Mirestal – Aerthyrian Sovereignty in Middle-earth
Lord of the Rings Online
The Aerthyrian Sovereignty is an online gaming community with a strong association with World of Warcraft. For a while, the guild made a foray into Lord of the Rings Online, and this role-playing thread was begun in the guild’s LOTRO forums. The characters of Kael and Aegeus, however, have populated the imagination of AS founder Ben (“DK”) Teague and Seth (“Fizzledark”) Hale through many adventures, in many worlds. I was honored to share a few moments of imagination with them, as the mysterious Mirestal.
The rain continued to fall, finding its way even through the branches of the trees, cold and cutting. It quieted the birds and stilled the small creatures in the forest, kept the larger ones in hiding. It saturated the ground and made even carefully movement treacherous. It ran in rivulets down her cloak and dripped off the peak of her hood, unheeded.
She barely noticed the rain, save to draw her cloak more closely around herself. Instead, her attention was focused on the three travelers as they descended into the crevasse, down, towards the cave she knew waited at the end of the cleft. Cursing under her breath, she moved silently after them.
Kael took a single step into the cave and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. A quick perusal showed nothing to raise concern – no gnawed bones, no stray materials strewn around, no sizeable cobwebs. No fetid orders assaulted his nostrils, other than the dampness of the cave itself. His skin tingled, but that was due to the damp and the cold and the dark. He heard no growls, no scramblings or scratchings, nothing but the drip of water trickling from the damp walls into a pool set somewhere deep in the cave.
He motioned the others to come forward, and they entered, shaking the water from their hair and their clothes as best they could. Aegeus said nothing, but Smithers’ teeth were chattering from the damp and the cold of the rain.
“Fire is out of the question, I’m afraid,” Kael confirmed, as the others looked about, “There is no fuel here and I’m not about to go out looking for anything that might burn – it’s not like we would find anything anyway. But I suggest we get out of robes and cloaks as far as we can, and let them dry on their own, and let ourselves air out.”
“Good idea,” Aegeus agreed, and he began to wrestle out of his outer cloak, which had become heavy and water-logged. “But…but….” Smithers objected, his teeth still chattering and his body shaking with chill. “Come, lad,” Aegeus encouraged, “you’ll feel warmer once you get these wet things off, and let your skin dry.”
Soon the men were stripped down to breeches and linen shirts, all save for Kael who went bare-chested, as well. They listened to the rain outside for minutes, punctuated only by rumbling thunder and occasional flashes of lightning high overhead. Smithers’ teeth were no longer chattering, and before long he was scratching random designs on the cave floor. Aegeus sighed, and daydreamed. Quickly, discomfort had been replaced by boredom.
Kael got up, dusted his hands on his pants, and started towards the back of the cave. “What are you doing?” the priest asked, and Smithers looked up questioningly. “Relax,” Kael said, “I’m just going to do some exploring. Check out that pool back there and see if really is the end of the cave, or if it leads somewhere else.” Carefully he started to pick his way through the darkness.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Thunder crashed as Kael spun into a defensive crouch while Aegeus lunged for his staff, and time paused as the ground shook and all stood frozen. The newcomer, however, stood at ease, even though her hand rested gently on the hilt of her sword. She took no further step forward.
Kael regained his composure first. “And why do you give such counsel, stranger?” At his words, everyone relaxed a little, but Aegeus was the only one to let his weapon dip.
“First things, first,” she said, and made to unsling her pack from her back. Kael tensed again, but she spoke with a wry chuckle. “Relax,” she said, and held up what looked to be a clod of earth.
“What’s that?” Smithers asked, somewhat suspiciously.
“Aurochs dung,” she said matter of factly, and knelt down, flint appearing between nimble fingers. In moments she had produced a flame, and the cave flickered into life as she held up the makeshift torch. She caught Smithers’ incredulous eye. “Always keep a few lumps of aurochs dung in the bottom of your pack,” she said conspiratorially, “They are neat, compact, and burn slowly and cleanly. If you pick them up when they are dry, they don’t even smell.”
It was true. As she held the makeshift torch aloft, they were able to get a better look at their surroundings, and at her. As if in answer to an unvoiced question, she pushed back her hood until it fell to her shoulders, exposing a face delicate in appearance, with graceful, upswept eyebrows and ears that peaked through dark hair pulled back in a single plait. Her eyes, however, were serious, and held countless years and experiences in their depths.
“You’re….. you’re an elf!” Smithers blurted out in the innocence of youth.
She smiled then, and handed the boy the makeshift torch. “Now I see why they have brought you along,” she said in voice that held a touch of sarcasm, and yet was not unkind, “to make sure that no one misses the obvious.” She undid the silver clasp at her neck – an intricate knot of metalwork surrounding the initials AS – and removed the cloak from her shoulders. Stepping back to the mouth of the cave, she gave the cape a sharp shake, and then laid it carefully over some outcroppings near where the garments of the men were drying. She was dressed in unadorned woodsman style, breeches tucked into high boots (each with a internal bootstrap knife, Kael noticed) and white linen shirt, a brushed leather laced vest. None were wet save her boots. At her hip was sheathed a nimble sword, and Kael was willing to wager that there were more weapons concealed elsewhere. She was somewhat short for an elf – something that must help her disguise herself while in the company of men – but she was lithe and graceful, as was the norm for her kind, although she moved without beguilement or pretense, as though long unaware of her affect.
“So tell me, then,” said Kael, in an attempt to reassert himself, “what brings you here, and why do you caution me about this cave?”
