped open the tiny legs of the miniature table, placed the ink bottle, quill and parchment. This was a ritual Johan had performed many times over. Despite the circumstances they now found themselves in, Eldon was not a warrior, he was a scribe and Johan was his apprentice.

Whilst Eldon put pen to paper, Johan sought out some stones with which to make a tiny cairn. Aerandir and Círdan would find it, read the message, and follow them. Hopefully, they would catch them up before they came across the slaver’s caravan. Eldon had convinced his young apprentice that this was indeed the nature of the tavern rumours, and Johan was only too aware how ill equipped they were to deal with that eventuality. Aerandir and Círdan were the warriors and trackers, they themselves were mere guardians. Watchmen, sent out of desperation.

“Pack everything and let’s get down to the river,” Eldon looked over at the youngster as he laid the message under the stones.


Very quickly the two were making their descent through the forest towards the river. In less than half of the hour they could hear, but not yet see the water. Eldon paused with his arm outstretched, stopping Johan from moving forward. The two stood stock still, surrounded by the whispering forest and chilly morning mist. For an old man he had a keen sense of smell. Sniffing the air he took in the faint odour of burnt ash. It always amazed Johan, observing his master in action. It was an almost divine gift, something given to very few. This ability to find and follow the imperceptible smells. To distinguish one from the other, and he was seldom mistaken.

“They made fire,” was all he said as he darted off in a different direction. And suddenly there they were at the strangers encampment, vacated not very long before. Johan could no longer doubt the rumours. It was evident as they looked around and studied the ground, three men had slept in a tent. Under a large oak tree Johan counted the impressions made by six smaller bodies in the damp earth. They were following slavers!


Rasheeq led them along the river bank, he was determined to go north, to cross the Celduin, but they needed a ford. Somewhere shallow enough for the boys to be led across. Whilst neither Hamdi nor Naaji were concerned with anything but their own thoughts and getting home, Rasheeq felt a strange premonition of foreboding. He had no idea why, but his feeling was accentuated when they stumbled across the mutilated carcass of a fawn. It was a bad omen, and he was sure they were being followed, tracked. They must cross the river.

As the mist became lighter and the forest thinned out, it was obvious that they would soon be in open country. This meant little or no cover from those who might be behind them. But just as the sun, what you could see of it, rose to its zenith, so chance played its part. There was what looked like a passage across the water. On closer inspection the river dropped over a ridge forming a curving arc interspersed with rocks. Only the middle part, which was narrow, seemed to pose any problem. The water gushed through the narrow breach at some speed. With caution it was possible to cross. They could not afford to lose the boys, drowned in the river, but he would not untie them.

“We cross here,” he pointed towards the river.

“You lead them across Hamdi. Naaji will take the middle and I will follow up.”

“Is this wise?” Hamdi hated the idea of the freezing cold water, but one look at Rasheeq and he said no more.

Gripping the rope he pulled the line of boys after him into the river. Naaji positioned himself next to the third and smallest of the boys. Slowly they waded through the icy water. Ruindolon was tempted to take them over the edge and down the river, but now was not the time. They were securely tied and the water would only tighten the knots that held them captive.

Once having reached the fast flowing part of the river, Hamdi waded through. The water was up to his chest and forcing him towards the edge. He held fast to the rope and positioned himself with his back against a large boulder. He pulled the rope taught. Naaji fed out the other end. The rope held the boys as they crossed.

“Move!” Naaji told the first boy.

Mario looked about him. Realising he had no choice, he plunged forward into the torrent. He almost fell, the cold water gushing over his shoulders. He forced his way across, Hamdi pulled on the rope. The others were in turn forced to follow, one after the other. Aaron, the smallest of the six found himself gasping for air as the water gushed around and over him. He made it, dragged up next to Hamdi on the boulder.

Finally, they were all across the river. Soaking wet, drenched to the skin and shivering. Rasheeq quickly ordered Hamdi and Naaji to gather wood and make a fire. On reflection it was perhaps not a good idea, but they had to get warm. In very little time, Hamdi had probably never worked so fast, they had a large roaring fire. The flames were shooting up, driving back the damp and cold. They gathered around, basking in the heat. The six boys were stripped naked. They, themselves, wore only their loin cloths. All the garments were hung on a line to dry. Hamdi was walking around now he was warm again, looking at one, then another of the boys.

“I already told you Hamdi. Don’t get any ideas.” Naaji stared hard at his cousin.


Aerandir spotted the little pile of stones immediately. Bending down, he removed the message left by Eldon.

“They're pursuing the caravan towards the river.”

“Then let's get down there. There's no time to lose.”

“You see that?” Aerandir pointed across the forest.

“Yes, I see it.”

A thin spiral of smoke swirled upwards through the trees from below.

Círdan led the way, moving quickly into the forest. He wondered what Eldon and the boy would do if they caught up to the slavers, but those thoughts he kept to himself. In very little time they were at the river bank. They stopped to check for tracks. Then moved quickly, following the river, to catch up with the others.




Chapter Two – The Quest is Revealed


Every evening the old man occupied the same table at the rear of the tavern. He ate his bowl of gruel and sat a while, before retiring to his room. It had been the same for over a month now. Eamar served his supper, smiled, and left the man in peace. In Talmon, on the shores of the Sea of Rhûn, you did not ask questions. Everyone minded their own business. There were people from near and far. Here you could listen to tales and tall stories. You could believe what you heard, or not. But you must keep a keen eye and your wits about you. If not you might be found floating in the sea, or lying washed up on the shore.

