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To Rule Them All: A Tale of Middle-earth and the Middle Ages.

Chapter Text

February 1, TA 3019/AD 1200

 

The Halls of Thranduil

Dominic of Osma was deep in prayer, trying to keep his mind off of...practically everything that had happened in the past week. It was a common practice for him, one that he had adopted long before becoming a Benedictine slightly more than a half-decade before. But as he fell into the familiar rhythms of his meditation, his mind couldn’t help but drift slightly, turning its attention towards the set of circumstances that had lead to his current status.

It had all started with the storm, a freak blizzard that had blown in from the southwest. At first, many had believed it to be simply another winter storm, something far from uncommon in January in the Kingdom of Castile. But then they had laid eyes on the forest, and fear had gripped their hearts. Practically every inhabitant of the small village of Osma had managed to pack themselves into the Cathedral soon afterwards, the lone exception being those sent north towards Burgos, the seat of the King, to request aid.

Dominic had prayed then too, along with all his brothers in the Osma Canonry. There was little else to do. Being only a small village with few inhabitants, Osma could not be fortified effectively, leaving the people there completely at the mercy of their new neighbors, at least until the King sent aid. And so, like in so many other places across the country, Dominic and his brothers prayed. For strength. For guidance. Above all, for answers.

There had been something that nagged at him then, as he had knelt before the cross that adorned the wall in his small dormitory within the Cathedral. At first he had simply ignored it, driving it to the back of his mind as he did most things that distracted him during his prayers, but the odd feeling had refused to go away, slowly building up within him as the days passed. He felt that it was no mere temptation of either the Devil or his own flesh, but rather something more like the feeling that had caused him to enter into the Priesthood in the first place. A divine call to action.

Dominic had alway wondered why exactly God had called him into His service. This, apparently, was the answer. When he had first discussed such things with his brothers, the looks on their faces had readily conveyed how much they were questioning his sanity at that given moment, but not a single one of them did not listen as he stated his case. They advised him to speak to the Bishop before doing anything else, as well as acquire the elder man’s blessing if he found Dominic’s case convincing.

Diego de Acebo, Bishop of Osma, knew Dominic well, and knew that he was not one to let the Devil or his earthly desires sway him. If the younger man was sure that this was God calling to him, Diego doubted that there was anything else that it could be. And the Bishop of Osma was not about to deny the Lord’s will. With his blessing, Dominic would be sent to explore the forest. He would not go alone. Unanimously, his brothers in the Canonry had decided that if he really had lost his mind, they wouldn’t let him go off and get killed alone. And so it was that there would be 12 that would go into the unknown, with only the Holy Spirit to guide them. The half-joking, half-serious comparisons to the 12 Apostles circulated among them as they completed their preparations. Prayer was offered that their mission would meet similar success. Minus the part where almost all of them died.

They set out the next morning just after dawn, the sixth day after the storm had come and gone. Dominic lead, his faith in the Lord holding at bay the apprehension he felt as he marched towards the forest. He was on a mission from the Holy Spirit. He would not, could not, fail. Whatever was hidden within the darkness, he would bring it into the light. He and his brothers prayed as they marched, the familiar words helping them to keep their thoughts away from both the cold of midwinter and their fears of the unknown before them.

Silence fell as the 12 reached the edge of the woods, the darkness within almost supernaturally black, as if some malevolent force beyond their sight was eating away at all the light. A long minute passed as the small company simply took in the sight before them. The thought went unsaid that this was their last chance to turn back. The looks that passed between the priests more than answered the unspoken question. Taking a deep breath, Dominic lead his brothers, all of them into the unknown.

He was unsure of how long they walked. Time seemed to both stretch and compress as they marched, and the cloudy skies prevented them from judging the position of the sun in the sky. Besides trying to head towards the highest ground available, Dominic had no real objective in mind for his exploration. Doubt began to scratch at the back of his skull, but he forced the feeling down as soon as it had appeared. The Lord would not lead him astray. He had to have faith in that.

Not long afterwards, his faith would be tested. They heard the danger long before they saw it, an echoing howl that tore out of the darkness around them. One after another after another after another, the sounds of a wolfpack made itself known, dangerously close and from all sides. The brothers of Osma took to the trees with a quickness that would have made even the fittest of men green with envy, hauling themselves up the branches with the reckless strength that is fueled by the fear of imminent death.

