5. Chapter Four: Awakenings
She woke up and thought for an instant that she was still wandering the plains of some beautiful dream.
Music that was composed from the depths of the soul teased her ears with their symphony and she was like a leaf drifting upon the breeze, moving to its currents, a slave, though happily, to its will. Arwen opened her eyes and realised why it was she felt so at peace. The place around her allowed for nothing else and its beauty unlocked her heart in the way nothing had since she had left her beloved Estel and embarked upon this important quest. In her lungs, she discovered upon her first breath awake, was the scent of the Wood, heady and sweet. It reminded her of childhood, of running through glens covered with mallos, of becoming lost in a sea of the golden colored flowers. She used to believe that the sun had bled onto the earth whenever she saw them. Yet as she sat up in her comfortable bed, she knew that she was not in a dream but a place that might have been carved out of one.
They had arrived in the realm of Galadriel in the small hours of the night, exhausted and weary of their journey from Minas Tirith. Eowyn had been taken away almost as soon as they had arrived, the Shield Maiden of Rohan protesting vehemently that she did not need aid even though the poison of the spiders she had battled and killed was almost certainly in her veins from her wound. In the end, Arwen convinced her to go to the House of Healing, to rest and be well so that they may begin again their journey towards Lindon. Galadriel was still at Minas Tirith but the Lord of Lothlorien and Arwen's grand sire, Celeborn was present.
She woke up to find him seated next to her bed, watching her as if he had done so for a long while. While Galadriel was more concerned over matters beyond Lothlorien, Celeborn’s interest were mostly focused inward, upon the realm he governed and those who were a part of it. She was certain that he knew each one of the elves inhabiting the wood as more than just their Lord but as their friend. When she was a child visiting, she was always a little in awe of her grandmother but Celeborn had always seemed more approachable and she recalled going on many trips with him through the wood as he taught her all he knew. She loved him almost as much as she did Estel and her father.
"Have you been there all night?" She asked reproachfully when she noticed.
"No," he smiled warmly, pleased to see that she was well. He had watched her for some hours now, wondering where that delightful child that had spend so many summers with him had disappeared. Even though she had grown into the fairest elf maiden in Middle Earth, Celeborn would always see her as that little girl who delighted him so. "Merely a few hours."
"You did not come to the celebration," Arwen accused with a hint of disappointment.
"I did not wish to," Celeborn volunteered and Arwen saw a flicker of something in his eyes.
"Is there something wrong?" She asked anxiously as she started to rise from her bed.
"You are able to answer that better than I," he replied staring at her.
Arwen looked away, realizing that he knew the reason she was here. "You know then?"
"That there is an Enemy with designs on your child, my great grandson? Yes, I know," Celeborn answered and there was bitterness in his voice as well as anger.
"I have to stop it," she swallowed thickly. "I cannot allow this to happen to my child or to the people of Middle Earth if he is born with Melkor’s spirit."
"I know," he reached for her and placed his hand on her cheek. "I did not come because I was angry with your grandmother. I thought you should have been told about the Enemy before this."
"She had no choice in the matter," Arwen argued. "I know she did not endanger my life on purpose."
"She did not," Celeborn softened a little, having no wish for Arwen to believe that of Galadriel. "I knew her purpose was to set you on your present course and as much as I know you will conquer what awaits you, you are my granddaughter and I fear for you. I would have preferred if you had embarked upon this with Aragorn at your side."
"But he could be endangered," Arwen pointed out. As much as she loved Celeborn for thinking so much about her, she wanted Aragorn to have no part of her quest, if his life could be lost as a result.
"So could you," Celeborn returned. "You have chosen a mortal life and that means you could die too. I would not have forced you into such a choice."
"Are you angry with Galadriel for setting me upon this quest?" She looked at him with dismay. She had no wish to be the rift that came between the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien.
"Not angry," he lied to her because he knew it would cause her distress if he told her the truth. "Disappointed."
"Please," she placed her hand on his shoulder. "I made my own choice. Do not be angry with her because of me."
"It is not just this one thing Arwen," Celeborn confessed, glad that she was here so that he could talk about it openly. Being the Lord of Lothlorien required that he keep much of his true feelings to himself. "Galadriel wishes to leave Lothlorien for the Undying Lands. I am not ready to depart."
"Yes," Arwen replied, nodding slowly. She knew all too well what he spoke of. Many of the elves were now speaking of leaving for the West, her father too. Because of her choice to live a mortal life with Estel, she would not be making that journey. While she regretted nothing in the choosing of this decision because she loved Estel, she could not help feeling a terrible sadness when she thought on the time she would the last elf on these shores. Even Legolas would go some day, though Arwen suspected it would not be until all the mortals he cherished so much were gone into the afterlife.
When her father had come to Minas Tirith, she suspected he had done so because he knew it might be the last time he would ever see her. For all her delirium about his being a grandfather, she knew he was already preparing to leave Rivendell permanently and would probably never see her son. When they had met each other in the palace, she could see the weariness in his eyes from the preparation and also the sadness beneath the joy he felt for her. She knew that if it were not so, he would merely have sent good tidings with her brothers Elladan and Elrohir. Yet he had come himself and Arwen knew it was not merely to share the celebration with her but it was also his way of saying goodbye.