Eamar had come across that sea and through the desert beyond. He was taken captive years before and spent his early life in that city which legend named, but no one believed existed. How ironic, that he found himself back in the land of his birth, with a history people would only think was fiction.

It was often cold here. Although the hearth of the tavern and the free flowing ale, warmed the denizens each night. Disputes and fights would erupt, but Eamar would side step, and retreat. He left Muckold, the owner, built like an ox, to barge in with his cudgel. Usually, that was all it took to eject the drunken rabble-rousers.

The old man wore that typical thick woollen coat with deep pointed hood, that was customary with travellers, but not with sailors. It was in shades of dark brown, lines of long since faded coloured thread running through the cloth. The edges of the hood were threadbare. He was a person who easily faded into the background. Only Eamar paid the old man any attention. Curiosity drew him to ponder over who he must be waiting for. Eamar was shrewd enough to know he was not there without reason.

Eamar had been abducted when just seven years of age. He hardly remembered his parents, or the village he was from. Neither did he have any clear recollection of the journey. Certain it was difficult and long. He remembered only his life in Assakia, that city of legend, of which people questioned the very existence. But he knew it was real. As real as the endless desert that surrounded it. He had become a slave the moment he was taken, but apart from that one thing, he had been treated well.

That night as the fire roared, its flames dancing and waving as if in tune with the music, something happened. It would change once more his destiny. There was a raucous cacophony of drunken sailors; loud voices and shouting, all mixed with the rhythm of the drums. A band of musicians were entertaining the packed tavern. It was an atmosphere at once joyous and at the same time mysterious. Though most of those present were too intoxicated to appreciate the music. Not so the old man. He learned forward to speak as Eamar was removing his empty bowl and refilling his tankard.

“This is the rhythm of the forest, the sound of the earth!”

The old man stared into his eyes and Eamar could see in their depth that this was no ordinary man who had been sitting each night in the corner of the tavern.

“You have been marked.”

He stretched out an arm and clasped his hand around Eamar’s wrist. Holding him tightly, pulling him down towards those staring eyes.

“You have been cut!”

He made the statement as if he needed Eamar to confirm what he already knew. As if he wanted Eamar to voice what was to this man, self-evident. Eamar was shocked. Unable to speak. The sounds of the tavern faded as the drum beats intensified. All he could do was nod.

“It's what they do to the abeed. I am sorry for you.”

He had used the word, slave, you would say in the local language, but abeed was the Berber word. So he knew. The noise of the revelry returned in the same instant the old man released his grip. Eamar averted his eyes, stood up, turned and left. Weaving his way through the crowd, his mind racing with thoughts.

That night asleep in his cot he remembered in his dream what had happened. Of course he never forgot, it was just put to the back of his mind. But that night he relived the moment his life almost ended. It was as vivid as the day it occurred. They called him a physician, but it was butchery. The boys were cut, each in turn. Their pain relieved only by the draft they had been given. True, they felt nothing at the time, but later the dull ache would persist. Even return from time to time for no reason.


Nearly a week passed after that incident. It took all his force for Eamar to speak to the old man. For once, the crowds were absent. It was a quiet night, with only a few people spread out at tables; drinking, eating, and talking. The atmosphere was very different, a calm solitude seemed to engulf the tavern.

“How did you know?” Eamar did not look directly at the old man. He almost whispered his question as he served the hot stew. It was rabbit. The smell wafted up with the steam.

“I knew.”

That was all he said. Eamar was about to leave him to eat.

“I am Eönwë, the herald of Manwë and Chief of the Maiar.”

“My Lord,” Eamar was stunned, but managed a slight bow of the head. An acknowledgement of the status of the person before him. Because this old gentleman was no mere mortal, he possessed the soul of the spirit world.

Eamar was not ignorant when it came to knowledge of the world beyond the seeing of human eyes, but he did not know all. Eönwë could walk through the world unseen; take the form of an elf, a human, or another creature. Rarely did such a being allow themselves to be seen. But exceptional times call forth action. Though no one yet knew it, the future was in peril.

“Sit with me a moment whilst I partake this delicious stew.”

So commanded, Eamar could not refuse. He pulled up a chair and sat down at the table, trembling slightly.

“I mean you no harm, my friend.”

Eönwë's voice was smooth and deep. Somehow reassuring. It calmed Eamar's jitters, he relaxed slightly. The old man set himself to eating. Saying nothing more, only occasionally glancing at Eamar between mouthfuls. Finally, he had finished. Taking the last piece of bread which rested on the table, he scoured the bowl clean. Pushing the empty vessel aside, he lifted and drank from the tankard.

“Strangers will be arriving from the west.” Eönwë looked straight at Eamar, who was fixed by his stare.

“I have a request to make of you.”

Eamar nodded.

“You will recognise these men. They bring with them slaves. Human boys, they will take with them back to your city.”

“My city?”


Eamar nodded his head, thinking to himself, ‘how does he know where I am from?’

“They are pursued, these Berber slavers. Followed closely by four men.”

Eamar was now wondering what Eönwë would have him do.

“The four are; two warriors, a scribe, and his apprentice. They would free the boy slaves and return them to their villages, but you must not let that happen.”


Before he could speak Eönwë held up his hand.

