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Unto the ending of the world: 23. Relief
May 17 – June 6, 3019
Celeborn watched as Galadriel put a group of her maidens through a sword drill as he sat in the shade of a tall tree on the edge of the practice field. What she could teach them now would hardly turn them into warriors – for that, it was too little, too late – but at least they would not be entirely defenceless against an armed opponent.
Elladan and Elrohir were not due yet for the sparring session they had agreed on, but Celeborn had come early to escape the busy surroundings of Caras Galadhon as people prepared for the next assault on Lothlórien; this might well be the only rest he would get for some time. He could hear his grandsons approaching now, arguing about their road home.
"We should consider going back through Rohan," Elladan said. "It may be weeks yet before even the Redhorn Pass is open."
Elrohir considered his brother's suggestion. Only in the years of the Long Winter and the Fell Winter had the Misty Mountain passes been this late to open. Those bleak years there had only been a few weeks at the height of summer that the Redhorn Pass had been traversable, and the High Pass had remained closed. It was not that bad yet, but Elladan was right. And they were needed at home as much as they were here. How long would it be until Rivendell faced the Enemy's hordes as Lothlórien did now? Unspoken but always on their minds was that every day further reduced the hope that they might see Arwen again. Even so, they knew the dangers of travel in the Misty Mountains and to make the attempt too early would only bring them to a frozen death on some mountain path.
"Another week, maybe two; if there is no change then, we return south," Elrohir agreed. He did not want to go the long way around, even if most of their journey would be through friendly lands, but if the passes remained snowbound for much longer, there was no other choice. They had lost too much time already.
When Elrohir and Elladan arrived at the field, Celeborn was there already, and they joined him to watch Galadriel as she sparred with her maidens. Elrohir suddenly realised that, though he had seen his grandmother use a bow before – and suffered more than one defeat against her in contests – he had never seen her wield a sword, even in practice, and he watched closely as he and Elladan sat down.
"Long has that sword hung idle on a wall, and long had it been our hope that it could remain thus," Celeborn said to him, "But I fear in the end all will need to take to arms in defence of Lothlórien, and there will be no final escape towards the Sea for us. To see that requires no great foresight." He distractedly plucked at some blades of grass. "I recall the day word of Finrod's death reached Menegroth. Had Gorthaur not already been defeated by Lúthien, I think she would have ridden to Tol-in-Gaurhoth to challenge him." Looking out over the field again and letting his gaze rest on Galadriel, Celeborn sighed. "The protection of Lothlórien weighs heavy on her now that she can no longer rely on the power of Nenya. She has yet the strength, but the effort is slowly wearing her down, and I fear for her. I fear the day that she will break under the demand."
There was nothing to say to that. Elrohir had only to look at Galadriel to know his grandfather was right. After some time, Celeborn stood up. "Come, let us find some practice blades."
While they crossed the field, a runner came up to speak to Celeborn. "My lord, a messenger from Orophin's patrol has arrived and wants to speak to you."
"Is that the patrol that crossed Anduin last week?" Elladan asked.
"Yes," Celeborn replied, "Though I had not expected to hear from them so soon."
The sparring session abandoned before it began, Elrohir followed along with Elladan as Celeborn turned back towards the waiting messenger. As he looked back, he saw Galadriel dismiss her maidens and also head towards the edge of the field.
"And it is certain these armies were heading for Dol Guldur first?" Celeborn asked the messenger.
"As certain as we could be; and they will have reached there by now," was the reply. "We counted close to eight thousand, Men and Orcs both, and led by another of the Nazgûl."
"Then there are six there now," Galadriel said, as she belatedly sheathed the sword she had carried with her from the practice field. "It cannot be long before the next attack." Eight thousand; that was the largest force the Enemy had brought against them since March. Galadriel met her husband's worried glance. If all six Nazgûl crossed the river... she was not certain she would be able to defend Lothlórien against their entry. At the very least it would sorely test her. Still, even if the Wraiths were stronger than they had been, they were not invincible; the Elves had driven them off before, and Mithrandir had proven that they could still be defeated. Most importantly, he had not used his Ring in that confrontation and that steadied her confidence that her own strength would be sufficient. It also gave her some hope that the wizard might not be entirely lost.
