Estel's Quest: The Mark of Sauron

by Dandy

Gandalf sat smoking his pipe in Elrond's office.
"She had the baby. March 1st."
"I know," was the reply, "This time we will be more vigilant, during the teenage years. How Sauron manages it, still we do not know. What is that driving force that causes them to leave the security of Rivendell for that brief time?"
"Will you bring the family in early?"
"Not unless it is necessary."
And so they waited. As they always did.

The Ring is awake. I sit here in Dol Guldur brooding. The Ring is awake and I can feel it. Finding it now should not be difficult, I feel it being used, and the Bearer is corrupt. If I call it will come. I have heard from my spies of a certain prophecy. The Ring is hidden and so is that accursed line of Isildur. I will see that line ended. The Ring is awake. My time is coming. Again. I will not be denied this time. The plan is laid, the next one will come out of hiding for a brief moment, they are drawn to the Stones like a moth to the flame, and it is in their blood to recognize when a Stone is around. They always do. Then I will set my mark upon him, and be able to recognize him when he is a man. Let him think he will win in the end, thus my victory will be sweeter. The Ring is awake. And I feel a new hand upon it. Ha! It is little early, but it is a maneuver that they will not foresee. "You!" My mind touched another. "You will ride at once, for I will begin the call now!" My fortress is ready. It is time to move.

A young lad of 10 running through the forest, it was trick of his to try to lose his daily warden. He knew that it was nearly impossible; the elves were much quicker than a 10-year-old boy, but he was learning more from the elf trackers than they would care to admit, and he had a special reason for wanting to lose them today, it was because of the game. Today he was going to cross The River Bruinen. And they weren't going to stop him like they did last week when he tried to climb to up into the pines. There was something that was pulling him in that direction since he met that strange halfling traveler. Bilbo. That was the traveler's name. Bilbo had rushed through with a wizard and 13 dwarves midsummer last year and now on his return trip he had taken some time to linger with the elves. He told such wonderful tales of his journey, and of his home. But it wasn't Bilbo that caused the restlessness he felt. He had to get out, he always felt so trapped inside Papa Rond's house. When he was two and first came to live with Papa Rond they barely let him out of the house, he had played a game of testing his boundaries. Yes, he will always remember the first day he came to Papa Rond's house; he couldn't understand why Mama wouldn't stop crying. But even that sad memory wasn't going to interfere with his boundary game today. There was something that lay to the West that called to him, he had to go and find it.

Well, he knew one road he wasn't going to take. That was the well-traveled one over the Ford of Bruinen. They were sure to figure out what he was up to if he took that one. Nope, he would take the deer run that ended at the river to the north, north than west that was his direction. His boundary was more flexible to the north. It was quite possible that he could lose the elf-warden in the woods there. Seen or unseen, only one to lose on this particular day. Maybe it was a good thing that Gandalf and Bilbo had chosen this particular time to return, the elves were distracted. So was he now. He started running again.

There it was. What a beautiful wild thing of beauty. The River. He had seen it before from this vantage point. He had followed this same path, last fall. But the river was up and there wasn't this insatiable desire to cross it. He sat on rock near the rivers edge. For a long time he watched the current flow by. Did he dare cross? What would the warden do? What would Papa Rond say if he found out? And Mama how mad would she be if he crossed? These questions filled his head as he stared at the water so close to his feet.

So engrossed with his thoughts that he did not notice two figures, both hidden in trees, one on each side of the river staring at each other in hatred. Both were carrying bows and a quiver. Both drew down upon the other. One lost. He fell out of the tree into the path behind the boy.

Startled out of his thoughts at the sound behind him, the boy looked back over his shoulder and saw...nothing. Well it was time to go on, if the warden were to stop him, he would do so as soon as his feet touched the water. He was willing to chance it, that strange desire had increased as he sat by the waters edge and debated. Why he chose this particular spot was unknown to him, he took off his boots and waded in, but it wasn't no more than waist deep, he continued across.

He was on the other side. Taking a deep breath he pulled his boots back on and looked around. This was it. The pull came from the northwest. He wasn't afraid of getting lost himself; the first lesson the trackers taught him was to track backwards. He had the hang of that now, he had been doing that since the first time they caught him trailing after them when he was six, and they forced him to go back, alone. He grinned. Back then he thought he was alone. There was always at least one elf with him. He would follow the river until he found a suitable place to climb out of the river valley.