“You will find a way. The slavers want passage across the sea to the eastern shore. You know the sailors, the ships, and their captains.”

Eamar considered for a moment. If was true, of course, he knew most of the boats and the crews that passed through.

“You can facilitate their passage. You will find how. Then I will follow with their pursuers.”

“But why would you want me to help slavers? If you know who I am, you know my own history. I was such a boy, taken into slavery.”

“Yes. And now, my friend, your time has come. You will join us, back to the city you know so well.”

The blood literally drained from his face. Never had the thought crossed his mind that having escaped he would one day go back to that city.

“Your knowledge is needed, Eamar.”

It was almost as if this near god like spirit sitting across the table from him, could read his mind. He spoke, addressing Eamar's questions and concerns before they were even voiced.

“There is much more at stake than a few boys lives.”

Eönwë learned across the table.

“I am seeking the jewel.”

The old man cupped a hand around his mouth next to Eamar's ear.

“Goldamîr,” he whispered. In case there was any doubt.


“They are heading to Talmon,” Aerandir told the others. “Of that I am certain. We don't need to track them. We will go there and await their arrival.”

“Then what?” Johan asked.

Eldon gave the boy a stern look, as if to tell him not to ask questions. But Aerandir simply smiled and ruffled the boy's hair.

“Then we shall free the boys and take them home with us.”

Johan wanted to ask how, but he dare not pose another question. It was not his place.

“I don’t think that will be easy.” It was Eldon who asked the question in a roundabout fashion. At the same time tapping his pipe and lighting the little bowl. As he brought the long stem to his mouth, he drew on the fire. Took a breath, puffed out a little cloud of pale smoke, and glanced sideways at Aerandir.

“We'll figure that out when the time comes.”

After the old forest road it was still a long way to the sea. Aerandir considered whether the slavers would follow the river or go overland towards the Iron Hills and follow the smaller River Carmen. Either way, it didn't matter, they were certain to beat them to Talmon.


“Do you think they will come after us?” Hamdi was seeking reassurance.

“They won’t cross the river, but neither will they turn back.” Rasheeq looked over at Naaji, then turned to Hamdi. “They won’t go home without their kin.”

“We should find a boat when we reach the village.” Naaji would prefer to flee than have to fight.

“And with what do we pay the passage?”

“With the smallest boy. They'll take a boy for the passage, of that I’m sure.” Naaji thought he had a good idea. If his cousin would accept to return home with only five slaves.

“If you're going to bargain a boy for the passage, why did you stop me taking pleasure?” Hamdi moaned.

“Shut up!” Rasheeq raised his voice at the boy. “Your whining and complaining is annoying me. You think only of yourself. Really, I should take my belt to teach you some manners!”

Hamdi ignored the threat, but turned away and kept quiet.




Chapter Three – The Inn at Talmon

As seas go, the Sea of Rhûn was small, but still much bigger than even the largest lake. With a fair wind it was less than two days from Talmon on the western coast to Bruda on the eastern side. But the winds were not always following, and a head wind could easily double the crossing time. The boat would be forced to tack, which was hard work, and inevitably covered the deck with sea spray.

Before ever they could think about the crossing, they had first to find a ship. Rasheeq had insisted they make camp some distance outside the village. Hamdi complained, after over a month of travelling from Mirkwood, he wanted to see people and eat a proper meal. But then didn't they all? First, important business needed to be settled. Rasheeq had to find a ship with a captain willing to accept a boy in payment for their passage. He could not trust leaving Hamdi alone at their camp, so he brought him here, with the boy. The tavern was a welcome change, but somewhere to be approached with caution. The whole village was far from being the safest of places.

“What is your pleasure young sirs?” Muckold leant across the bar, his hefty presence demanding attention.

“Ale and a bowl for our supper if we may,” Rasheeq held his gaze, asserting himself.

“Take a seat gentleman,” Muckold scanned the three newcomers. They were an odd group, not sailors, that was certain. Neither were they from these parts. That much he could tell from their dress and accent.

Hamdi pushed the boy over towards an empty table, Rasheeq followed behind. Looking about, the place seemed not very full. The smell of burning wood from the hearth mixed with smoke and an all pervading staleness. Small groups of threes or fours chatted in murmurs that seemed to be swallowed up by the room, somehow smothered by the thick atmosphere. After they had seated themselves in a corner, Rasheeq positioned himself with his back to the wall and a good view of most of the room. They were soon served with a large heavy flagon of ale and three tin tankards. When the server returned with three bowls of stew Rasheeq stopped him, grasping the man's arm.

“What are you called?”

Eamar could not help but feel nervous. He instantly recognised the Berbers, and of course the boy must be one they had captured.

“Eamar sir,” he did not look at anyone, but averted his eyes, staring at the floor.

“Well Eamar. Perhaps you might tell us if there are any boats in port?”

He shuffled nervously. It was very difficult for him to be in the presence of even young men of Berber origin. All the fears of his life before invaded and threatened to overpower him. He stuttered as he replied, but managed what had been rehearsed.

“I know of no ships parting for the east, but there should be one perhaps in a day or two.”

As Rasheeq was considering this, Eamar edged a little closer. Rasheeq's hand went immediately to the hilt of the dagger that he carried in a sheaf on his belt. Eamar saw the movement and stopped.

“Excuse me sir. I do not mean harm. Nor indeed to presume.”

Rasheeq relaxed a little and studied the face of the servant. He could not see very well in the dim light.