Even so, there was still much to think about in Mithrandir's duel with the Nazgûl; while Khamûl had been the strongest user of magic after the Witch-king, he should still not have been so evenly matched with one of the Istari, not unless Mithrandir had been more weakened by not using Narya than he should have been. From what she had seen in the attacks on Lórien, she wondered how Khamûl could have gained enough strength; while the others were stronger now, two or three together should not be beyond her own strength to resist. Perhaps her surmise that the Enemy had in some way enhanced the Nazgûl's power, or even confronted Mithrandir directly through the Wraith, was correct; if so, at least that ability appeared to be limited by distance, for she had not felt Sauron's direct presence in the attacks on Lothlórien.
Neither Elladan nor Elrohir had said much since their aborted sword practice and the news of the Enemy's force approaching three days before, and Elrohir had not given Elladan's attempt at levity that morning – "At least we can postpone worrying about how we can best journey home" – more acknowledgement than an icy glare. He had been fully in agreement though when Elladan suggested that they join Celegir's patrol that was going out to Anduin to watch the arrival of Sauron's force.
As they sat gazing out from a flet overlooking the place where they expected their opponents to cross the river, Elrohir was glad he had agreed. They could not stop the troops from crossing, but this was still better than sitting behind the protection of Lothlórien's borders, waiting without even seeing what was coming.
Not that we can see them coming now, Elladan observed.
"True," Elrohir replied with a brief smile. "Not yet, but we will soon enough."
"Soon enough? Another day at least," Elladan countered.
"Before nightfall today," Elrohir said. "The Enemy's troops move quickly."
They fell silent again, returning to staring east at the darkness at the edge of sight beyond which lay Dol Guldur. The Sun was starting to sink low in the west behind them when a sharp whistle sounded from one of the Elves who had climbed up even higher in their tree. Try as he might, Elrohir saw naught yet, but Elladan had quickly climbed up to join the lookout.
They are coming, Elladan confirmed. They are still far across the river.
How long until they are here? Elrohir asked.
"Midday tomorrow," Elladan replied as he returned to the flet. "Sooner if they march through the night."
Elrohir slept deeply that night, even if his dreams were filled with harsh cries and the sound of army upon army of Orcs marching past their flet. He was woken up the next morning by the Sun's first light. Elladan was already awake and stood gazing across the river together with Celegir. The Enemy's armies had set up camp about five miles across Anduin, Elrohir saw as he joined the other two.
"They are not Orcs alone," Elladan said. "Those banners on this side of the encampment are Mannish, from Rhûn I believe."
"I make it close to five thousand," Celegir added.
Elrohir nodded in agreement, as he tried to make out more details of the camp in the early morning mist that lay over the river. "A darkness hangs over their camp," he said at last.
"Nazgûl," Elladan confirmed. "And there is more than one."
"We should go back before they cross," Celegir said. "I will leave two men behind on watch."
They waited in silence until the enemy broke camp, then returned to the ground for the run back to Lothlórien. Even if the approaching troops were not overly bothered about their march being known, they would not let the scouting party escape if they saw them.
Celeborn stood looking out over the burned and battle-scarred plain that lay south of Celebrant, and shook his head. This land had been green as Lórien itself, but the fighting of the last few months had destroyed it, and a barren waste stretched for miles, with only the charred trunks remaining of the scattered trees that had stood there.
Nearly five thousand, led by three of the Nazgûl, had marched on from Dol Guldur. A thousand had turned south towards the Wold, but that still left a sizable army. Would the Wraiths be strong enough to break through Galadriel's warding? She had thought not, and Celeborn could only hope that she was right. They had confronted the Nazgûl already in other attacks, and the Shadow of Dol Guldur was not unfamiliar to Lothlórien, yet the Wraiths were stronger than they had been before.
