4. The Race to Rivendell
Some conversations that are spoken in Sindarin but translated into English in the text are italicized. Actual Sindarin words are translated below the body of the story.
The next morning the Rangers set out south once again for Weathertop. They had spent the rest of the previous day recalling personnel from the field and preparing supplies and equipment. Thalguron hated to lose the time because Aragorn’s trail was growing colder but it would do no one any good to go afield unprepared. At last the twelve Rangers had set out, riding as quickly as they could safely manage, each hoping in his heart that they could find their Chieftain before the Black Riders did.
As they rode, Thalguron thought back to the report Fargand had given of his experience at Weathertop. He had remembered a story told long ago as he sat at Elrond’s knee during a visit to Rivendell as a boy. It had been about the Dark Lord, Sauron, and the Nine Kings who had been seduced into his service. Sauron had given them Rings of Power with promises of wealth and fame but their hidden reward was to lose their places in the land of the living and serve him in a nether world of darkness. Though able to manifest themselves in a physical form, they had become shadow creatures and dwelt in a different plane of existence. From the descriptions Fargand had given, he was sure it was these malevolent warriors that were loose again in Middle Earth.
Thalguron moved his horse closer to his chief lieutenant. “Tardorn, what do you know of the Ring Wraiths? I am certain it is they that Fargand saw and that Mithrandir fought. I am not sure how we can defeat them on our own if we must face them. I know how to stand against anything made of flesh and bone, but how do you fight a shadow? Can you kill it with bolt or blade? Can it be hurt with mortal strength? I have only heard of them in dreadful tales told by Elrond when I was young. The only thing I am certain of concerning them is that they can cause nightmares in the dreams of children.”
“Not only the children, my Captain! I have been having dark dreams since Fargand told his story,” Tardorn exclaimed with a haunted look. “It seemed that his fear flowed out as a tangible force as he told of the frightening spectacle he beheld. I, for one, hope we do not even find again their tracks, much less come face to face. I have not known anyone who has faced them, and there is no account that has been told to me of their being defeated by mortal hands. It has been said that their leader, the ancient Witch-King of Angmar, will not fall at the hands of any man. I am not sure if that applies to the rest as well. From what we have heard, Halbarad and his men had no success in facing them. But do not lose heart, we will find some way to overcome them if we must.”
They continued on in silence as they rode through the sun-drenched countryside, the hills rising to their right and the rolling, broken countryside flowing away to the horizon on their left. After an uneventful night, they continued on the next day until they reached the southern end of the Tower Hills. They set up camp on the western slope of Weathertop and gathered around the fire discussing the plans for the coming search. Thalguron would take the Fifth Patrol south of the road and then turn east as they searched for signs of the Aragorn and the Hobbits. Tardorn would take the remaining Rangers and search north of the road, traveling east as well. If they did not locate the wayward Ranger and his companions, they would meet up at the Last Bridge over the Hoarwell. The watches were set and the Rangers settled into their blankets, falling asleep with the speed of men used to taking rest whenever and wherever the opportunity arose.
The next morning, they were moving at first light. They had pastured the horses in a small hanging valley back in the hills north of Weathertop the night before. They would be conducting the search on foot since it was a more effective means of travel when tracking. The Rangers could travel long distances using an easy, ground-eating gait that was efficient and effective. Without horses they did not have to worry as much about selecting routes through rough terrain nor were they hindered with having to care for their mounts as they went. This also gave them more freedom and flexibility should they encounter any hostile creatures out in the wilderness. The less distractions when facing an enemy who was intent on killing and possibly having you for supper, the better off you were. The patrols spread out into formations designed to cover large areas during a search or tracking mission but kept the men in contact with each other. Alert and eager, they began to move out on their appointed routes.
On the sixth day after they had split up, the two groups of Rangers were reunited at the bridge of the Hoarwell. Tardorn’s group had reached the crossing the day before. They had found no traces of the lost wanderers and the terrain that they had covered was easier traveling than Thalguron had encountered to the south. Thalguron led his tired patrol into the camp set up in the edge of the hills north of the road on the east bank of the river.
Thalguron was in fair spirits despite their lack of success since he had seen the Elf two days before. They had stopped short of the road in a small hidden vale and set up camp that night. The second watch had heard at least two horses pounding down the road to the east but they could not see who or what it was. The riders had continued on to the east and did not return. The next morning as they reached the road, one of the Rangers discovered the tracks from the horses passing by in the night. They were the same as they had seen at Weathertop after the confrontation between Mithrandir and the Ring Wraiths.
They were extremely cautious as they continued east on the road. Thalguron wanted to stay on the road as much as possible to make up time that he was sure had been lost as they searched through the wilds. He had found older tracks on the road that belonged to the horse that the Elf-lord had been riding. He immediately recognized the tracks of Asfaloth as he had seen them on many a trail through the years. He knew the identity of the Elf-lord: the great warrior Glorfindel.
Glorfindel was a well-known and welcome ally to the Rangers, though it had been quite a while since he had hunted with them. No single person could best him in battle and few could equal him. Only in the twin princes Elladan and Elrohir as they fought in tandem, had Thalguron ever seen anything approaching the fighting skill and cold ferocity that Glorfindel exhibited in battle. The Ranger Captain had heard stories of Lord Elrond’s battle prowess but that renowned Elf had not donned battle armor since returning home at the end of the Last Alliance.
As the travel weary Rangers came into the camp, they were greeted by their comrades. “Captain, well come! The food is warm and the wine refreshing. Delpen, take the Captain’s pack,” Tardorn’s voice called out to them.