“There is a gentleman,” Eamar nodded towards Eönwë, who was sitting alone as usual, at a table on the far side of the room. Rasheeq followed the direction indicated. He saw the shadow of someone; an old man perhaps? Dressed in the long woollen garment of these parts. With the pointed hood down across his shoulder. He thought he glimpsed white or grey hair.

“He is looking for an apprentice.” Eamar's eyes rested on the young boy sitting next to Hamdi. Rasheeq was curious, ‘an apprentice,’ certainly a euphemism for wanting a boy.

Eamar watched Rasheeq's reaction carefully, and saw that he was interested.

“He has money.” Eamar pushed home his advantage.

Rasheeq did a quick calculation. If he could sell this boy, he could buy their passage east.

“Nine silver coins.”

Eamar coughed, “That is rather a lot for such a skimpy little boy.”

“Are you buying him?” Rasheeq looked angry.

“No sir, but...”

“Go and invite the gentleman over.”

Rasheeq watched as Eamar crossed the room to speak to the man on the other side. His eyes following Eönwë as he stood and came back towards their table.

“Peace be upon you.” Eönwë looked down at Rasheeq and Hamdi, taking in the small boy.

“And upon you. Please sit.” Rasheeq smiled, but it was not a genuine smile. He was simply being polite.

“Would you care for some ale?” He took a moment to examine the stranger close up.

“With pleasure.” Eönwë’s gaze settled on the boy and an idea formed itself in his mind.

“Hamdi!” Rasheeq prompted him in a gruff voice.

Hamdi took the empty tankard that had rested in the centre of the table. He poured the ale from the jug and passed the tankard to the stranger. All eyes were now on the newcomer. Eönwë took hold of the tankard and raised it to his lips, taking only a small sip of the ale.

“Thank you,” he smiled as he set the tankard back down.

“You are most welcome. The servant here tells me you are looking for an apprentice. Rasheeq indicated the boy sitting with his head bowed next to Hamdi. He reached over and lifted the boy’s chin to show his face.

“A fine young boy. Full of promise.” Rasheeq smirked.

Eönwë ignored the remark. “He would seem rather frail. Perhaps not up to a long voyage?”

Rasheeq was on his guard now, as the stranger may well be speaking with a double sense. Hamdi did not realise the subtlety of the conversation and intervened saying, “You are planning a long journey sir?”

Rasheeq was annoyed at Hamdi, and gave him a severe look. Eönwë simply smiled.

“I have no time to waste sir. If the boy interests you we can discuss a price. If not, we must take our leave.”

It was a vain attempt by the young man to force his hand. Eönwë saw immediately how he lacked the experience and wisdom of years.

“Before we get to the price. If it is not presumptuous on my part. May I beg to ask if you do not perhaps have another boy?”

Rasheeq studied the man's features, but could discern nothing. He did not want to reveal his hand, neither did he want to loose an opportunity. That might mean they would be stuck here for days. A thought occurred to him, a clever idea.

“I am of a mind to return home and do not want the baggage.” He again regarded the boy. “We each have a servant, but I had the intention to retain one. However, sir,” Rasheeq smiled at Eönwë. “If we could conclude a suitable negotiation. Well I would part with both. This would thus serve each of us.”

Eönwë nodded in agreement. The young man had fallen into his trap. “I am not a rich man.” He smiled taking another sip from the tankard.

“What would be your offer?” Rasheeq wanted to conclude the deal whilst he believed he had the advantage.

Eönwë looked as if he were contemplating an offer. “First... your other servant,” he said the word with a certain intonation. “That boy is not here for me to see.”

“Hamdi, go and fetch the other boy” Hamdi reluctantly stood up and turned to leave. “Be quick. Do not keep our guest waiting.”

They returned to drinking and talking about inconsequential things. Rasheeq tried to steer the conversation so as to obtain information about this man, but Eönwë was far too skilled to let anything slip. Finally, Hamdi returned with the boy called Mario. A lad slightly taller than Aaron, less thin, perhaps a year older. Eönwë watched as Hamdi drew up a chair and sat the two boys together.

“A fine intelligent boy,” Rasheeq regarded Eönwë.

Eönwë smiled. “Tell me your best price?”

Rasheeq was caught off guard by the man, but quickly recovered. “Twelve silver coins... A bargain I think.”

“That is far too high for a man of my simple means.” Eönwë brushed his garment, as if to indicate his poverty by the state of his clothes.

“These boys will not disappoint.”

“Perhaps, but that is yet to be seen.”

“I cannot sell them at a loss.”

Eönwë chuckled. “I do not think you sell them at a loss.”

He thought to himself, ‘how could he imagine I don't know these are captured sons of freemen?’ A certain anger appeared in his regard.

“Five silver coins sir.”

Rasheeq paused before answering. “Be serious sir, or you have wasted my time. Eleven, and that is my final offer.”

“I will meet you halfway, six.”

There would be seven of them to make the crossing if he sold these two, but he needed to bring back some money from the sale, and pay their crossing.

“Nine silver coins. Because you are, as you say, not a rich man. “That is my absolute best offer.”

Eönwë extended his arm. They shook hands across the table. Eönwë removed the coins from the small purse he kept within his garment, and slid them across the table. Rasheeq gathered the money, stood up and nodded to Hamdi.

“You will excuse us now.”

