Sep 24, 2019 5:32 AM
Annatar in the Game of Thrones
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He should have had more time. They never moved this quickly, not for him, not for anyone. It must have been blackmail, somehow, or direct intervention of Eru, or some corruption in the ring clouding his thoughts...or any of a thousand other possibilities that are no longer useful for him to consider.

He stands before the court and speaks and begs and weeps. He still has the ring, at least. He prefers not to pull the same trick twice, but it wasn't him who played it last time, so he draws on his power and twists his words in their ears to sound like oaths of repentance.

It doesn't work. They declare that he has gone beyond his station, grown stronger than he has right to be. He no longer fits within the intended story, and must be cast out so he does not corrupt it further. He should have hoped the elves would hear that he committed his only true crime in being helpful to them, but he can't quite bring himself to care. He struggles against his bonds, he twists his shape and burns his jailors, but in their direct presence even his newly forged power is all but helpless.

He is to be cast past the edges of the world, displaced from all space and time so he may sully their creations no more. It feels something like falling and it feels something like sleeping, and then all of a sudden, it feels very much like hitting the ground.

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Annatar, who the elves call Thauron and others call Sauron, finds himself standing in a field. A broad and sweeping field, dotted all across with tufted hillocks. This isn’t an unusual feature in Middle Earth, but of course he isn’t IN Middle Earth any longer, for Annatar is banished. Upon his finger glints the One Ring of Power, and upon the ring runes of power blazing all in red fire. In his raiment, the splendor of the Eldar shines still, and on his fair brow a circlet of gleaming mithril. 

Mud sucks at his fine boots, and at the hooves of the calvary trotting grimly along- great dark warhorses, their riders short by the standards of the men of Numinor. They wear rough-spun cotton all of grey and brown, and bear proud standards which flap in the chill breeze like the tails of great grey serpents. A white wolf running on a grey field. They are unarmored, and their horses do not bear barding though they look to be of good enough stock. The men are armed, however, their lances shining keen. 

A man runs before them, the sort of tottering run of the inebriated or the exhausted- a black jerkin and black trousers, a worn black cape trimmed with a high ruff of black fur and black boots worn through in the toes and heels and splattered all with the chill muck that even now tries to soil Annatar's fine elvish boots. Though the horses pursuing him are flecked with foam, they canter cleanly with their heads held high and proud. 

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He's lucky to find men here, Annatar supposes, as he collects himself into his body. It's not looking it's best, but all things considered he's doing surprisingly well. The space here tastes different from Arda, it has never been shaped by the Valar. Yet his power still seems to function. He stretches out and cloaks himself in illusion, becoming invisible to the men.

He surveys his resources. The clothes on his back: of good elven make, beautiful and resistant to damage and filth. Perhaps inappropriate for a mannish country, and a poor one at that, but the local kings may be impressed. Jewelry and enchantments: mostly useless. Minor defenses and boons that only served to prove his credentials as a skilled smith. Some may come in handy, but he has no need to rely on them. After all, now he has his ring. It took so much power and time to craft that he had become used to the weakness, but now he is flush with strength.

He is severed from the rest of his reserves and forces, but even so he doesn't expect to fear any but the gods of this new world.

The world itself seems recognizable but ugly. They have a sun, apparently, and these horsemen carry themselves with pride despite looking as poor and ugly as the man they are chasing. Are any of the men speaking?

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The men have the grim air of those who set themselves to grim tasks. The sort of silent, mildly distasteful, expression that would not be out of place on an elf going to war. 

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Do they disagree with the task they have been set, or are they merely feeling sorry for their prey? He would not flee so far past the point of exhaustion if he expected any kindness was waiting for him.

Annatar halts his own thoughts to listen more carefully to the minds of these men. What are they thinking?