She moved to Smithers, and took the torch from him. “This is no mere cave,” she said, in a hushed tone, and holding the torch aloft, made her slow way to the back of the cavern. “Have you not heard of the Pool of Absolution?”
Kael looked over to Aegeus, who in turn looked at the elf maiden with hooded eyes. “The Pool of Absolution?” he questioned. “Isn’t that the legend of a magical pool, whose water, once drunk, will free you from whatever guilt may burden your soul?”
“Yes,” she said simply, as she continued to make her careful way to the back of the cave. The shadows retreated before the smoldering torch.
“Let me guess,” Kael said dryly as the paused at the edge of the pool, “there’s more to it than that.”
She glanced at him askance, then turned back to the pool. “Many years ago, a young maid fell in love with a soldier. He was a good man, but beneath her rank, and although their love was true, the family forbade the marriage. So the couple, as young couples will do, made plans to leave together – he to desert his ranks and she to vanish from her family. When her brother, who loved her almost too much, found out about the plot, he rode to the barracks where the soldier was staying, and called him out. Heated words turned to threats and then to heated actions. Each man believed that he was fighting for the greater honor and they struck out at each other in hot-headed passion. In the end, the soldier lay dead at the feet of his beloved’s brother, who, once he was purged of the blood lust of battle, was beset with regret and with sorrow for what he had done.
“When his sister found out about the death of her beloved, she slew herself. With her dying words she cursed her brother to forever live with the burden of the slaying of true love. The brother, bereft, wandered the countryside, wild and disheveled, crying out to the gods to take his misery from him, to release him from his burden.”
“Why did he not kill himself, then?” Smithers interrupted.
“Ah, indeed, why did he not?” the maiden replied. “Perhaps he tried, but could not complete the deed. Perhaps part of him knew that he was not completely to blame for the death of his sister and her beloved, and that knowledge stayed his hand.”
“Unwarranted death for any cause is not the will of the light,” Aegeus added softly. “This is part of why we are born with such a strong will to live.”
The elf maiden looked hard at the old priest before continuing. “Finally the brother’s pleas made their way to the Moriquendi, where Nienna took pity on his sorrow and suffering. She bade her sister Este to help persuade Ulmo, keeper of the waters, to crafts a pool of forgetfulness. Ulmo relented, but warned that the folly of men must not be rewarded, and charged Nienna to enchant the pool so that its release was not without cost.”
She paused and let their gaze move from her face to the placid waters on the pool, disturbed by only the small ripples caused by droplets from the damp of the cave walls falling on its serene surface. The water was clear, and clean, inviting. Kael moved towards it, but the Elven maiden’s hand whipped out and held him back.
“Do not touch it, son of Gondor,” she cautioned. “One drop and yes, your burdens will be lifted, but so will your joys and loves.”
“I do not need your caution, lady,” Kael responded, “I fear not the judgment of the gods.”
“Bravely said, indeed,” she countered, “but meaningless.” Her eyes locked with Kael’s and neither looked away. “One sip from the waters of the Pool of Absolution, and yes, all your burdens will be released, for your heart and your mind will no longer carry the memory of deeds done that cannot be undone, hurts meted out callously, or that which we hold as our bitterest disappointments.” She held the challenge in his eyes and did not let it drop.
“But so also,” she said slowly, “will you forget the love that you shared with those in your life, as well as your accomplishments, your joys, and the wisps of the past that you carry with you for comfort. The pool does not play favorites. It takes away all.”
“Whoa…..” Smithers let out a long breath of amazement, and even Aegeus shifted in discomfort. Kael glanced over at them, and when he brought his eyes back to the Elven maiden, she was no longer looking at him, but gazing again at the water before them all.
“When the brother drank of these waters, he forgot the hurt he had done to his family, and to his king, but he also forgot his family and his king. He lived, but as an empty vessel, broken and useless. All knowledge of the past was gone, and none of the present could return him to his life of consequence. He ended up as a simpleton, cleaning out stables, needing to be reminded to wash himself, and even at times to eat. He died from being kicked by a horse when he forgot to not approach from behind.”
She shook her head in genuine pity. “It is best that we solve our own problems and seek a way to live with our own sorrows, rather than relying on the pity of the gods.” The rousing herself, she turned and headed back to the mouth of the cave. “There is water plenty coming from the sky, and I have some sustenance that I carry with me. You are welcome to share a repast with me while we wait for the rains to cease. Then you must be on your way.”
“Why do you say that?” Kael questioned. “What do you know of us?”
She did not look up from rummaging in her pack as she replied, “I know you are followed, and that those who follow you bear you no welcome. I know you have killed, and most likely will kill again, if pressed. I also know that you flee something far greater than what is held in your reckoning.”
The men looked at each other with veiled alarm. Who was this mysterious person who seemed to know so much about them, and yet was completely unknown to them? Kael took two steps to the elven woman, and taking her by the arm, hauled her to her feet. But before he could react further, there was a glittering knife at his throat.
She spoke softly so only he could make out her words. “Move against me at your own risk, human. I have no love of my task and could just as easily break my vow on the tiniest of excuses.” Her dark eyes were leveled straight at him, yet they held no malice or challenge. He released her and took one step back, but stood there obstinate and unmoving.
“Just who are you, and why are you here?”
She sheathed her knife and looked around at each of the three in turn. “My name is Mirestal, and I am of the Aerthyrian Sovereignty. I have been sent here to help you and to keep you safe against those who would come against you.”
“But who sent you?” Kael pressed.
“A friend,” she replied, and would say no more.