It would be this way with Galadriel and Celeborn too. No matter how much she loathed to think of it, Arwen had come to the conclusion that it was inevitable.
"I enjoy this world," he gazed out the window at the beauty of Lothlorien and she could see real love glistening in his eyes for not just the wood but what lay beyond. "I enjoy travelling to Rivendell and Mirkwood, I would even like to see Minas Tirith one day but I am not ready for the Undying Lands. Not yet."
"You plan to remain if Galadriel leaves?" Arwen asked somewhat surprised. It was not unheard of, of course. When her mother had been hurt, Celebrian had sailed to the Undying Lands, waiting the day when her father would join her on the Western Shore.
"I think so," Celeborn nodded and then met her eyes. "I have not told her yet."
Arwen drew a deep breath and wondered how Galadriel would take that news. Arwen was unable to imagine the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien apart. They had always been two halves of the same entity. Yet, she knew that hearts could change and though she did not like to be aware of it, Celeborn was angry at his wife and with elves, such anger could last the duration of some men’s lifetimes. As much as the thought of him remaining in Middle Earth pleasured her, Arwen knew that it was a selfish desire and felt that she ought to say something to ensure that this course he chosen was for the right reasons and not merely out of anger.
"Are you certain of this grandfather?" She asked, using a more personal title. "I know that you are angered over Galadriel’s conduct in this but I do not blame her and you may take comfort that I believe what she has done is right. I love you dearly for your concern but if your anger is for my welfare, you need not trouble yourself."
"I am certain of much more than my anger," Celeborn smiled warmly, mindful of what she was attempting to do and loving her all the for it. "I have thought upon this deeply since her departure to the White City and I know that though separation will be hard, for we have been husband and wife for so long, I think it will in the end do us both good."
Arwen nodded somberly, realizing that she could not sway him from his decision and upon further thought, decided that she should not. It was his choice to make. She could not deny that she was happy that he would not disappear from her life as the others would soon do but she was also sad that Galadriel would travel to the Western Shore alone.
"How is Eowyn?" Arwen asked after a lengthy pause in an effort to put the subject behind them.
"She is well," Celeborn replied, having asked to be appraised regarding the Lady of Ithilien’s condition for he knew Arwen would want to know how she fared. "She is exceedingly stubborn. I thought Aragorn was difficult to treat, I daresay she is almost as adverse to the belief of her injury."
"Warriors often are," Arwen smiled, picturing in her mind’s eyes the consternation Eowyn would have probably caused amongst the elven physicians in the House of Healing. "She is a good friend and has already saved my life once on this quest."
"I do not doubt that," Celeborn responded. "She believes she is ready to travel."
"Is she?" Arwen raised a brow at that because Eowyn’s determination to be of aide to her overrode the Shield Maiden’s good sense at times.
"Her wound is healing and I do not believe we can keep her here. She has been treated and though the healers would prefer her to rest, I also think they would be happy to be rid of her and the aggravation."
Arwen chuckled and let out a heavy breath, "I shall speak to her myself and if she is as ready as she claims then I would impose upon you grandfather for some horses."
"You will be continuing your journey?" Celeborn asked, feeling a little disappointed that she could not stay for another night but understood the urgency of her mission and her desire to continue as soon as possible.
"Yes," she answered thinking already on the route they would take upon leaving Lothlorien. "I cannot afford to delay my progress to the north. If Eowyn is well enough to travel, we will make for Rivendell."
"You are going to climb the Misty Mountains?" He looked at her skeptically. "In your condition?"
"I think I should be able to manage. We elves have far better agility over the snow than the race of men. I should be able to traverse it in a day or so."
She noticed a frown on Celeborn’s face as she mentioned the mountains, which immediately gave her cause for concern. "You seemed worried," she remarked.
"We have heard news from the mountains," Celeborn confessed after a minute of hesitation of trying to decide whether or not his fears were unfounded and motivated by his desire for her to remain in the Wood or was there really something to fear in the Misty Mountains.
"What sort of news?" She stared at him.
"News that some of the travelers crossing the mountains are not always seen again," he admitted reluctantly.
"What has befallen them?" Arwen asked anxiously, not wishing to deter from her chosen course but not wishing to rush headlong into danger either. After what they had seen at Cadras Nar, it was obvious that there was still enough darkness in Middle Earth to warrant caution.
"We are not certain, those sent to find them never return either," Celeborn replied.
"But some have crossed safely?" She questioned, not wishing to be frightened off on so little information.
"Some have," Celeborn replied. "But do you really want to risk the danger?"
"I am already in danger," Arwen sighed. "And I grow more so the longer I am kept from completing my quest. I must at least try to cross the mountains before I abandon the idea."
Celeborn nodded, conceding that he would not be able to convince her otherwise. She was like her father, strong willed and determined. He had to trust that she would find a way.