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They do not disagree with their task, but nor do they relish it. They resent their quarry perhaps, empathize with him maybe, but feel sorry? For an oath-breaker? For a deserter? One who takes the black- as the man they hunt had done- often joins as alternative to punishment for a capital crime and it makes the hunters feel better to imagine that was his reason in joining the Night's Watch. To run down a deserter is a distasteful task, and to execute a criminal an unpleasant duty for all but the most deranged mind, but this man does not deserve their pity. 

Kindness does not wait for their prey, but nor does death. Yet. In the north, in the lands ruled over by Lord Stark of Winterfel, Warden of the North and closest friend of the king, it is tradition that the man who passes sentence be the man who swings the sword, That is what awaits this oath-breaker- when he stumbles into the trap waiting for him over the next hill. Another dozen men on another dozen horses. They wait for that trap, not because their horses are too tired to run the man down, not because they think him likely to best them, but because that is the PLAN, and good soldiers don't disobey the plan even when they think they know better.

The fleeing man does not fear Lord Stark's sword. He does not fear the men behind him. He runs because he must, but not because he thinks it will buy him his life. He runs, because he has seen what lives north of the wall. He has seen dead men rise again. He has seen ancient.... things... from legend. He has seen them wield a cold intense enough to shatter steel. He runs, because death south of the wall is at least final. 

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Order and discipline are values Annatar can appreciate, and he needs more information. He still hasn't heard the sound of their language. He will not interrupt their capture, and he will follow the group to see how they treat their prisoner.

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The man stumbles to a hopeless halt when the trap is sprung, and submits to their ministrations without a fight. The cavaliers aren't gentle, but nor do they go out of their way to be rough. There are some unfamiliar words in what sounds like a mocking tone of voice, and others that sound victorious. The former is accompanied by thoughts like "Did you really think you could desert the Night's Watch?" and the latter by thoughts like "Long chase, but we got him, the bastard," and "He hardly seems worth the effort." The man's hands and feet are bound with heavy-looking manacles of a rough-forged iron, nothing like the wondrous artistry of the Eldar back in Middle Earth, and he is tied to the saddle of a spare horse. His dejected silence does nothing to breed conversation amongst his captors and mostly they ride with the same grim silence they held while they pursued him. 

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The language is more recognizable than he would have expected, but it will still take him time to learn it. The men, on the other hand, are impressive both for their loyalty and the crudeness of their art. Unfortunate for their current standards of living, but it bodes well for his ability to teach them. Unless they are so poor they cannot progress past this point, he supposes. Hard to grow without enough iron and wood.

He will stay within hearing range of the men as they transport their prisoner, and continue listening to their thoughts until he has picked up the language. In the meantine, he is going to examine the local plants and animals to see how closely they match the ones he knows. What is the climate like, is this a fertile or barren land?

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As the men travel, Annatar gets the sense that their loyalty is the exception here, rather than the norm, and born of their lord's reputation for fairness and honor. 

The land is not entirely barren, but is far from fertile. The rolling hills are covered with verdant grasses and tall clusters of trees stud the countryside, but there are great jagged rock outcroppings as well and the air is cold. There are animals about, but they scatter at the passing of the horses. Deer, peering timidly from betwixt the gnarled boughs of the trees, little red foxes darting away into the underbrush, mice in their cozy holes, birds chirping shyly from hidden places in the thickets. Gradually, the untamed grasses give way to fenced pastures and lowing cattle. There are low homes of a grey stone loosely piled together and patchily mortared, thatched in pale straw. Plows and hoes and other farm implements have the dull sheen of untempered iron, their hafts and shafts of dark barely-worked wood. A low grey fortress looms on the horizon- its towers short and squat, its keep a pale shadow of even the merest kingdom of men in Annatar's home world and with entirely too few spikes for Annatar's tastes. The thoughts- and slowly more intelligible words- of the men paint the north as the largest of the seven kingdoms, however, and they seem proud of the fortress. They stop in a field where a large man and his household wait for them. 