And not a moment too soon. Even as the last of the men pulled themselves off the ground and beyond the reach of the beasts, they arrived, massive wolves that put anything Dominic or any of his brothers had ever seen to shame. They roared like thunder, the whole pack soon clawing at the bases of the trees in which the men had taken refuge. The terrified men added their own screams to the din, both horrified shouts of fear and desperate prayers to the heavens.

It felt like an eternity passed while trapped in those trees, the wolves circling below and clawing at the bark of the trunks. In a small blessing, the Lord had apparently decided that these particular creatures would be unable to climb trees, but the terror of the men remained at the forefront. The pleas to heaven became ever louder, the words tumbling out of the brother’s mouths faster and faster as they stared the doom below them in the eye. They watched, begging to the Lord to save them, as the wolves began to claw their way through the trunks of trees, threatening to tear down the only things keeping the men alive.

And then, as if God had decided that he had seen enough out of them, their faith was rewarded. Very suddenly, one of the wolves below, a hulking brute nearly the size of a full-grown man, fell over dead. Then the one next to it hit slumped to the ground as well. And then the one besides them. In the fading light, the men saw nothing but the beasts around them begin to fall like leaves in autumn. The wolves roared in fury, and began to scatter in all directions, going after their unseen assailants on smell and hearing alone.

The men watched in astonishment, mouths agape, as more and more of the beasts fell, moving blurs in the shadows cutting through them like newly-sharpened knives cutting through overcooked meat. The swift blurs that darted through the pack hardly seemed to be slowed by the wild lunges and strikes of the beasts, the vaguely human shapes dodging the attacks with movements that evoked the graceful steps of dancers more than the savagery of a battlefield and countering with single, deft strikes of their own that struck home as fast as the men could blink.

And then it was over, the few surviving wolves either fleeing or being put out of their misery by the dark figures. Said figures now took the wolve’s places, gathering under the trees and calling out to each other in a strangely melodious language. Then, they began to pull back their hoods, and the men of Osma could only look upon them in wonder.

They were, in a word, beautiful. Oh, they were covered in a myriad of small wounds, and their cloaks were shredded and torn in many places, but looking at them clearly for the first time, Dominic doubted that he could claim to ever seen a group of people more fair. He couldn’t quite place his finger on why their features tantalized him so. It was almost as if the crowd below had some kind of glow to them, a permanent radiance that followed them wherever they went.

The equipment that they wore and carried with them only reinforced the stunningness of their appearance. Their armor was of a quality beyond anything that Dominic had ever seen, even the faded scratches and dents doing nothing to detract from the obvious skill with which they had been crafted. Their blades, he could see, had been forged with the same level of skill. They practically glowed in the dark, silver swords and spears shining like beacons in the night, not a single chip or nick visible on an of their weaponry.

Utterly agape at the sight before them, it took Dominic and his brothers a moment to notice that said weapons were now pointed at them. The beings below (Dominic’s mind refused to use the term ‘human’ for those that were more than likely not) were shouting at them in their alien tongue, a sound that would have been beautiful to hear if not for the violent undertones and angry expressions that were projecting it.

Crossing himself first, Dominic raised his hands above his head in what he hoped was an obvious sign of surrender. Looking down at those below him, a female (well, what he guessed was female) with auburn hair that seemed to be their commander was gesturing at him, pointing repeatedly at the ground. Nodding slowly, Dominic began to climb down from the tree. His brothers followed.

As he climbed down, Dominic returned once more to prayer. This time, instead of asking questions of the Lord or asking for strength or guidance, he sent up a prayer of thanksgiving. Although he didn’t quite say so out loud, the timing of his salvation by these strangers stuck him as being to convenient for a mere coincidence. The Lord, it appeared, was looking out for him, and if he was right in his beliefs then the Almighty was doing so with literal angels. Heartened by this thought, Dominic smiled, truly smiled, for the first time in a week.

And as his brothers joined him on the ground, thankfulness and hope apparent on their own faces, Dominic couldn’t help but feel blessed.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Thranduil, son of Oropher, King of the Woodland Realm, could scarcely remember a time he felt as he did now. Not since the turning of the previous age, when he had laid his father to rest along with two of every three with which he had marched to the Plain of Dagorlad and beyond to the slopes of Mount Doom itself, had he felt so much raw despair, so much helplessness. Everywhere he looked, there was only devastation.

His lands were broken. There was no other way to describe it. Everything above ground had been ravaged by the storm, everything below by the earthquake and those that lived in either had taken a severe mauling, from the battle or the storm it mattered not. The healers were far beyond merely overworked, a few having already collapsed from exhaustion. The wounded were everywhere that one looked, taking up every inch of space that was not in danger of collapse or attack, those that wore fewer and bandages and splints doing all that they could to aid those that were covered in them. They put cloths over the faces of those that were beyond helping.