He had followed the river for about two miles, when he heard a sound behind him. Must be the elf-warden finally putting an end to my trek he thought. He turned to speak, when suddenly he felt the rock hit the back of his head. The world went black.

He awoke groaning. He was in his bed. How? What? His head ached. That he understood. But his arm ached too. That was unforeseen. He lifted himself painfully and struggled to his mirror. There branded in his upper arm was an elvish character. A single rune, (ash). He shook his head how did that get there and how did he get home? Too many questions and his head ached. He crawled back to bed. He would ask Papa Rond later. Now he just wanted to sleep.

The Ring is awake. The deed is done. He is marked. Another victory is mine.

Estel's Quest

He lay in a fevered dream. Nightmares.
Of cats with blood red eyes, peering from dark holes.
"Never before has Sauron struck an heir at so early an age" Papa Rond's voice sounded sorrowful. " I have failed you again."
"Do you think it is a coincidence that the very year we drive him out of Dol Guldur, he changes from the tactics that he always used." Gandalf voice had filter into the dream.
"What is it that you suspect?"
"I suspect that he has decided to play one last cat-and-mouse game with us. I also suspect that we are drawing near to the end of games."
"That is what I am afraid of." Papa Rond's voice faded...
And so they waited. As they always did.

The Ring is awake. I sit in my ruins of Barad-dur. Soon I will rebuild my tower and armies. My orcs and goblins have retreated and are secretly multiplying in Moria. They will think that they are safe, that they have slaughtered my entire army during that skirmish at Lonely Mountain. HA. That was just a mere token of resistance. They will not know that what I wanted to do was to breed discontent between the dwarves and elves. HA. I didn't even need to sow those seeds, they were already there and being nurtured before I had gotten involved. A few well placed human adversaries in Dale and Bree will be enough to spread that poison. The Ring is awake. I will need its power before I can overthrow them all. The time is ripening. Let them wait. Let them think themselves safe. My time is coming. I have waited nearly 3000 years what are a few decades more to ensure victory. Patience. The Ring is awake. It will come.

Estel awoke to the smell of athelias. That's funny, he thought. Papa Rond never used those unless someone was really ill. Still he did like the smell for it was very comforting. He opened his eyes and looked around the room. Mr. Bilbo was asleep in the chair next to the bed, a plate of food and a bottle sat on the little table on the far side. Hmm, thought Estel, I am hungry. At that moment Mr. Bilbo woke up.
"Hullo Estel, my boy, you know Elrond said you would wake up about this time. How he knew..." Mr. Bilbo shook his head.
Estel chuckled. "He always seems to know."
"I can believe it. Are you hungry and can we talk for a while, while you eat?"
Estel nodded. Mr. Bilbo handed him his plate and began to speak.
"First off, I want to tell you how sorry I am for causing you this pain"
Estel swallowed, "What do you mean?"
"Well if I hadn't told you about my advent..."
Estel interrupted, "but it wasn't your tales that caused this. It was something else, I can't put my finger on it Mr. Bilbo, but I had to go. It was like a rope pulling me in that direction. I couldn't fight it; and I couldn't back away from it. I still feel it, not as powerful of a compulsion as it was before, but still there. What I should I do?"

Mr. Bilbo pondered that question as Estel returned back to his lunch. At last he spoke.
"I believe that you and I should go in search of this, Estel. I will get permission for us to journey on this quest together in the next day or two. The roads should not be dangerous with the goblins destroyed in the battle of the five armies. We will go as soon as you have recovered and if your foster-father grants you permission, otherwise it will eat at you like a canker. I will leave you to finish eating, and let you sleep to recover further. I see you are still weary from your last journey, so I will not trouble you further. Let me go and talk with Gandalf and Elrond and let us see what can be done."
"That's sounds good Mr...."
"Please no need to be formal, just call me Bilbo or Uncle Bilbo as my family does. That is enough"
"Okay, Bilbo...Uncle Bilbo" Estel smiled. "That's sounds good. I think I will go back to sleep for a little while longer."