Have some confidence, his lady's thought now came. I did not speak rashly when I said our defences will hold.
Do not make Mithrandir's mistake, he cautioned her.
Using my Ring? She sounded almost amused.
No. Overconfidence. Our opponents did break through before.
Once. Briefly. But is not the physical defence of our borders yours? There was more than a hint of irritation in her answer.
Celeborn knew she had a point, but as he could already see the dust stirred by their enemies' approach, he did not reply; nor did he mention how weary she sounded. This was the largest attack they had faced since March. The last few attacks had been light, mere pinpricks, and the Ents had stopped them before they could reach Lothlórien or Rohan.
It should not be long before the enemy troops came into view. Celeborn cast a quick glance at the waiting defenders. All were ready, his grandsons standing with the first line of swordsmen.
There their opponents were, one of the Nazgûl on horseback leading them. The lesson that their flying beasts were no match for Elven bows had not been lost then, Celeborn thought. He looked back across his own lines to where a company of cavalry was waiting. They did not have many riders, but enough to counter the Nazgûl. His own horse was kept there as well, should he have need of it.
As Celeborn raised his hand to signal the archers, Galadriel surveyed the field. There was one Nazgûl close to the front, and while she could not sense the others, the scouts had spoken of three having crossed Anduin. At first that had alarmed her; for the Wraiths to lose their aversion to water must mean that they had gained much more strength than she had thought. She had been relieved to find out that they had not used boats to cross, but two of their flying beasts, continuing on horseback once they were on this side of the river.
As she tried to sense where the other two Wraiths were, she felt a touch of darkness brush against the wards around Lothlórien. They must have split up; one to drive forward their own troops, the others to keep her occupied. She moved her attention to her attackers, but they withdrew immediately when she countered them, too quick for her to see where they were.
And thus it was the old stalemate yet again; she could only defend, not attack, for to do that would leave Lórien open. Before, the Enemy had been uncertain about her strength, and had not dared risk open confrontation. She was surprised that he did not even now, though to assume Sauron was doing more than biding his time would be dangerous.
The first day's fighting had been the worst, their foe's onslaught forcing them back nearly to Celebrant. After a week of constant battle both day and night to take back the ground that had been lost, Elrohir was so weary that he had barely made it up to the flet he and Elladan used. Elladan was yet out in the field, and would rest once Elrohir returned.
When Elrohir woke up, the first thing he noticed was that it was still light; then he heard someone knocking on the bottom of the flet, and a head popped up.
"Lord Celeborn asks that you return to the field immediately," the Elf said, disappearing again before Elrohir could even ask why he was being called back.
Elrohir's first thought was for his brother, but had anything happened to Elladan, he would have known even in his sleep. Had the enemy broken through their defences? It was unlikely; while the messenger had been in a hurry, he had not been too alarmed. With a sigh, Elrohir got up and made his way down. He would find out soon enough.
As Elrohir stepped off the boat that ferried him across Celebrant, he was directed to a small hill near the frontline, rather than to the tent that served as their headquarters. About ten Elves were standing there, and as Elrohir joined them, Elladan and Haldir made room for him. Elrohir cast a quick look at the trenches and other defences the enemy had already put in place in the short time since their arrival.
Celeborn turned to speak to him. "They are bringing in more troops from Dol Guldur."
"How many, and how long before they will be here?" Elrohir asked.
"Another thousand or so, and at least ten days," Celeborn replied.
"As I said, if we stop them at the river crossing..." Elladan said, apparently continuing a discussion that had been interrupted by Elrohir's arrival.
"We cannot and still leave enough defenders here," Haldir said.
"But we cannot afford to let our enemies already here be reinforced either, or we will never dislodge them," Elladan replied.