Many of them could have been saved, if only the healers had reached them before their wounds had begun to fester and their blood had run out. But the beasts had come almost as soon as the storm had passed, forcing all that were able away from the wounded and towards the battle lines. For three days the monsters came, almost unceasing, like a swarm of wasps whose nest had been disturbed. Hundreds if not thousands of spiders flooded out of the burning forest, accompanied by wargs, black stags and other mockeries of nature.

The elves of Middle-earth, despite their similar appearances and shared tongue, were by no means a uniform peoples. If one were to journey through the Grey Havens, Imladris, Lothlorien and the Woodland Realm, one after another, there would be very little outside of their speech and form to indicate that they were related to each other. In the Havens you would find shipwrights and carpenters, always looking west and with little interest in anything beyond the Gulf of Lune. Rivendell was the home of the loremasters, the artisans and musicians and poets, preservers of the knowledge and spirit of long-gone days, a veritable window into the past glories of Gondolin and Nargothrond. The Golden Wood played most to the stories that travellers told of elves, a place of mystery and secrets to which few ventured and fewer still returned with more than whispered legends.

In comparison, the Elves of the Woodland Realm were warriors, first and foremost. They had to be. Oh, all the elves of Middle-earth were gifted in the art of war (with even the least among their armies trained for decades at a time), but only among the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood was skill in combat so valued. They were not entirely unlike their fellow elves, of course, but in the realm of Thranduil one would find a distinctly martial slant to their behaviors.

There were songs and stories, as one would find in the House of Elrond, but far more to the taste of the Woodland were tales of war and glory, not the old ballads of ages gone by. There were master craftsman, like those in the Havens, but their skill was in the manufacture of weapons of war. Like Lorien, they were a secretive people, but did so out of a pragmatic desire to keep their ambushes and traps hidden. These were a people for whom war was a fact of life, living under constant threat of attack from orc and beast alike. Mirkwood, which they lived on the edge of, was filled with all things dark and dangerous, even after the Necromancer had been driven out. His lingering evil oozed from the fortress of Dol Guldur like pus from a wound, twisting and corrupting all it touched.

So it was that, even after the earthquake shattered their fortifications, even after the storm scattered what remained to the winds, even after the fires had begun to burn and destroy whatever was left and their very souls felt as if they had been thrown out of a rather tall tower, the soldiers of the Woodland Realm had stood firm as the shadow of the forest burst forwards and attacked. They took up whatever positions they could, dug in, and set about applying all their years and decades (and in a few cases centuries) of skill in the fine art of killing anything that moved.

For three days, the battle raged, the sheer numbers of the beasts more-or-less evenly met by the magnificent skill of the elves. They moved almost as if in a dance, volley after volley of precisely aimed shots bringing down hordes of the monsters, lightning fast blades swiftly cutting apart those that made it through the storms of arrows, walls of spears and shields blocking off any attempt by their foes to advance. But there was no guarantee of victory. The doubts of the elves came not from any lack of skill, or even from the apparently never-ending stream of monsters. Rather, it came from simple fatigue.

The Firstborn Children of Iluvatar were a people who, despite their reputation for feasting required little in the way of sustenance and almost nothing in the way of sleep, but the seemingly endless battle tested even their endurance. Simple fatigue became the elves’ greatest enemy, as the sheer drain from three non-stop days of combat began to take its toll. A one of missed shot, or a blink late in reaching out with a blade-such things were the difference between life and death for the elves, and even their vast reserves of skill and endurance had limits. As the hours and days dragged by, many began to reach and surpass them, their movements becoming sloppy and slow.

Happily for the Eldar, it seemed that the number of monsters attacking them was faster to dwindle away than their remaining reserves of energy. Gradually, the number of attacks tapered away, the beasts apparently deciding to go after easier meals. They did not fully withdraw, with many small swarms remaining just beyond the reach of the elves’ bows, but the people of the Woodland Realm were more than happy for any respite.

Perhaps ‘respite’ would not be the right word. As King Thranduil looked out over his realm, he realized that there would be no rest for him or any of his people. The monsters of the forest were far from being driven off, and his army was too exhausted to do any more than sit and defend its own borders. Most of said army could be easily said to be walking wounded, either injured by the claws and teeth of the spiders or nearly too exhausted to even stand.