When next he awoke, he was feeling wide-awake and anxious to be out of bed. Once again he wasn't alone, this time all three were with were with him. Gandalf and Papa Rond had unreadable expressions on their faces; Bilbo had his normal cheerful smile.
"So can I get up?" Estel asked.
"If we decide you are fit enough." Papa Rond responded in his usual manner. (Estel did not expect a straight yes or no for an answer).
"I have some questions..."
"I suppose you do," answered Estel flushing, "I'm sorry I caused all this trouble."
"I have talked with Bilbo, and before I grant permission for you to travel with Him and Gandalf. Can you explain to us what you felt, and why you felt it necessary to leave?"
"I'm sorry," Estel said again. "I can't explain it, as I said to Uncle Bilbo, It was just a compulsion. Like having a rope tied to my middle drawing me towards something. I think I could have continued with my eyes closed. I followed its spell to the river and just knew where I had to cross, but not why. I figured as soon as I started across that someone would stop me, and no one did. So I went on. I couldn't find a way out of the river valley but I had to keep looking. I am very confused about it all. What happened to my warden, how did I get this mark on my arm, what is this elvish character I have never seen it before, how did I get back here, how did you know where to find me..." the questions came tumbling out before he could stop them.
"Whoa" said Gandalf. "We were asking the questions. Will you tell us your tale first and then we will answer your questions."
"I can at least do that" so he proceeded to tell them his tale. And when he finished Gandalf was shaking his head in confusion.
" I still do not understand it." Papa Rond said. "But, we will let the matter lie, we will let Bilbo answer your questions, I must see to the outfitting of your quest, and Gandalf has pressing business in the council room. Please promise me that you will remain in the company of either Bilbo or Gandalf when you journey, my son. I do not want to see anything worse to happen to you."
"I promise." said Estel. A smile came to his face. "My own adventure with Uncle Bilbo and Gandalf, just like the tales in the great hall. How fun." He and Bilbo watched as their other two companions left. "Okay Uncle Bilbo, will you tell me the parts of my tale that I slept through?"

Estel's Quest: The Tale from Rivendell

Gandalf and Elrond shut the door. Elrond leaned against it.
"What are you thinking, Elrond? The lad is only ten, do you think we will find what he was looking for."
Elrond shook his head. "No, as you said before it is just a game, but it will give the boy a chance to get use to a life of traveling, although I cannot seem to keep him corralled here at Rivendell too much longer. He may go, but no further than Bree. Bilbo wants to return home after this journey and I am sure you do not wish to be saddled for very long with a lad of ten, either. I will send Elladan to Bree at the beginning of June to return Estel here, which should give you nearly a month to get to Bree. I have discussed this with his mother, and she cannot bear to have him gone much longer than that."
"So it will be a wasted quest?"
"Yes, but a necessary one, maybe he will find what he is looking for. We must try. None of the others kept the feeling after they received the Mark. There is something special about this one. I can feel it."

Estel looked at Bilbo who was pulling out his pipe and his pouch of Old Toby. "So when are you going to start My Tale"

Bilbo chuckled. "In a moment my lad. Every tale needs to be told in with the proper atmosphere. Hopefully when I tell it, it will answer your questions. Our part of your story begins when Elrond felt the touch of your foot into the River Bruinen. We were in the council room when Elrond stood up with a jerk. It was like he had strings attached to his shoulders. He looked to the northwest and yelled your name. It was amazing that he could feel your touch in the water like that. Anyways, he yells for Elladan to gather the horses and meet him at the front gate. It all happened rather quickly. I rushed out behind Gandalf, the horses and your pony were already there and waiting. Gandalf saw that I was anxious to join the party and since they needed someone to guide your pony anyways, they allowed me to come. We rode along your trail: Gandalf, Elrond, Elladan, and myself. Elladan didn't find it difficult to track you..."

"He wouldn't, he has been training me to follow a track. I don't think I will ever be as good as him though."

"Well after all he does have a few thousand years of experience. You led us on a pretty good trek through the woods, it became much easier when we found your trail on the deer run, and we were able to go faster when we reached that point. Still we were about two hours behind you. It was just before we reached the river that we found Ellaster, who was in charge of watching you for the day. He was found on the track, he had been shot by an arrow, although it wasn't so much the arrow that killed him, it was the fall from the tree."