He didn't wait for a reply, but quickly left the table and the two of them exited the inn. At the same moment Mario realised it was his chance to flee. He moved his chair to get up. Thinking he could easily make the door. Leaving the man who had just bought them, occupied with Aaron. But Eönwë was lightning fast. He jumped up and grabbed the boy's arm, forcing him back down in his seat. Aaron looked up with the kerfuffle, but remained frozen on his chair.

“What’s your name boy?” Eönwë demanded from the shocked and surprised Mario.

“Mario.” The boy’s voice betrayed his fear for the consequences of his failed escape.

Eönwë needed to act quickly and get the boys to safety. “Listen carefully. You have nothing to be afraid of. I mean neither of you any harm, but you must follow me quickly. Some of your countrymen await you to join them. They were sent to find you, and return you home. This is not a safe place, you need to trust me.”

Mario looked at Aaron, but there was nothing in Aaron's blank expression to give any answer. He made his mind up to follow the man, what other choice was there?




Chapter Four – Stormy Seas


History told the tale of the fish dragons, monstrous winged amphibian serpents. It was said that they came out of the sea and ventured up the River Greyflood. But that was the other side of the Misty Mountains. If such creatures existed they were not to be found here, in the Sea of Rhûn. They most likely were no more than a story told to frighten children from going too close to the water. What exists and what does not, is not always known to man. Eönwë knew of those sentient beings, and he would use them if he could. In the service of their quest.

The two boys, Mario and Aaron were despatched back to their villages with Eldon's apprentice Rohan. Before they left they gave a detailed account of their journey, the three young Berbers, and the location of their camp outside the village. Aerandir and Círdan were all for storming the Berber camp and freeing the rest of the boys. Eldon was a little more cautious, but agreed that with the aid of Eönwë they outnumbered their adversaries and thus had a good chance of success. Although he readily admitted he was a scribe and not trained in the art of hand to hand combat.

Eönwë sat all three down around the little wooden table in the room he had taken above the tavern. A small fire burned in the grate of the corner fireplace. The shutters were closed on the only window, keeping in the warmth and keeping out the night. An oil lamp glowed in the centre of the table, casting eerie shadows across their faces. They listened intently as Eönwë explained.

“You came here to free the boys taken from your villages, but in so doing you have now become part of another history. One which started many centuries ago. Amongst those four boys, still captive, is Ruindolon. Descended from the Children of Ilúvatar, the finest and wisest of Elven races. He has lived amongst your people unremarked for his noble ancestry, but now the moment has come.”

Eönwë stood and moved to the tiny fireplace. The flames cast more strange shadows around him. All three men had their heads turned in his direction.

“There exists in this world a ring of fire encased in a crystal stone. Set high up in a tower that lies many leagues across an endless desert, in a city called Assakia. Eamar, who serves customers at this tavern was once a slave in that city.”

Eldon was gripped by the story Eönwë was telling them. Aerandir and Círdan were questioning how they had become involved in this. It was true that the stranger had greatly helped them, but did that mean they owed him in return?

“The races of men are doomed to death, but seek the immortality of the elves. They seek power, and are bound to fight each other in that struggle. There is both goodness and bad in men, it is the goodness to which I am appealing.”

Aerandir looked at Círdan, they both knew these words were true. Goodness had triumphed, and peace reigned for many years in their land.

“A force of evil is building in the far distant east. Even the people who live there do not realise how it is creeping into their lives and taking them over. The Tower of Assakia is a beacon to guide the caravans across the desert. The Book of Islands holds the secrets of the desert. Without both it is impossible to find your way, and cross the desert. There is an army building in the far east, an evil army. It will cross the desert and everything since will be as nothing compared to the force that will sweep through the lands.”

Eönwë paced around the table. He was tired, just being here was a drain on his energy and power.

“How can we three do anything against the force you describe?” Círdan found it incredible that the stranger would want them in his service.

“We have our own mission.” Aerandir looked directly at Eönwë. “It is not our business, what you talk of.”

Eldon held up his hand. “I think it is, young sirs. I have read many books and many histories. I believe you must listen to Eönwë.”

Thus they continued talking through the night and into the early hours of the next day. No one slept that night, but certain things were decided. They would follow the slavers across the sea, free the boys and retrieve the book which Eönwë told them was held by Rasheeq.


“We embark in the morning,” Rasheeq told them. “The ship leaves before noon. On the early tide.”

“At last. I hate this place.” Hamdi was content that finally they were heading home.

Naaji was more resigned to how things were. They had been travelling for many months, he did not look forward to a few days on a boat, nor the long journey still ahead of them. He also wondered where those who were pursuing them were hidden, because surely they must have arrived?


Captain Shaco was eager to leave, Talmar was a port of call that was very familiar, but he didn't care much for the place. Yet still it was good business on occasions like this, when he had picked up paying passengers. It wasn’t the first time they would have slaves onboard. He had no concern in that respect. For the other passengers things were different. There was something strange about that one old man, something which made him feel wary. Still he would not refuse passage to those with the coin to pay for it.

“Tristen! Get the passengers below, put those slave boys in the hold.”

“Go with him,” Rasheeq glanced over at Naaji and Hamdi. “Make sure they're secure down there.”

He turned his attention back to the other passengers who had just arrived. From what he could see it was an old scribe, another older man and two youngsters. For a moment he wondered what they were doing, but he dismissed their business as no concern of his. He did not recognise Eönwë from their meeting in the tavern.

