More than a fortnight before Darkness and Fear...
Gladhalion stood in the center of the council chamber, poised over a table and sketching notes upon a few of the maps scattered on its surface. Next to him was an ellon in a similar position and garb, though his robes were a pale blue. They stood like that a few moments, pale silver hair and dark hair bent together, occasionally mumbling something low and nodding to one another as they pointed to indications and figures on the maps they perused.
Their discussion was checked when the great oak chamber doors opened to let in a line of three other elves, all decorated in robes of varying hues and talking quite animatedly. Whatever conversation had stirred up such interest soon trailed off, however, until only a few choice words passed back and forth as the councillors gathered around the table.
The councillor in deep indigo, who had just joined the table, peered over at the maps and new markings. “Any more news from the borders?”
The ellon behind him stepped up, an upward tilt in his chin. “There is a growing uproar among the people about the increasing numbers of missing…you know how one elf knows dozens others, and each of those know dozens more. It only takes one,” and here he lifted up a pointed finger, “border warden that does not return from his patrol or one woodsman that does not return from collecting lumber to set off a whole community into a panic, you know…” Here, the councillor nodded solemnly after his speech, his pale golden hair sinking down further into his robe of the same shade.
“Yes, Camaen. You were making that point as we were entering,” Thandir sighed deeply, tucking his hands behind his indigo robes. “I was inquiring about the borders.”
Camaen ceased his grave nodding to look offended for a brief second before he continued. “Come, then. Tell us the state of our borders when elves are disappearing under our vigilance.” He flourished his arm with a beckoning gesture and allowed a dramatic silence to follow.
The councillor in pale blue beside Gladhalion held up his hands. “Peace, Camaen. Gladhalion and I were only just discussing the merits of extending the borders of our safe areas. The news of missing elves are ill tidings to us all.”
Camaen stepped up closer to the table with a swirl of his golden robes. “What actions will we take then?” His brows drew together on his forehead.
Silent until now, Curugaim cleared his throat from beside Thandir, and the others turned to him. “And what would you have us do? Send some of these panicking civilians to barge into orc encampments, searching for their loved ones? Or send some more scouts, who already risk their lives for our protection, to disappear after our missing?” Though more soft-spoken and even-toned than Camaen, Curugaim’s words held no less weight. His long fingers emerged from the cuff of his crimson robes and touched the map. He traced the line that marked the invisible border, beyond which the enemy had not managed to pass. “We are already losing numbers. Our soldiers grow weary of long months spent under the dark eaves. And our numbers do not rise and fall as rapidly as those of our enemy. Those orcs we slay are quickly replaced. Such is not the case with us.” The councillor glanced up, his grey eyes piercing.
Camaen swallowed and leaned back away from the table. “I only meant to convey the sentiments of the people.” His fingers idly picked at one decorative gem from a row sewn into his robe sleeve. “We should have some encouraging words to tell them…what we plan to do and such…if you understand me.” He furtively glanced at the other councillors around the table. He stopped his gaze at the dark-haired ellon across from him. “Tell us more of your plans to extend the safe border, Brandolas.”
“It is not a plan so much as a thought.” Brandolas indicated south of the line on the map. “If we clear what we believe to be small encampments, most likely very temporary posts of our enemy to harass us, we may be able to secure more safe areas and push the orcs further away. We can discourage them from coming near enough to take any more lives.”
“What manner of elves are going missing?” Thandir inquired quietly.
Camaen piped in, ready to supply answers. “Any sort they say. Civilians as much as soldiers. Less soldiers perhaps since our enemies cannot get their hands on them without risking their lives. A humble craftsman would be much easier.”
Thandir stroked his chin, his grey eyes on the map but his thoughts elsewhere. “Is this idea viable? Do we have enough willing soldiers, Brandolas?”
“An extension of our border line is folly.” Curugaim’s even voice cut in and filled the chamber. “If we fail to keep safe what is within our possession, how will we guard even more?”
“But Curugaim, if we push the orcs further from the inhabited parts of our forest...,” Brandolas began to explain.
“No one should be wandering even close to the line, and if they have chosen to remain in their homes so near the edge of danger despite our warnings, such is the risk they take.” Curugaim’s face remained set and unmoved.
“Curugaim, the people abhor inaction. They want to see they are being protected!”
The councillor in crimson turned again to look contemptuously at Camaen, who averted his eyes to the ellon across from him, robed in forest green.
“What do you think, Gladhalion? Should we not do something for the missing elves?”
The eyes of the other councillors followed Camaen’s and waited. Gladhalion inhaled slowly as he regarded the map. After a pause, he addressed the expectant faces. “If extending our area of protection is ambitious, mayhap we can consider sending some to follow the trail of the missing. There are some soldiers who may be willing. I know a few who have already been affected by this and are eager to go in search. As of now, their duties and orders prevent them from doing so.”
Camaen slapped his hand lightly upon the table, his pale golden robe sleeve fluttering. “That is the idea!”
“And if the path leads them to the doors of Dol Guldur?” Curugaim raised an eyebrow.
Brandolas stepped in. “It need not be an attempt to rescue. Perhaps a scouting expedition will suffice. Once we know where the path leads, then we may decide on our next course of action.”
Thandir’s soft, lilting voice brought the others together once more. “Gladhalion, you are leaving to see to the border in a fortnight, are you not?”
“Yes, I will lead an advance in front of the soldiers who will replace the ones that are there now.”
The old elf nodded, tucking his hands behind his back once more. “See how many might be willing to go in search as you say.” Thandir bent his head forward slightly and gave a meaningful look. “But it is a simple inquiry. They should be made to know that this is no promise that such a venture will be undertaken.”
Camaen traced an ornate line of stitching down the center of his robe. “Well, I think that this matter has been turned over enough times this evening.” His body was half turned towards the door.
“Camaen,” Thandir warned. “This is no plan or notion that should be planted among the people while all is still uncertain.”
The pale-haired ellon opened his mouth as if to say something.
“We would not want to raise any false hopes.” A gentle smile followed in reassurance from Thandir.
Camaen’s mouth closed and his previously contorted features smoothed into a relaxed grin. “Ah, of course not. Quite right.”
He pivoted on his heel and glided through the rich oaken doors with a final turn of his golden robes. Thandir chuckled to himself, bowed his head to the other councillors, and took his leave as well. Brandolas shared a nod with Gladhalion and soon followed, taking up the pile of charts and books beside him.
Gladhalion returned a standing token to its usual location upon the map, pondered it quietly, then also turned towards the chamber doors. However, before the silver-haired councillor was able to step away from the table, Curugaim broke the peaceful silence that had settled into the air. “It would be wise to keep your concerns to matters of defense, Turdirith.”
His sharp grey eyes flashed in warning once. Then he left Gladhalion at the table, his footsteps padding quietly across the stone floor and his robes a trail of crimson following him out the door.