"So I did hear something fall behind me. I looked but didn't see anything. I thought it was a branch. You always hear strange noises in the woods. I am sorry, he was a good friend of mine." Estel had tears running down his face.

Bilbo paused to allow the boy a chance to recover his composure. "Lad, he knows you meant him no harm. They have buried him alongside the waterfall he loved so much."


"Lad, it has been nearly three days"

"Three days? But it seemed like only yesterday."

"We are getting ahead of ourselves here. We crossed the river and followed you up the river. Now we had to move more warily because we did not know if there were still archers about, and we were out of Elrond's boundaries. After two maybe three more miles we finally found you. You were laying face down by the river. I have never seen Gandalf and Elrond move so fast. They were both out of the saddle and kneeling beside you within seconds of stopping their horses. They had a look of fear in their eyes when they saw the knot on the back of your head, and the bloodstained rock along side, and were afraid because you were still unconscious. Carefully they turned you over and their looks turned to relief when they saw that you were breathing somewhat normally. Gandalf mounted his horse and Elrond lifted you up in front of him. Elladan left us then, to find the trail of your attacker. And the three of us bearing you started the ride back to Rivendell. We arrived back in Rivendell without mishap and Elrond sent one of the other elves back after Ellaster. We took you to your room. And I was sent to fetch some water. When I returned Gandalf and Elrond were not around and you were lying on the floor by the mirror. It was there that I noticed for the first time the mark on your arm. I felt your forehead and discovered you were running a fever and I ran to Elrond's study to fetch him and Gandalf. He must have suspected something because he was in there gathering up herbs. We put you back into the bed, and Elrond laid the herbs on your arm and then bandaged both that and your head. I tried to ask Gandalf about the mark, but he only would say that it was not my concern."

Bilbo chuckled. " A typical Gandalf answer. I told them I would sit with you while Elrond brewed you some medicine. And so I sat with you while you burned with fever for two nights. Last night your fever finally broke and they told me to get some rest in my own room. They said I could come visit you this morning that you would be awake when I came in. And of course you were. Well that is your Tale from Rivendell."

"I see," said Estel. "So you don't know any more about the mark than I do."

"No, well, maybe a little bit. I do know a brand when I see it; it is an elvish character of an ancient script that the Elves of Eregion used. It is the number one. You did not receive it here at Rivendell, so I speculate that whoever hit you with the rock, left the brand at the same time, which is also strange because there was no fire pit anywhere near where we found you. Gandalf and Elrond were more concerned with the fever than the mark when I told them about it. The glance they shared was almost as if it was expected. Well Lad that is your tale as far as it has gone. Tomorrow, I suspect a new journey will begin. For all of us."

Estel's Quest: The Journey Begins

Bilbo sat in his room lost in thought. He had finally finished packing his saddlebags. "Well you are doing it again, going off on another adventure. Silly hobbit. What are you thinking Mr. Baggins? You should be home minding your garden. This will lead to trouble; you know that well enough, with Gandalf involved. Still the poor lad needs to find some peace, and he is so looking forward to it. I hope we can find what he is looking for. I really must be getting home though. I miss working in the garden, and the beers at the Green Dragon afterwards. But I promised the lad I would go with him and it is in the direction (near-enough) towards home. What is a another week or two added to my homeward journey?" He sighed. Standing up he looked around the room that he had become accustomed to staying in. Now that it came down to it he wasn't sure he really wanted to leave. "Come on sluggard," he said to himself. "What was it Old Holman use to say: Ah yes, it's 'the job that doesn't get started that takes the longest to get done.'" He walked out of the room and shut the door.

Estel checked his pony and supplies for the third time that morning. He couldn't wait for his 12th birthday. Papa Rond had promised to get him a real horse for that birthday. That was in just two years, or maybe sooner if he is tall enough. Starlight was a sturdy pony and very fiery when given the chance; but a real horse, Wow! Once again he went through his supply list. Gandalf had told him to pack light. Estel laughingly remembered how much he had gathered to take last night. Poor Starlight wouldn't have been able to move, let alone carry everything he first packed. Shaking his head Estel chuckled again. Already packed and they weren't even leaving until after luncheon. He patted Starlight and walked towards Elrond's study. He still needed to say Namarie to Papa Rond. He had already said farewell to Mama and nearly embarrassed himself by bursting into tears, now he was starting to get choked up again about saying farewell to Papa Rond. Swiftly altering his course he was able to control himself until he had reached his bedroom, he had never felt right about crying in front of the elves. As he lay on the bed, silently crying, sleep overcame him.