It has been said that the Son of Oropher was perhaps the least likeable of the Elven Lords in power by the time of the storm, with both friends and foe alike calling him all manner of less-than-positive names. They said that he was uncaring. Distant. Prideful. Arrogant. And perhaps he was all of them. It is known that he had a rather thin patience for Dwarves, and his temper for men was not much longer. But whatever he was in normal times, there is near nothing but good that could have been said of him during those days after the storm.

Whatever hardness he had in his heart was either made to disappear entirely or very well hidden. In those days, with disaster having come upon him, he was nothing but a shining beacon to his subjects, tireless in his work and compassionate to all. It seemed that he was everywhere at once, organizing rescue operations in the lower caverns of his halls, going amongst the healers and aiding the wounded, coordinating plans for defending against any kind of attack.

The three days since the end of the attacks had passed by almost without Thranduil noticing. Organization had come first, especially triage for the wounded. The grim task of selecting both those that were not mangled enough to prevent them from rendering aid and those that were past aiding had been followed by setting up at least an illusion of defenses. Next had come those that would be sent down into the lower halls to inspect the damage done by the earthquake and to search for survivors, however few they might be. After that, the elves fell into the rhythm of their work, and the hours began to blur together.

Despite his efforts, Thranduil couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t enough. The elves of Middle-earth were not a populous people to begin with, and the casualties taken in the preceding days had lowered the manpower available to him to dangerous levels. Even allowing those that had lesser wounds to continue working did little to alleviate the situation. There was simply too much work to do and too few hands to do it.

As if fate had decided that it hadn’t been cruel enough to him and his people, there was no one that he could call for aid. The allies of the Woodland Realm had always been distant, with the closest being the Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of Dale, who at the best of times were largely apathetic to their elven neighbors, a sentiment that was returned in kind. But the friendships forged in the Battle of Five Armies were anything but short-lived, and would not have been withheld among any of the three Kingdoms if another had asked.

That is, if Erebor and Dale had still been there to ask. That was easily the most disturbing aspect of all of this, that the Lonely Mountain and all the lands around it could simply vanish into thin air in the storm, replaced by unfamiliar terrain as far as the eye could sea. Thranduil had seen the evidence with his own eyes, felt it within him as the Great Music had gone haywire, as if its conductor had began to seize in the middle of the performance. The Son of Oropher had felt such a disturbance only once before, when Beleriand had been laid low. If such a calamity had come upon him...

If the Enemy, the Valar or even the One, had done such a thing, then there was little he could do. Regardless of what had happened, at the moment there was nothing to be done except aid his subject. He would have to work with what he had available and hope that the Valar would smile upon him. Until then...until then all he could do was work.

He was broken out of his own thoughts by the approach of the Captain of the Guard. The veteran she-elf looked ragged and worn, the stress and fatigue of the battle and the near endless series of sweeping patrols that she had been on since showing clearly on her face. Nevertheless, her eyes were fully alert as she bowed before him, her movements doing little to betray how exhausted she must have been. Returning to a standing position, the Captain began to speak.

“My Lord, I am sorry to disturb you, but I believe that you must hear this.” She looked to him, awaiting approval to deliver their report. Thranduil nodded, and she continued.

“My last patrol encountered a group of a dozen men in the forest, under attack from a pack of wolves. I believe that they may be natives of whatever new lands have replaced Erebor and the surrounding region.”

“And what, Captain, made you draw that conclusion? Could it no be that they are simply men of Dale, wandering the forest when the storm hit and lost since?”

“They were no men of Dale, sire, or of any other realm of men that we know of Their dress and tongue were completely alien to us. The most likely conclusion is that they were curious about how their lands appeared next to ours and came out to investigate, as we no doubt would have done had the beasts not assaulted us so soon after the storm.”

Thranduil nodded to himself at that, reentering his own thoughts. So the new lands to the east were inhabited by men. No doubt that these men would have lords of their own. The King of the Woodland Realm felt some unease at that thought. It had taken him far too long to build up relations with his old neighbors. Doubtless, making progress with these new ones would be even harder. He would have to start as soon as he could. Probably not a full envoy, but the gathering of intelligence and learning the lay of the land was a must. Suddenly, remembering a handful of those old neighbors, a thought occurred to him.

“How many did you say there were?”

“12, my Lord.”

At that moment, Thranduil started to experience a strange sense of deja vu. Apparently, 12 raggedly dressed strangers had stumbled into his realm, wandering semi-aimlessly through the woods until his guards had found them, and now they were held within his lowest dungeon (well, the lowest that had not been compromised by the earthquake). Mirthlessly, he allowed himself a chuckle. With any luck, this time it would go better for him.