"If the Ents are willing to help, we can do both" Celeborn interrupted. "We must not let the enemy keep the initiative."
"Are not the Ents too far away to be here in time?" asked Haldir, looking doubtful.
"The longer we wait, the harder it will be to drive our enemies back across Anduin," Elladan said. "Someone will need to go south to warn the Ents of our danger."
If they allowed their opponents to further strengthen this position, it would let the Enemy build up his strength on this side of Anduin. Even if he could not yet enter Lothlórien, it would not be long until he cut off the Elves from both Rohan and the Ents. "I will go," Elrohir said, hoping Elladan would not volunteer to join him, as he could sense how weary his brother was. "I am rested and the Ents know me, or at least Treebeard himself does."
"We cannot risk sending only one," Haldir said. "Perhaps I should go with you."
"You will go, Haldir, but Elrohir will not," Celeborn said. Elrohir was about to protest when Celeborn went on, "You and Elladan must keep ready to depart as soon as the passes open, or I fear that you will not return to Imladris at all. Even a day's delay may be too much when the time comes."
Even Celeborn had found some time to rest, but every time Galadriel sought sleep, one of the Nazgûl would test her defences, and she could do no other than stay on her guard. Alas, she understood well the Enemy's purpose. Not only was he trying to wear her down to the point that her wards would fail, he also hoped that she would give in to the temptation of taking power from Nenya, rather than rely on her own strength.
Elladan had asked her to show him and Elrohir how to maintain the warding, to allow her to rest. Doing so would give her some respite, and once the twins left, that knowledge might well be of benefit to Rivendell also. There had not yet been time to teach either him or any others. She should not wait much longer though, or her weariness would overcome her first. She was still strong enough, but only barely, and she had no strength to spare beyond what was needed to defend Lothlórien. She had already had to abandon her attempts to follow Legolas and Gimli home through the Mirror before they even had crossed Anduin.
Galadriel wondered if she dared risk sleeping; even half an hour would be welcome, and she would be stronger for it afterwards. Before she did, she would see how the battle – or rather, to name it what it was, the siege – went, and if there was any sign of the Ents or of Haldir.
At first glance everything appeared quiet. Despite her fatigue, for once the Mirror worked with her, rather than resisting as it had done lately. As she cast her thoughts about to find Celeborn, she detected a flicker of movement beyond where the two armies were facing each other. Orcs; a small group, about twenty, but further west than any enemies had been yet in this attack. It seemed at first to be a normal patrol, but then she realised she had stumbled upon the escort of the two Nazgûl who had been attacking her. That was a stroke of luck she had not counted on, and she allowed herself a grim smile. Now that she knew where they were, she could direct their own patrols in their direction, and ensure they were kept busy enough that she might safely rest.
Celeborn signalled his horse to stop, letting the rest of his patrol catch up with him. They were far enough west that the land was untouched by war, and the thickets that dotted the terrain provided cover both for them and for the Nazgûl and their guard. They had already been out here for well over half a day, yet they had been unable to engage their opponents; every time he thought they were getting near, they had found nothing but a trail.
Now, though, he could not shed the tense feeling that had crept up on him, and he scanned the area for enemies. Orophin was the first to join his lord, and he too looked troubled.
"They are near," Celeborn said. "Do you feel it?"
"Yes, but the Wraiths alone, or Orcs as well?" Orophin asked.
"Shall we find out?" Celeborn responded, as he let his hand fall to his sword. "This game of tag has gone on long enough."
It had gone on more than long enough. Celeborn was surprised to find himself so eager for a confrontation, yet he should not be reckless or overconfident. Even if he did not doubt his own strength, the Nazgûl were dangerous opponents. Yet the Wraiths, except the Witch-king, were no match for the strong among the Elves, and had that one been here, he would not have worked from hiding.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes in concentration so that he could listen to what the land might tell him. This close to Lórien, the trees would still heed him enough that he might learn what he wanted to know.