This was not a large boat: it had a crew of eight, four cabins, double masts, one central, one aft, two lantern sails. It best resembled a caravel, fast and well suited to sailing windward, its narrow draft meant it could easily navigate the Celduin. The cargo was anything trading east to west, but most often was that sweet fruit called tiyni. The sky was overcast. Outside the harbour and along the beach the waves, although not big, were topped with white foaming crests.

“There is only the one cabin for you,” Captain Shaco told Eönwë, repeating the same thing he had said to Rasheeq.

Eönwë nodded.

The crew were making ready to cast off. They were the last to arrive.

“Are you sure they’re onboard?” Aerandir spoke in a hushed voice.

Eönwë gestured with a flick of his eyes, and Aerandir saw the Arab on the stern deck just before he disappeared below.


That first night onboard would be the start of things that could never be undone. For better or for worse, once the path was taken the only course remaining open was to follow it to the end. As the well known saying goes, ‘There would be no turning back.’

Their cabin was tiny, two wooden bunks and two hammocks. Aerandir and Círdan left the bunks for Eönwë and Eldon. The sea was choppy and the small ship heaved and bounced, but no one was as yet suffering the mal de mer. The darkness crept into the cabin along with the damp. You could taste the salt in the air, and opening the tiny wooden door you felt the spray on your skin.

The two youngsters sat cross legged on the floor. Eldon was crouched over on the bottom bunk sitting next to Eönwë. He told them to be still. To watch, but not move. Eönwë retrieved two candles which he carefully lit by raising the glass of the oil lamp and touching wick to wick. Moving carefully he let fall a few droplets of wax from one of the candles onto the wooden floor. He repeated the same actions for the second. Waving his hand he motioned Eldon to join him on the deck floor. The four sat in facing pairs with the two candles flickering between them. Eönwë reached over and extinguished the oil lamp. For a moment the only sound was that of creaking boat, the sea, and wind. Eönwë reached deep into his robe and withdrew a knurled and twisted baton.

As the ship rocked and bounced through the waves, he struck the deck twice with the base of the baton. Clack! Clack! Sounded like a loud knock on a door. He lowered his head and started what sounded to Eldon like a chant, but more musical. Like singing, but the words were unintelligible. Círdan glanced at Aerandir, but said nothing. Like the rain clouds before the storm, it seemed that the cabin grew darker. At the same time the candles appeared to glow and the flames flared. Eönwë looked up, still recanting strange words in a sing song almost poetic voice. He stopped. Clapped his hands and spoke in the language of men.

“I have the key, I have the power,
The gates shall open at the seventh hour,
A dragon shall rise, and be my friend,
We shall both live until the end.”

Everything was still. The candles flickering cast shadows in strange circles that wrapped around the room. What was odd was the stillness. It seemed they were no longer moving. Eönwë once more had his head lowered. Once more unknown words slipped quietly from his lips in that sing song chant. The candles flared and went out. Thunder cracked through the sky somewhere outside and the ship heaved and crashed. Suddenly the sound of the waves was bursting around them. The only light was the flash of lightning. Aerandir felt a coldness cross his skin and he shivered involuntarily. Círdan reached for the lamp in the dark as the ship rolled heavily from one side to the other. There was a shout from outside, but the words were lost in the noise of the storm. Eldon turned to move towards the door.

The boat felt like it was launched into the air and then came smashing down with a cracking and breaking of wood. They were flung backwards and tossed around like rag dolls from side to side. The tiny cabin door flew open. Aerandir saw the central mast, illuminated by the lightning, fall down across the deck. They lurched to one side. Could not stand, but only try to crawl towards the open door. The cabin flooded with the cold sea water. The ship was on its side and sinking.

“Get out! Get out!”

The last thing he saw, he was sure he imagined. A creature so large it was the size of the ship. In an instant it disappeared and he was in the water swimming.


Tristan could not leave the slave boys to drown. He had tied them up and he alone must save them. The ship was a wreck, split almost in half and taking on water rapidly. He flung open the small hatch and crawled down into the hold. Water poured down after him. The boat lurched, the sound of wood cracking contrasted with the booming thunder. Lightning shot shards of light in weird arrow shapes. He glimpsed the terrified eyes of one of the boys, before he fell into the side of the hold. Propelled by a sudden rolling of the ship, he lost his grip. Now he was submerged in the water which was rapidly filling the dark belly of the vessel. He fought to grab the rope that tied the boys to each other and to the large round base of the broken mast. Ruindolon was watching, preparing himself to act. But his first thoughts were to saving the other three boys. Still he tensed when he caught a glimpse of the blade of Tristan’s knife. They locked eyes for a second. Then as the boat heaved once more, the blade fell cutting clean through the rope. Tristan moved around freeing Ruindolon first, then together they untied the others.

They were now up to their chests in cold sea water. “Follow me up!” Tristan led the way back through the hatch. “Can you swim?” He was looking at Ruindolon, but asking them all. Jasper nodded, turned to Ruindolon and jumped from the deck. Ash and Sven followed, and Ruindolon was next. Tristan looked around, but could see nothing in the black of the night although he caught a glimpse of something disappearing below the waves. He too jumped into the cold water. Then they were all desperately swimming away, trying to avoid being sucked under by the sinking ship.