“Take me to them.”

 

Seville

There had been no rest for Muhammad al-Nasir, Lord of Seville. The monsters had been driven back, at least for the moment, but they now prowled about in the fields around the city just beyond the range of Muhammad’s archers, occasionally coming forwards and testing the defenses. These occasional probes were easily beaten back, but the ring drawn around Seville was tight enough that no messengers could yet be sent out to call for aid.

The city itself had seen far better days. The chaos of the battle, as well as the riots that had preceded it (and in some cases had occurred concurrently), had ravaged several quarters of the city, leaving behind ruination in their wake. The defenses themselves, thank Allah, were mostly intact, but those that manned them had taken a savage mauling, with hundreds dead and hundreds more injured. The encirclement did little to quell the fear and uncertainty that continued to pervade every neighborhood and household, and it was quickly becoming apparent that Seville’s supply of everything from food and water to medicine and weaponry, while momentarily adequate, would not be enough to last against a protracted siege. The whole city stood on a knife’s edge, ready to tip into the abyss.

The Caliph of the Almohads had no intention of letting it fall. What little comfort his people took they took now from the faith of Muhammad the Prophet. He hoped to add to that the actions of Muhammad the Lord of Seville. The man had been all across the city the preceding week, overseeing the laying down of supplies, the training of new recruits and the strengthening of the fortifications, doing all he could to preserve and strengthen the resolve of his men against the darkness all around them.

He hoped and prayed that it was enough. He saw despair and fear everywhere he turned, through, the small fire of courage and hope constantly being threatened with extinguishment. It was only a matter of time before the people began to turn on each other. With uncertainty and terror reigning almost uncontested over the city, it was natural for the people to look for something, someone, to blame.

The Jews were natural targets. They would have been protected as dhimmi, ‘protected persons,’ under the previous Caliphate, that of Cordoba, granted near-equal protection and rights under the law in exchange for the payment of the jizya tax. But Almohad rule had long rejected this practice, the with Abd al-Mumin, the first Caliph of their dynasty, forcing the conversion of the Jews within his realm. Those that did renounce their old faith were made to wear dark blue or black identifying clothing that marked them as insincere Muslims. Those that did not convert were put to the sword.

Those few that remained became outcasts in their own lands, the far majority becoming at least nominal converts to Islam. They did all that they could to avoid drawing attention to themselves and their faith, practicing quietly if at all and generally trying to blend in with the background wherever they went. Even the fundamentalist Almohads could not maintain their fanaticism forever, and ever-so-slowly an attitude of apathy had begun to be adopted by the Muslims of Al-Andalus towards the infidelic inhabitants of their lands.

Now, with the End of Days seemingly upon them, the Jews found themselves a target once more. The whispers had been circulating for days now, spreading out through the city like an uncontainable plague. It started small, a few isolated attacks and arsons, but the number increased by the day. Seeing what was coming, the Children of Israel hid themselves away, rarely if ever leaving their homes. The whispers only grew louder, rumors flying everywhere that the Jew had enacted some secret ritual, and were securing themselves against the next blow to land against Seville. The people had found themselves a scapegoat.

Muhammad, far from a lover of Jews, was happy to give them one. He sincerely doubted that they were actually to blame for the calamity all around them, but thinking that they were was seemingly preventing his (far larger) Muslim population from turning on itself. If the Jews had to be sacrificed to maintain order among the rest of Seville’s inhabitants, so be it. Of course, he worked to keep said sacrifice from becoming literal, moving to simply arrest the Jews for the moment instead of slaughtering them all, but if his men being with a bit on the rough side during the arrests went unreported he wouldn’t complain. There were other, more important things to occupy his mind with.

For instance, trying to process the sight currently before him. The messenger that had delivered the report to him had been correct in saying that it would be far easier for him to see for himself than to try and explain it with words alone. But as confusing as the sight was, it was rather obvious why the man had spoken with a tone of hope and awe in his voice when asking for Muhammad to come to the walls.

It was an odd thing to see indeed. A rather small-looking man dressed in ill-fitting and ragged robes, riding a ramshackle sled made out of sticks that seemed far too fragile to make a functional vehicle. Said sled was being pulled by what looked to be, of all things, rabbits. Behind him trailed a small crowd of...bears. The man with the rabbit-pulled sleigh was being followed by a herd of 15 or 20 bears, of all colors, shapes and sizes.