He is taller than the rest of these men, and broader in the shoulder, but smaller and uglier than even the least of the men of Numinor. Upon his shoulders a great wolf pelt, and on his chest a riveted breastplate. His breast bears the running wolf sigil of his house, and sword is a massive two handed affair made of a shining braided steel. The blade is of noticeably better craftsmanship than the weapons of the men who brought their prisoner here, but it doesn't hum in the song of the world like the magical blades of the Eldar, and it is covered with the telltale sheen of oil, implying a susceptibility to rust not shared by mithril or any of the great workings of Annatar's world. 

In the grass before this man there is a rough-hewn lump of wood like an ancient organic boulder, a carved channel for the neck and shoulders describes a dark recess in the oft-scarred top and the wood is stained with the dark patterning of old blood soaked into the grain and wiped away, time after time after time. Behind him stand three young men, two of whom share his features, one who does not, as well as a boy-child. All are armed and armored, their horses picketed a short stretch away. Their mail glints steel in the slowly fading light, their clothing is tight-spun and closely stitched. Lightly embroidered on the sleeves, and laced tight at the throat, but wool and cotton still, not linen or silk. They wear cloaks of black or grey or brown, all trimmed about the neck with fur. Their arms are polished and unmarked by pitting or rust or patina, but of straight-edged steel with plain cross guards and leather-wrapped handles. The arrows in quivers at their sides are fletched in pale goose quills and are long and straight, their bows of simple single-curved ash. There is no artistry in their weapons, no runes of power glinting anywhere, but they are well made and functional. They are the weapons of a people used to war, and used to the manufacture of war materiel, but a people who view weapons as tools only, and not artistry to lavish care and beauty upon. 

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Annatar wonders if the Noldor were honest in their arrogance, and this is merely what the world would look like without their skill. But the future is not so bleak. He suspects they are motivated but uncreative, and might take well to foreign knowledge once it has proven itself.

The lack of wealth seems to persist even among these more important newcomers. Is frugality a great virtue here, or are they merely poor? Is the war they seem so prepared to fight actively waging, or merely a salient threat? So many questions, he must speak to them soon, and this tall one does not seem the type to be in a good mood after an execution.

He will have to reveal himself as a foreigner at some point, so there isn't much harm in demonstrating a lack of skill at the language. If they react poorly to his appearance, he can simply go elsewhere and try again. This does not seem like the sort of civilization to have an effective means of spreading news.

A ways down the road, while no one is looking in his direction, he flares a bit of magic to shake the mud from his clothes and dispel his illusions.

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As Annatar approaches, the men notice him. Their Lord's head is bowed over his great blade and he is saying words over the criminal. At words from his men, the Lord Stark looks up and locks eyes with the approaching stranger. He finishes his words swiftly, asks the prisoner if he has any last words- he doesn't. The youngest of his (presumably) sons turns away, but the eldest lays a hand on the child's shoulder and says "You must watch. Father will know if you don't." The child nods, bites his lip, but watches. 

The father raises his massive blade and strikes off the prisoner's head in one swift glittering arc. The lord stark passes his sword to the eldest son, blood still running down the blade in thick ropey crimson dribbles, and stomps grimly towards Annatar. Behind him, his son carefully wipes the blade with a clean rag. 

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Annatar approaches and greets him solemnly. He speaks with an accent. He doesn't need to, but it better matches his vocabulary in the learning curve of a man, and he has still not heard any mention of elves.

He stops a few paces from the lord and bows, slowly but not deeply.

"I greet you. I am Annatar, a man from a far land."

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"Greetings, Annatar, man from a far land. I am Eddard Stark and these are my sons, Bran and Rob." He begins with the youngest, and then the oldest. He does not introduce the middle or the one who does not share his features. "What brings you to Winterfel? I trust you've met with no troubles in my lands? The Kingsroad can be unsafe for one... unarmed..." Unarmed, the Lord Stark says, but in the privacy of his mind what he really means is rich and alone. There is suspicion in Eddard's mind, concern for his people, and worry that Annatar might not actually BE alone. The hills are high and the sporadic clusters of trees may hide a host of Annatar's men at arms.