“Tardorn, your greeting sounds almost as good as a ‘welcome home’ from Meri right now, although the sight of you bending over the fire is not nearly as appealing. The food and wine will be most appreciated. I gather that you fared no better than we in your search. Did you see any signs of their passing?”
As Tardorn handed Thalguron a steaming plate of food he replied, “Nay. We found some tracks of the dark horses and the tracks of Glorfindel’s magnificent Asfaloth but no others. I fear the rain washed away any tracks that we might have uncovered.”
“Aye, we saw the Elf-lord at a distance traveling east upon the road. At least we know that we are not alone in this quest. With the Elves searching as well, they will be found and brought safely to their destination. We were able to find two campsites but no discernible tracks.” Gratefully taking the food, he sat down on a stone to eat. Tardorn took a seat nearby and watched him eat in silence. After Thalguron had finished his meal, he sat back with a satisfied sigh. Tardorn spoke up again.
“What think you that we should do next? They should have passed this point long ago unless they were taken or turned aside.”
“I agree with your conclusions. However, I am afraid to leave any holes unplugged. I am considering pushing on toward Rivendell and leaving a force here to watch the bridge. Aragorn may have pushed deeper into the wilds than we think and may be delayed in getting here. I would hate for us to pass him by when we are so close. Blast the rain! It left us with no clues to even be able to tell when they had set the camps that we found. We have accomplished nothing so far and it is frustrating.”
Tardorn looked at him with some sympathy showing in his eyes. He knew that Thalguron took his duties very seriously and was prone to berate himself overmuch if he did not accomplish whatever chore he set forth to achieve. He drove his men hard but he was a much tougher taskmaster to himself. “Settle yourself for the night. I will post the watches from our group since we have had a days rest here. We will consider the problem again in the morning with clearer minds and see what we can determine.”
Thalguron nodded wearily and sought a place within the little dell to roll into his blankets. He and his men were thankful for the respite of having the others hold the watches and quickly fell asleep.
“AWAKE! AWAKE! The dark riders have returned!”
Thalguron was instantly alert and rolled out of his blankets in one quick move, taking up his sword and bow and drawing his long knife by instinct instilled through long experience. The others moved around him just as quickly and formed a perimeter on the south side of the camp towards the road and the call of alarm from the guard. As Thalguron moved to a vantage point overlooking the road, he realized that the voice had been that of Fargand. Thalguron hoped that the Ranger would hold his position and not be driven back by past and present fears. As the Captain looked down to toward the bridge, he saw five dark shapes flying toward them from the west. The eyes of the horses glowed an angry red and there were glimpses of fell light like smoldering sparks under the hoods of the riders.
Thalguron and Tardorn were issuing quiet orders to the Rangers around them, forming them into a defensive perimeter. They were set too far back off of the road to be able to move to intercept the riders in time. The best they could hope for was to strike with bows as the wraiths passed by below them. The Rangers all readied their weapons and as the horses swept across the bridge and down before them, Thalguron gave the command to loose. A dozen arrows flew and quickly behind them a dozen more. It seemed as if several found their marks but the dark company took no more notice of the arrows flying around them than they would gnats on a summer’s evening. The riders did not slow down or even break stride. They continued their charge on eastward and were quickly out of sight and the sounds of the horses hooves faded away into the blackness.
Tardorn was moving quickly around the camp checking each of the men. He turned and sought out Thalguron when he had completed the circuit of the perimeter. “All are unharmed though most are shaken. Fear surrounds those monsters like a hair on a wolf. I can see now why Fargand was so shaken after his first encounter. It seems that he has actually gained strength from that experience and did not falter.”
“He is a solid young man despite his tendency to mischief. I knew he would stand” Thalguron replied. “I want to set the men closer to the road and put a contingent on the other side as well. I don’t really expect the riders to return but I want to be prepared if they do. It is only a short time to daybreak and I doubt any could sleep now anyway. I can feel the fear still with me from the wraiths as well.”
Tardorn nodded and turned away to carry out his orders. The men slipped into the darkness to take up their assigned stations and soon the night was still once again. There were no more alarms and soon the sun began to peek over the mountains visible off to the east.
Thalguron called Tardorn back to where he was rekindling the fire. “I am going to take seven of the men and move on eastward. I will leave you here with the remainder to watch the bridge. If Aragorn is still to our west, we will be between him and danger. If not, I want to move quickly to him and offer whatever help we can. If he comes to you, bring them on to us. Should we find them, we will go on to Rivendell and send a messenger back to you. I only pray that Lord Glorfindel has been able to find them already and has them safely beyond the Bruinen. I do not believe that the wraiths can enter Rivendell. The power of Elrond over the valley is too strong for any save Sauron himself to break, and even he could not do so easily.”
“I pray that they are already safe, as well. I am not sure that we can do more than slow down the fallen kings in their pursuit. I will pass the word and have the men get ready to move out. We will hold the bridge. You keep your wits about you as you go. I don’t wish to face Meri and explain how you were lost and I was not there by your side.”
“Aye, that I will. I would not place such an onerous burden on you, my friend,” Thalguron murmured with a rueful grin, placing his hand on the shoulder of his lieutenant. He moved away to gather his pack and prepare to lead his men out. They formed two ranks of four split on both sides of the road and Thalguron set them out in the swift gait of the Rangers. Quickly the bridge and the remaining guards were left behind in the distance.