He awoke after several hours of uninterrupted sleep. He didn't get much the night before so he wasn't surprised that he had fallen asleep. What had awakened him, he mused, then he heard it again, the sound of the chimes ringing for luncheon. He wasn't really hungry but he remembered what Uncle Bilbo had told him "Always eat, before you start on a journey, because you never know when your next meal will come". Most of Uncle Bilbo's advice seemed to be about food, pipes or a good pint. Well this one made sense, he had mentioned many times in his tales about always being hungry when he had journeyed through Mirkwood. Estel had some hunting skills with a bow, and it was May, so finding plants to eat wouldn't be that difficult. Not that Uncle Bilbo wouldn't make sure they had plenty of food stuffs packed in his saddle bags. This was going to be so much fun! He nearly flew down the hall to The Great Hall where they were to meet before leaving. The elves were giving Bilbo a royal send off, since Bilbo had decided that he was going to return to his home in The Shire after the quest.

Finally! At last they were leaving on his Quest. It was a perfect day to start out. He had learned from Elrond and Gandalf that they had a month of travel before they separated at Bree. Elladan was going to meet him there while Gandalf and Uncle Bilbo went on to Bilbo's home. He was in high spirits when he mounted Starlight, he wouldn't trade this for anything. Him! On a Quest, like the tales told in the Great Hall about Beren and Luthien, or Gil-Galad. Him! On a quest with a wizard and Uncle Bilbo who was so much fun to be around, it was too good to be true. Him! And not an elf in sight.

Estel closed his eyes. There was that song again; all he had to do was to follow it. It was a call that stirred his blood; like a song playing inside of him. The sound still came from the northwest. Funny, it wasn't exactly like he first heard it; then it seemed to be twisted, and almost wrong. But now the sound was pure. Was it right, he thought, to have a path laid out before him like a golden thread that he could see? Was this really the way it should be? Shouldn't the path be a surprise and not so cut and dried? He mused on these until he realized that he could muse just as easily with Starlight moving instead of just standing there. He was the leader of this expedition, who was to say he was wrong? Well he had put off the departure long enough; he opened his eyes and nodded.

He started his pony along the path that he had just run, less than five days before. They rode in silence for an hour as they each got use to riding on a saddle again. Estel normally rode bareback but long hours on a pony's backbone was very wearying, even at his young age he had learned this. They were especially quiet when they reached the waters edge and Estel remembered the fate of his elvish friend. With a heavy heart he rode through the river. Dipping his hand in the water, he said farewell to Papa Rond knowing now that the touch would be felt by the elf-lord. They rode for another half hour in silence. When suddenly the silence was finally broken, it was by Bilbo of course. He winked at Estel and then he had burst out into a song.

Estel has started on a fateful course.
With out a Pony, with out a horse.
His journey caused by a strange dream
And ended with an elvish scream

Through the forest he did run
Blinded by all thoughts but one
Something caught at his heart
Made him forget where safety lay
It made him wish to get away

Across Rivendell his feet did trod
On a northward trek he did plod
Till at the river crossing he was met
With a swift decision his feet got wet

Crossing the river he did run
Blinded by all thoughts but one
Something caught at his heart
Made him forget where safety lay
It made him wish to get away

And on his northward trek it came
The day of reckoning a day of pain
Never more an innocent boy he be
Because of the simple mark you see.

Blinded by all thoughts but one
Something caught at his heart
Made him forget where safety lay
It made him wish to get away
Now he has a chance to stray.
Yes now he has his chance away.

Estel stopped his pony in amazement Never before had someone made up a song about him.
"Uncle Bilbo, when did you make that up?" He asked.

"Why Lad, just in this past hour while we were riding. Do you think its any good Gandalf?" Bilbo asked.

Gandalf laughed. "Well it's not up to your usual standards, but you might be able to polish it up one day."

Their journey continued on a brighter note.

(To be continued)