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Annatar smiles at the children and bows lightly again. Is there clear difference in the dress or health of the named from the unnamed?

"I thank you to deal with my speech, I am not practiced. My travel was long, but easy. I have met no threats in your lands I could not handle myself.

I do not hope to interrupt your duties, but I have walked some ways. May I hope for hospitality here?"

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No difference that Annatar notices, and if there was anything in the lord's mind it was a surface thought too briefly to catch. 

"Do you have men who need my hospitality as well, or do you ask only for yourself?" 

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"Only for myself. My men have not travelled with me, and I fear they must make their own travel without my aid.

You are the lord of these lands, I think? I do not hope to be a difficult guest, but I will not claim hospitality that you do not wish to offer."

He shifts his body language, adding a touch of tiredness to the nobility with which he stands.

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"Pardon an old man his caution. Let it never be said that the welcome of Wintefel was denied to an unarmed stranger. Come, fetch your horse and ride with me." 

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Annoying. Of course it's odd that he reached this location without a mount. He could make an illusory horse, but it could be difficult to keep up the act once the beast is out of his sight.

"I thank you for your kindness. I am afraid I have no horse, so to accept this offer I must also hope to accept the use of one."

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A quirk of an eyebrow. Thoughts something like a king, by the circlet on his brow and the finery he wears, but unnarmed and unaccompanied, without horse or bannermen. "We brought no remounts, but come, ride my horse and I shall walk beside."

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Annatar is indeed suspiciously powerful and mysterious! Thank you for noticing, comparatively important local.

He bows politely again, and mounts the horse in a motion that is graceful, but not too unlikely for a human.

"I hope you will forgive me for any rudeness. I am afraid I do not know your culture better than your language."

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"There is nothing to forgive, stranger," he gives a wordless sign to his men and the split into two groups. The first stays behind to take care of the body, the second falls in with their lord as the little party moves off. "Tell me, from whence do you hail, stranger? I confess, I do not know your accent or your features," he tries not to stare at the ring blazing on Annatar's finger, but his mind gives him away. In Middle Earth, it is considered extremely rude to pry into someone's mind without their permission. Of course, this isn't Middle Earth, and men rarely notice the intrusion anyway. 

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Annatar will give up his advantages when the need is less pressing. He knows how to avoid motivated reasoning, and having just arrived in a war-torn world of which he knows not even the language is not a time when he feels comfortable acting without all accessible knowledge.

"Far, it is a different...body of land? Perhaps I could show you upon a map, if one can be found. It is a land well-suited to its people, who spend much of their time in pursuit of beauty. Though I have met a warm welcome, this seems to me a harsh land. Would you consider it so?"

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“A harsh land indeed, but there is beauty in austerity. More, my people think, than in jewels and silk.” So a soft southerner, Lord Stark thinks. Soft and gaudy like my friend Robert the king, and the gold-driven house Lannister and the house Tyrell with their young knight of the flowers. “Tell me stranger, of the ring on your finger? How does it shine so?” 

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"Then I hope you will not judge too harshly the styles of my own people. Perhaps I will attempt yours, if I stay long. They seem better-fitted to the needs of the land."

But there are gentler lands, further south. He has met many elves who love warmth and gold and flowers, and if there is any similarity he would be better off deploying his knowledge here. Though these southerners may be more readily directed with politics, and that would be higher leverage... He'll need more information to plot the development of this world.

"But my ring is unique to you? Such items are the work of a skilled smith, it is my own profession. If there are any here who would care to speak on the subject, I would be pleased to trade for lodging and support in this land. I may have skill and art not known here."

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“Hospitality is a virtue in this land,” the lord Stark replies, “and I would accept no compensation for it. I thank you for your kind offer however, and my smiths would be delighted to learn from you if you wish to teach, knowing that our hospitality does not depend on the favor.” There is confusion flaring bright in his mind- he thought Annatar a king by the circlet on his brow and the fine clothes on his back, but no king he has heard of works at anything other than rule. 

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