If that wasn’t enough to make Muhammad question both his eyesight and his sanity, the sled man and the bears seemed to be fighting their way through the ring of monsters that had encircled the city, tearing through the spiders and wolves and other beasts almost like they weren’t there. In amazement, the Caliph of the Almohads watched with his men as the group carved a path of disemboweled corpses and spider guts through the black horde, scattering all before them as they moved towards the city.

The spiders and wolves tried to fight back, and for their efforts were rewarded with joining their kin in oblivion. Almost as quickly as they had come, all those days ago, they began to flee, running as fast as they could away from their assailants. Muhammad was utterly stunned, as were all who saw it. In what couldn’t have been more than an hour, the man and the bears had driven the monsters back into the forest from whence they had come, without so much as a scratch on them. Then, as if the Allah was laughing at his reactions to the insanity around him and wanted to see more of them, the Caliph of the Almohads could only watch with a slack jaw as the bears began to shift and change, morphing themselves into a group of massive men, women and children, even the smallest of whom looked as if they could snap a tree trunk in half without too much effort.

The small man now was walking the path before his gate, leaning a bit on an oversized walking stick with a jewel set in its top. Besides him stood one of the bear-men, a gigantic mass of pure muscle that stood easily above even the tallest of men that Muhammad had ever seen, even in his human form. There seemed to be some kind of argument going on between the two, going by the hand gestures and tone of speech. Even so, the group was now on the path to the city gate, slowly approaching the walls even as their conversation continued.

Besides the Caliph, his guards glanced at him nervously, awaiting orders, some anxiously fidgeting with the strings of their bows. With what he hoped was a subtle gesture, Muhammad motioned for them to stand down. He had no desire to make enemies out of a herd of manbears that had made mincemeat out off the very same monsters that had almost destroyed Seville the week before. He did not dare hope that the gate, strong and fortified as it was, would hold out against them if he managed to enrage them.

With that happy thought tucked away, the Caliph of the Almohads looked out over the crowd approaching his walls. Obviously, they were not of these lands. If the fact that they could become beasts of nature hadn’t tipped him off, their alien tongue would have. Muhammad had a sneaking suspicion that they had been brought here from wherever the forest had come from. Perhaps they had an explanation for what had happened. At the very least, they had attacked the monsters instead of leading them, which hopefully meant that they weren’t hostile to him. Whatever the case, they were practically at the gate now. He couldn’t just do nothing. Even if they didn’t understand him, greeting them seemed like the courteous thing to do. Steeling himself, and saying a quick prayer, he began to speak.

“Hello, my lords. I am Muhammad al-Nasir. I welcome you to the great city of Seville, of which I am lord. I wish to thank you for driving away our...infestation. Before your arrival, me and my subjects had been trapped within our walls. It is my hope that those monsters are an enemy we hold in common. It is my wish that we would hold each other’s council, to begin understanding this…”

He trailed off as the small man and the giant looked up at him, both eyeing him with...curiosity? Suspicion? Confusion? He wasn’t quite sure. The two looked back at each other, something nonverbal passing between them. Then the small one turned back towards Muhammad. Closing his eyes, he raised his stick in front of him, muttering beneath as he did so. The rock embedded in the tip of the stick glowed slightly as he did so. A minute or so later, during which the Caliph of the Almohads could do little except awkwardly look at him and pluck at their bows, wary of an attack, the small man opened his eyes, lowering his stick once more. Then, his mouth opened and out came understandable, if somewhat broken, Arabic.

“Lord Muhammad. I Brown Radagast, of White Council. This Old Grimbeorn and kin. We confused also by storm and earthquake. Wish to make council with you, find answers to what befallen us.”

With that the small man, Radagast, apparently, bowed before him. The giant Grimbeorn mirrored the gesture, somewhat reluctantly, as did Muhammad himself. Haltingly, the Caliph of the Almohads and the Brown Wizard began to converse, slowly introducing themselves and the peoples that they both represented, telling the compressed versions of their histories to each other as they did so.

As he continued to converse with Radagast, discussing what they knew, he found himself smiling for the first time in a week. He would be a fool to be incautious about the strange man and his band, especially after he had seen what Grimbeorn and the others could do, but a certain cautious optimism began to enter into his heart. Mentally, he said his praise to Allah. The Creator sometimes sent gifts in mysterious ways.

As he continued to speak to Radagast, he silently prayed that Allah had sent him a gift with all the subtlety of a herd of elephants.