Lithroleah moved surreptitiously among the trees, trying to avoid detection.
A sudden movement in the undergrowth caused him to start, but he relaxed slowly as he saw a deer bolt, disappearing into the undergrowth.
He carried on. There would be time to enjoy the finer aspects of the forest later.
His legs took him to the edge of the forest. A little voice whispered in his mind, telling him to set out on this journey, urging him to seek out Praneer in spite of his earlier warnings.
Not even Caeriel knew of his decision to go looking for the hermit. He had excused himself from her company with an excuse of carrying out a task for the King, and thus found himself here.
Coming to the edge of the forest, he saw that the surrounding land was encompassed in darkness. The stars shone down, and the earth was basking in their beautiful light. Pausing to appreciate the sight, he felt his heart rise.
It did not take him long to reach the rocks that concealed the dwelling of the hermit. They were merely small hills that rose out of the land, a mere fraction of the Lonely Mountains that were rising so majestically to the East.
Lithroleah stood and sighed. The craggy features thrust high into the night sky, framed by the dancing orbs in the sky. A smile spread across the face of the Elf.
He heard a thump, and swung around.
Silence. He looked about warily. A sudden gust of wind caught him off guard, and he swayed uncertainly. Irritation welled up in him. It was unbecoming of an Elf to be so unnerved.
"I was clear enough the first time, wasn't I?" Lithroleah spun around, and a red flush rose in his cheeks as he faced the recluse. A new measure of respect crept into his heart. He had not heard the man coming down behind him.
"Excuse me, Praneer!" he said, with equanimity that surprised even himself. His voice was smooth and unrecognisable to his own ears. "Interminable premonitions have led me to this very place. I fear I will not rest well until they are obeyed!"
"You are lucky that I happen to have a predilection for you. Or you and your companion would have been killed by that awful beast" His voice as at the same time familiar and strange to Lithroleah.
"It is answers that I seek," Lithroleah said, and sensing no irritation in the other, pressed on, "I seek to find the truth about those creatures that attacked me; from whence they hail; about the threat to my home."
A derisive snort rose from within the cloak.
"Curiousity. A trait common among Elves. You are always wanting to increase your knowledge about Middle-Earth. Yet, the more you know, the colder you feel about Arda. What self-destruction! There are strange and dark things making their presence felt."
He produced a pipe from within the folds of his cloak and set the leaf within it burning. Lazy wisps of smoke rose up from it and encircled his cowl. Lithroleah did not respond, and instead waited respectfully for him to continue.
"Indeed, what were those creatures? Would it satisfy you if I told you that I know not the answers?"
"I do not know what to think. His Majesty grows more weary with each passing day."
"You know the King of Eryn Galen?" The other's tone had lost his steadiness, and seemed almost febrile with excitement.
"Ai!" Lithroleah answered, surprised by the change in the usually taciturn man.
The man paused and seemed to collect himself before proceeding.
"Do you know him well then?"
"Nay! I am too young to be associating with the King of Eryn Galen on intimate terms!" the Elf said. "It is his son, Prince Legolas, whom I count as being a friend."
"So, tell me. When did you first hear of the threat to Greenwood?"
"His Majesty made an announcement to our people. It seems to me, however, that he has known about it ere the start of spring."
Praneer nodded reflectively, and took another puff from his pipe.
"That is not surprising. For all his faults, Thranduil is a great king. I suppose his son knows of it as well." His voice was filled with irony and even carefully masked hatred.
Lithroleah looked up abruptly at his rescuer and nodded, unable to keep the curiousity out of his eyes.
"And the Prince. When did he find out about the threat?"
"That I cannot ascertain" Lithroleah stopped abruptly upon hearing the resentment creep into his voice. He was jealous; jealous of his friend. The suddenness of the feeling, and the intensity of it unnerved him.
The hermit waved his pipe and motioned for the Elf to carry on, as if sensing there was more to come.
"It is possible even his servant knew before we did!"
"Ai, Legolas's aide and closest friend, Esendri."
"Indeed, that is something that I have never heard about! Thranduil has handled the situation in a disappointing manner. You have seen with your own eyes that the circumstances are more serious than a couple of Orcs ravaging some beeches."
"There does not seem to be anything that occurs without you knowing, Praneer! I do concur, however, that the state of affairs is alarming!"
"The creatures that attacked you were spiders, Elf! If you follow the train of thought, it would lead you to an obvious conclusion. And there are things much worse out there biding their time."
Lithroleah felt shivers run down to the base of his spine at the ominous prediction.
For the first time, Lithroleah felt that perhaps he had spoken too much with the man. Rational thought came to him all of a sudden, and he realised that he hardly knew the man. It was peculiar that he had even opened up to him.
He gave himself a mental shaking-down. He was being silly.
"Perhaps it is time you revealed more of yourself!"
Praneer grunted impatiently. "Trying to find out more about me? I am afraid I don't even know myself. I am an outcast: shunned, spurned, never belonging to any people. Neither Men nor Elves interest me. I am a Hunter and have lived in these parts for as long as I have been alive. Does that satisfy you, little Elfling?"
Lithroleah nodded vaguely. He was not satisfied with the explanation. It did not account for how the man had taken on the creatures with such skill not usually possessed by common Hunters. He decided to ask no more, and instead to consult with Caeriel.
As if reading his thoughts, the Hunter started speaking again. "Promise me you would not reveal this conversation to any."
"You have my word!" the Elf replied after a moment's hesitation.
The words had barely left his mouth before he realised that he was alone again, staring at the empty spot where the Hunter had been just moments before. The only clue to ascertain he had not been dreaming were the few ashes fallen from the pipe, staring up tauntingly in the face of the confused Elf.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.