One of the masts had broken in two and a large part of it was floating free from the ship. They each in turn managed to grab a hold. Jasper helped Sven. Ruindolon grabbed a hold of Ash who had almost gone under. It was slippery and difficult to grip. They could not stay like this for long. Tristan knew they were not far from the island, but exactly how far? He thought he heard the waves hitting the rocks, but maybe it was his imagination.

“We... have to... swim for the... shore,” he manage to turn his head towards Jasper and get the words out. Then he let go of the mast and started swimming, in what he hoped was the right direction. He didn't recall the time passing, only dragging himself and the others up onto the rocks and falling onto the sandy floor beyond.


There was an earie calm when the first light broke the darkness. Waves crashed against a rocky shore. Standing, he peered over the rocks and out to sea. The storm had passed. “Are you okay?”

Ruindolon smiled, “Yes. Thank you. We are.” Tristan turned back and looked up at the giant cliffs behind them. What now? he wondered.




Chapter Five – Assakia

The sunlight spilled through the archway from the balcony. Sakina turned to look at Aksil, he stood silhouetted against the rising sun.

“Very soon our army will be ready.” Sakina smiled and moved to join her brother.

“Patience still,” Aksil stepped out onto the palace balcony. He walked across to stand near Baragsen, who was leaning, his arms outstretched on the parapet wall. “What’s so interesting?” He touched his younger brother's arm.

“I’m looking at the camp. It grows bigger by the day.”

Sakina followed Aksil outside, “When do we march?”

“Oh my sister, you are more blood thirsty than any man I know.”

She smirked, looking him straight in the eyes. “Not blood thirsty my brother, eager to start. But there will be blood spilt, that is certain.”

“We must wait for Ibn Firas!” Baragsen had not spoken, but now he voiced his opinion. He would not allow his sister to dictate to Aksil.

Sakina cocked her head in dismissal, “Huh, your lover and stupid inventor!”

Baragsen stared daggers at her, but Aksil intervened to calm his siblings aggression. “Peace!” He commanded, annoyed at their continuing bickering. “We will not argue amongst ourselves.”

At that moment a servant stepped out onto the balcony. He waited, head bowed, for Askil to acknowledge him. “Yes.”

“My Lord,” he kept his head bent, looking at the floor. “The sultan would see you in his chambers.”

Aksil dismissed the servant. “You will be civil with each other.” He looked first at his sister, then turned to Baragsen. “You don’t want to feel my wrath!” Leaving no time for any reply he walked back into the palace.

Sakina turned and followed, she had no desire to stay with her little brother. “Shaz! (Pervert!)” She spat at him under her breath.

Alkaline!(Bitch!)” Baragsen wouldn't let it go.

Enti wad walla bet? (Are you a boy or a girl?)”

She didn't wait to hear his riposte. That made him angry. She always made him angry with her snide remarks. He hated her, but she had his brother's favour, and he could not defy Aksil.


The palace was vast and the Sultan's chambers impressive. The two columns each side of the giant carved doors were painted in bright spiralling lines of red and purple, yellow and gold. The doors were embellished with gold, and the Sultan's crest. As he arrived, the two guards porting their long spears and carrying each a curved sword, sheaved in an ornate leather scabbard, opened the doors. He walked through.

His father lay against a bed of fine cushions on a raised plinth. At his side was Salmon, his favourite boy. Servants were many, but very discrete. The person of most interest was the elderly gentleman seated next to Gwafa, his father's advisor. Aksil regarded the stranger without being too obvious, his attention resting on his father. The elderly gentleman missed nothing, he caught the young man’s glance, but pretended not to notice.

“This gentleman brings us news. He informs me that the King of Angmar will join our jihad.”

Aksil now focused his attention on his father. He wondered exactly who was this king, and what forces would he bring. “That indeed would seem to be good news father.” He looked sideways at the messenger, whose features were well hidden beneath the hood of his threadbare gown.

“Once Ibn Firas arrives with the rest of our army, and the forces of our new ally, the King of Angmar join us, then we will begin.” He clapped his hands, rising slightly from his cushions. At the same time he reached for the boy Salmon and pulled him down next to his side. “Let us entertain our guest.”

The messenger was shown to another elaborately embroidered canopy of cushions on a plinth slightly lower than that of the Sultan. A band of musicians entered playing, followed by a group of boys. The famous dancing boys of Assakia. Aksil did not share his father's taste for boys, but custom obliged him to stay. It would be rude, and an insult to both the sultan and their guest, to leave. He settled himself down near to the messenger.

“To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?” His stared directly at the man.

The messenger raised both hands and pulled back the hood of his garment, revealing himself to be elderly, but a person whose exact age was difficult to determine. He looked directly at Aksil, and what struck the Sultan’s heir was this man’s piercing blue eyes. “I am called Eönwë,” he smiled.

“You look sir, to have travelled far.” Aksil was determined to find out more about this messenger, his king, and the army he was bringing. After all, a friend and ally by all appearances, may easily turn one day into a foe.

“Indeed I have. Many leagues from the north.” Eönwë knew the young Prince sought information, but still he humoured him.

The festivities moved into full swing and soon after Baragsen and Sakina joined them. Aksil watched the dancing, listened to the music, and drank. He would have liked to talk with Gwafa, but now was not the time, that would have to wait. He excused himself sometime later, when his father had retired to an anti-room with Salmon. Sakina and Baragsen remained in the hall with their guest.


The time was approaching when the risk of sand storms would keep everyone in the city and inside, should a storm hit. The army must either march soon or wait out the passing of the danger, which could last a month or more.