After some time, Celeborn opened his eyes again. "Over there," he indicated, as he urged his horse forward, "Beyond that hillock. Follow my lead."
"Quickly now," he heard Orophin exhort the rest of the patrol, as they raced to circle back beyond the point he had indicated. Their enemies would not get away this time.
He reached to draw his sword just as his horse shied aside, startled by a spear striking the ground nearby. With a curse, Celeborn continued his motion towards his sword while leaning down lower against the horse's neck. He considered wryly that not long before he had thought that he should not be reckless, yet he found it hard to think of any other word to describe this charge.
Nearly there... Suddenly several Orcs burst out of hiding, three of his riders in pursuit. The Orcs tried to turn back again when they saw him, but found themselves surrounded. Sword and spear did just as well as archery, and the Orcs were soon dispatched. Celeborn stayed back, keeping an eye out for the Nazgûl; they must not escape again.
He looked around, trying to sense where the Wraiths were. Further back, only one... Quickly he dismounted and advanced on foot; the trees were dense enough here that there was no advantage in riding.
The oppressive feeling of the Wraith's presence grew stronger as Celeborn entered a small clearing, and he gripped his sword tighter, just as the Nazgûl also stepped into the clearing. He wondered where the other Wraith was, but did not sense him anywhere near.
"Elf," the Nazgûl addressed him. "Immortal, yet vulnerable to death."
"Undead," Celeborn retorted. "Afraid to die, bound in unliving slavery."
The Nazgûl halted, almost as if he was studying him, and Celeborn observed the Wraith in return. He had never before faced one of them at such close range, and while he found that he could feel the terror that hung around the Undead, it did not affect him. More dangerous was the other's ability to overwhelm the minds of the weak or the unwary, for that might catch out even a careless or wearied Elf.
His quiet stance was unnerving the Wraith, Celeborn concluded as the creature took a half step forward, then retreated again. He wondered how he might goad him into an attack, when the Wraith spoke again. "I know you, Elf. The Great Lord will yet have you and your Witch both."
"Will he?" Celeborn asked calmly, though he felt his anger rise at the threat. "Too long has your master had that wish for it to carry much weight," he replied with a certainty he wished he felt.
In the distance, he felt his men returning; had they already slain the other Wraith, or did they believe he needed their aid? No matter, he must not be side-tracked.
The Wraith must have felt even this minor distraction, though, as he now moved forward, lunging at him. Celeborn blocked and parried. The other tried to block him in return, but Celeborn was too quick, and his sword hit high on the Wraith's right arm.
The Nazgûl recoiled with a sharp hiss as if in pain, and Celeborn thrust forward into the opening he had been given, his move taking the Wraith clean in the heart. With a great wailing screech, the black robes fell empty, and Celeborn was left staring in amazement.
Could it truly be this easy? Or had the Wraith merely abandoned its shape, going back to Mordor to be reclad in undead flesh? While he still stood considering the true extent of his victory, Orophin and the rest of his patrol burst into the clearing.
"My lord, are you unhurt? We chased down the other Wraith; it is slain."
"So is this one," Celeborn replied with a fierce smile. Even if the Wraith was not truly dead, but only disembodied, it would not trouble Lothlórien for a long time.
Galadriel had watched the confrontation between Celeborn and the Nazgûl, and she shared her husband's amazement at how easily the Wraith had been defeated, whether slain or driven off. There were differences in strength and skill between the wraiths; even so, when she compared this to what she knew of the fight between Mithrandir and Khamûl...
Yet there was more about that to make her wonder again about her suspicion that Mithrandir had somehow faced Sauron through the Wraith, also with the little that Elladan had been able to tell her of the confrontation between Aragorn and the Nazgûl in mind. There would be time to consider the Ringwraiths later, though. Now, she needed to rest, and she turned to go into her bedroom when she was struck by a sudden thought. With the One Ring in his possession again, can Sauron make new Ringwraiths to replace those he loses?
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