Landing on his hands and knees the new arrival looked into the grey eyes of his watching companion. An old balding man with knees drawn up sitting in a corner met his gaze in return. The rats were being greeted like pets by the seated man just as the one standing from his near fall collected his thoughts.
“My name is Grinletch. What is yours old timer?” Sounding more like they had just met in the town’s crowded marketplace instead of the most feared dungeon in the west.
No response came from the pale fellow feeding the fat rodent.
“Hum. So, when do they feed us in here?” His words slipped out more as a whisper to himself.
Still, his words fell silent in the direction of his companion.
Walking along the dank, darkened cell the new comer looked at the walls that seemed to cave in about him. Tick marks etched out the days that seemingly compiled into the passage of years along three of the walls. Then he asked, sighing, “Geesh! How long you been here?” Turning his gaze back to the silent fellow, who again gave no interest to his presence? “Wow, and how am I to endure such torture as this mute!” He exclaimed his frustration. Still there was no response. Barely had moments even gone by as his whirling thoughts were beginning to drive him crazy already, then Grinletch divulged, “Well old fool I suppose it was just a matter of time before a thief like me got caught and thrown into The Tower. Lucky I did not get a hand severed. So, what are you in here for, if I may ask?” Hoping another approach would yield sanity back to his feeble thoughts.
Yet as before, his words fell short in the dark chamber as his nerves began to unwillingly settle into his new normal. The young man crossed his arms and began pacing back and forth pondering how to get answers when suddenly the screech from a rat’s caught tail made the old man look up for the first time.
“Seventeen years, eight months, twenty-seven days and six hours have I become accustom to the walls; and all for the cause of love.”
Excitedly laughing that his sanity had been restored in finally receiving an answer, Grinletch admitted, “I knew the tale of a woman’s jealous husband would figure into all this somehow!” He glowed with thoughts of his own escapades of window escapes from midnight romps.
But the slow head shake, furrowed brows and disapproving smirk told the young fool there must have been a deeper tale forth coming in the dark. So, leaning against the door that seemed eternally shut, he awaited the details. The old man’s smirk eased into a smile that resigned to give up what he had began, “A long time ago…”
As a boy, my childhood friend and I would venture off into various explorations as boys are known to do. For hours we went scouring the edges of the woods that skirted as the beginnings of the forest of Kinderval. Along dry creek-beds and streams that took sharp bends with islands that fueled both our imaginations of wondrous possibilities. We wondered about what else the wide world had to offer.
Later as we grew, we took a ship to Lindol just north of the Great Bay and again explored the city streets with all the wonders that pagan realm had to off. The Valara and not The Watchers were revered there in her temples: Ulmo was foremost. That Water Lord held Balinthane’s attention most. I was simply there enjoying the experience of not getting caught by our most disapproving of parents. Later in the evening we would return home unto our families who were none the wiser of our mischievous questionings.
I am Mornel Sinthrex. Adulthood saw me move to Uruk, the great village of the east, far from Mithar’s Towered shore to explore the study of pottery; an adventure away from my own home. Yet, Balinthane ventured back to Lindol for greater studies in her Eldar Scrolls and in time became a secret follower of the Valara. This was unknown to me for years as our correspondences began to become more infrequent, waned and then ceased. Due to personal responsibilities and life’s own turning wheel we grew further distance, but ever remained friends mind you. Yet, we both had the knack from time to time to pick up where the other had left off. We never inquired about the religious beliefs of the other. It had never occurred to me to ask as quill and paper were as costly to me as was time to him.
For years we corresponded by currieries and even then our brotherly bonds grew firm. Then there came a brief season in time when our paths crossed again in person. For a Spring I left my wife and three sons and two daughters for Lindol to sell my wares and return with profit. As things gave way and our friendship rekindled I learned firsthand the personal fate of my brother-friend.
He had become caregiver to an aging father whose burden of conservative views and years in the Brotherhood’s Priesthood had calloused his thoughts upon the growing world. Four wives had come and gone for Balinthane and never a child brought forth from their unions. Till - finally a lovely young thing named Mircythvin of Lindol gifted him with seven daughters and a strong son. His father detested this fifth wife, children or no; for she had once been a Priestess unto Ulmo the Valara.
My friend insisted upon many a protest that her old life she had given up for the regard of The Watchers! With my personal arrival Balinthane’s father hoped I would talk him into leaving this wench and return to The True Path. A hornet’s nest to say the least was what I had entered. Ever being the true friend, I smoothed things over with redirected tales of Uruk and my adventures to both Gondor and the Dwarven realm of Jebul. In those tales my stay was most wonderful and the tensions repaired as I had accepted Mircythvin as a sister.
Through the years afterward and by way of letters his secret fellowship in favoring the Valara over The Watchers became more apparent; yet, they were vaulted within my loving friendship with Balinthane.
Then two silent months drudged by without a letter, so again I ventured for a visit to Mithar a final time. On this occasion we met not is his father’s home as usual but upon the very steps of The Great Hall itself. A welling suspicion of fright began in my bones as to why such a meeting place was called forth as I met his letter near the Eastern Gate.
Speaking briefly after somber salutation without embrace, Balinthane informed me, "My father received your last letter instead of me. I had gone to into town and missed the messenger."
Thinking nothing at first I answered, "I am sorry he has been so ill as of late. - Oh - THE letter..." I suddenly recalled that my quill commented on many of his details and Valaraian ritual services. "HE READ IT?"
Balinthane: "He read it."
Mornel: "I am forever sorry my friend." Sincerely hoping the reminder of their status was not fully crushed by the secret revelations of passed deeds.
Balinthane: "So am I. But, he is my father and must come first."
We had been co-conspirators of embracing the moment and exploring all the taboos of the world that our parents abhorred. We were young and fearless in those by-gone days. We finished the thoughts of the other, and inspired the others imagination with insights for we loved learning as much as the adventures of youth. Yet in time his seemed to lead into more trouble than my own had the courage for. I envied Balinthane greatly for such ventures. In time we grew apart and children become men.
The next day we had cut off ties and our open friendship in the eyes of his father, who was the local priest were. I severed our bond as I freely accepted the role of instigator of those grave mischiefs that had occurred. The local authorities came upon me and from the Lord Magistrate was I imprisoned within the very walls of Varlendur itself.
We corresponded by currieries and even then our brotherly bonds grew firm. Then there came a brief season when our paths crossed again in person.
The Guard: "You are being released."
Mornel: Speechlessly stunned, then after a slow breath of softness came over his lined face as he began petting the rat in his lap again.
Grinletch: "He must have been here too long, he is afraid to go.
Mornel: "No. It is time now." The old man released the rat to run free again, just as he himself was now being released. Then rose and went to the doorway and stopped to answer the guard who held it open.
The Guard: "Where will you go?"
Mornel: "What I have always done. Live."
Grinletch: "What are you going to do?"
Mornel: Smiled a toothless grin and replied, "The rats and time both have taught me tenacity. Have faith my friend the light will find you."
Upon leaving the Grey Tower's massive front doors the newly released prisoner saw his old childhood friend standing at the bottom of the steep stair. He had waited all those years later to see him, though they spoke seldom and never of the old-grievance. He stood there all alone.
With each step the old man took toward the bottom ancient memories began to flood his thoughts. Memories before the rats, before the beatings and the engulfing darkness came seeping into the old man’s thoughts again. Until, finally many years later they came face to face. The old childhood friend's face was streamed with tears and a trembling chin. Yet all the newly freed man could say was, "I am so very sorry for the loss of your father, he was a great man."