It was with some relief that news reached Assakia that the King of Angmar would be here within the day. Preparations were made to house him and his entourage. The Sultan commanded a banquet in his honour. Everything must be perfect.

Sakina was called by her maid early in the morning. The horns of the gate guards blasted out across the city. Wrapped in a white silk gown she stepped out from her chambers onto the curved balcony that overlooked the large square in front of the palace. She stood there looking down at the soldiers rushing out to form the guard of honour. Crowds of peasants were swarming around the perimeter. It seemed like everyone in the city wanted to catch a glimpse of the King’s entry.

The striped flags and banners of the Sultan's palace flapped in the gusts of the hot desert wind. A sure sign that the storms would arrive soon. They might even be early this year. Rumour had spread in advance of the King’s arrival. Tales told of his cruelty, and his wicked temper. Stories spread about his Nubian bodyguards, who were supposed so tall and black that if you believed it, they were ebony giants. And equally well endowed! What was true and what was fantasy and invention was simply impossible to divine. The only evident truth was that rumours were always exaggerated in their repeating.

Another maid entered the room and came out onto the balcony. This was Elisha, Sakina's handmaiden. “If it pleases your Serenity. Your father, the Sultan, has requested the family's presence to greet the King and partake of leftour (breakfast).”

She turned to her maid, “Prepare my bath and clothes. I will be there shortly.” She too wanted to see the King arrive, perhaps catch a glimpse of him before their official introduction. As much activity went on in the rooms behind her, she stood waiting on the balcony. Her silk gown fluttered around her slim form, her long hair streamed in the gusts of wind. The air was dry and warm, it would soon be hot.

She did not have long to wait. The square was packed with cheering, shouting, and waving crowds, as the King of Angmar and his elite guards arrived at the far side of the place. But Sakina was disappointed not to be able to see the man himself, who was carried in a carriage born by four strong black slaves porting pointed turbans with green and gold ribbons. Two huge ebony warriors rode one each side of the carriage on pure black stallions. Their spears glinted in the early morning sun. ‘Perhaps these were the giants, the Nubian bodyguards?’


Eönwë had retired to his rooms in the palace late in the night, but he was not alone. Despite his protestations the Sultan had insisted he take Aqat with him, to ‘rouse the tired spirit’s of the young at heart.’ The boy had at first been scared that he had failed to please the honoured guest, but Eönwë had calmed his nerves. He had told him that he had an important task to which the boy must devote his full attention, and not fail, for much depended on him.

And so it was that Aqat mingled with the newly arrived army, and found his way to within sight of the great King. Now he hesitated before the old man awaiting permission to speak.

“Don’t look so worried my young buck. I will not bite, or harm you.”

Aqat stood averting his gaze, although his eyes drifted upwards to try to glimpse the expression of the old man. This did not escape Eönwë's notice and a smile crossed his lips.

“Well? What news do you bring me?”

The boy began to explain about the King and his entourage, about the vast army, and the rumour spreading through the city. But before he could continue his explanation of this rumour, Eönwë held up his hand.


The boy stopped. Shifted nervously from one leg to the other. This made the Eönwë smile more, as he thought how easily the boy was controlled. He had not meant to sound harsh, but obviously the young Aqat had felt the strap or stick of another master, and was fearful.

“I merely want you to confirm to me the appearance of King Angmar.”

Aqat took a deep breath and recounted in detail his description of the King. He apologised for not being close enough to give more detail, but he was kept at a distance, along with everyone else by the Kings bodyguards.

Eönwë was satisfied it was indeed King Angmar, which he would confirm himself later at the banquet. But for now he needed to send a message.

“Go to the bazaar and find the man named Mordeth.”

Aqat looked up quizzically.

“He has an old shop with birds of many types in cages.”

Recognition replaced the puzzlement on Aqat's face.

“Tell him I sent you and give him this.” Eönwë handed over a tiny leather pouch, tied with a simple string.

“And when you get back you can tell me the rest of your story.” Eönwë had no interest in the rumour spreading through the city. He knew already what it was about, but he wanted to humour the boy.


“Eönwë sent you. That is what you said?”

The store holder stared at the young boy. A bird screeched, causing Aqat to nearly jump out of his skin. The man chuckled out loud.

“That’s old Toby. He makes a noise to scare the devil himself.”

Aqat tentatively proffered the little pouch. The man took it and weighed it in his hands.

“It’s rather light.”

This statement almost sent the boy into a panic.

“I’m only testing you,” the store keeper smiled.

Aqat breathed again.

“Tell him it’s done.”

And with that the man shooed the boy away. But despite being anxious and just a little frightened by the man with his menagerie of feathered beasts, he crept back to see what the store keeper would do. Aqat did not get too close, after all, not all the birds were in cages. Toby was simply on a perch, and it seemed his huge eyes followed every movement. Still he managed to position himself to watch the man untie the sack. Then he disappeared a moment, re-emerging from the rear of the shop with a tiny grey and white bird. He held the bird as he attached a little scroll to one leg. Then held it up, opening both hands and letting it fly away. It circled overhead, making one full turn. Toby screeched again, and the tiny bird flew off.

The message had been sent.

《《《 ------ 》》》

For now the story ends here...

There are many unanswered questions to which only time may eventually reply.



I would like to thank Nick Brady for taking the time to read this and for pointing out a few errors.


End of Times.jpg

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