"The Lord of Lothlorien is at your service Evenstar," he said finally. "Whatever you need, we will provide it if we are able."
"Thank you," Arwen embraced him warmly, grateful that he was here and would be for some time to come.
Celeborn had been correct, Eowyn was eager to leave by the time Arwen finally found her. The Lady of Ithilien despised being fretted upon by healers, no matter how injured she was. From the time she had been a visitor to the House of Healing during the War of the Ring, she had abhorred being reminded that she had fallen in battle by having others fuss over her injuries. The only good thing that had ever come of her stay at one of these places was her meeting Faramir. However, this occasion was not going to engender any pivotal encounters such at that. What fired her ire more was that she had heard the tales of Lothlorien and had long yearned to walk through its enchanted realm. It did not seem fair that she was trapped in a bed when she could be seeing it for herself.
"Are you often so disagreeable?" Haldir asked after Eowyn had sent one of the maids trying to tend her wounds after her clothes instead.
Eowyn had never met Haldir, though she knew of him from her conversations with Arwen and Legolas. Like all the elves of Lothlorien, his hair was fair gold and it hung about his shoulders either loose or in a braid. His features were not as fine as Legolas and to her he seemed older, though it was difficult to say for certain with elves. His tone however was patronizing and that immediately brought out the worst in Eowyn.
"Only when I am forced to stay in bed over injuries that are inconsequential to me," she retorted, waiting impatiently for her clothes to arrive. At the present, she was clad in a simple white shift and felt all the more self-conscious for it.
"You are still injured. You should rest," he pointed out, standing by the door with his arms folded. His gaze was one of reproach, like she was a child and upon further thought Eowyn supposed she was in comparison to him but she did not like being reminded of it.
"I was injured," she corrected him, "but I am well now and I need no other treatment. What healing I endure after Lothlorien will take place on route, I do not need to be in a bed for that."
"You are travelling with the Evenstar," Haldir stated firmly. "She requires protection from what awaits her at the end of her quest. You only endanger her by your stubbornness."
Eowyn bristled at the accusation. She did not like this elf nor the assumption he made that she would place her own needs above that of Arwen’s. "If I were not a lady Sir, I would knock you off your feet for that insult."
Haldir straightened up in outrage at her statement, "I merely state the obvious," he said haughtily. "If anything befalls the Evenstar in this quest, or should she fall to the machinations of the Enemy then we will all suffer. Does that not warrant you behaving sensibly?"
"I am behaving sensibly," she retorted. "This thing that will happen to the babe inside Arwen will take place at the next full moon. If you do not mind, I would rather that we fulfil our task well before that. I would leave nothing to chance when it comes to Arwen or her baby’s safety. I am injured yes, but the one to best judge how I will be capable of tolerating those wounds is me, not you."
"This will not do," Haldir looked at her coldly. "The Evenstar should have a proper escort, not a…" he faltered when he saw that he was about to say something unforgivable.
"A woman?" She strode towards him, full of anger and more than prepared to express it.
"Haldir," Arwen’s voice filled the room and they both turned to see Arwen entering the room with Eowyn’s travelling clothes in her arm. "I think that will be all."
"I am well aware of what you were doing," Arwen replied with such glacial hardness to her voice, that it was easy to believe then that she was a queen. "I thank you for your concern and bid you to leave us, the Lady Eowyn needs to be dressed as we will soon be leaving."
Haldir appeared as if he wanted to respond but since much of his conversation with Eowyn had been heard by Arwen, there was little he could but to withdraw. It was just as well for Arwen did not think that Eowyn would have been able to restrain her displeasure much longer.
When he was gone, Arwen turned to Eowyn and sighed, "I suppose that you are well enough to travel then."
Eowyn let out a slight laugh and responded, "yes, I do think I am."
"You must forgive Haldir," Arwen replied after Eowyn had liberated the elf of her clothes and readied herself to leave. "He is very proud and he does take his duty to protect the Lady and her kinsman very seriously."
"You forgot arrogant," Eowyn muttered as she pulled on her breeches. "I see now why Legolas describes him as an acquaintance."
"Legolas was always too polite to draw an accurate description." Arwen smiled before noting the injury on Eowyn’s shoulder as she pulled off the shift. "Are you certain that you are fit to continue?"
"I am fine," Eowyn assured her. "I am not about to single handedly fight Sauron or an army of Uruk Hai but I am certainly fit to ride. I can heal on the way."
"I will trust you on that," Arwen stared at her critically. "With everything else that is happening to me of late, the last thing I would require is for you to drop dead from exhaustion or some other malaise because of your stubbornness to aid me in this quest."
"If it soothes you somewhat, I will not drop dead, I will faint gracefully from exhaustion."
"Thank you," Arwen retorted giving her a look of sarcasm as Eowyn grinned. "That does me a world of good."
Celeborn had been true to his word and had furnished Arwen and Eowyn with horses and supplies for their journey northward. At their farewell, Haldir had been present, his face a mask of dislike as he saw Eowyn riding at Arwen’s side. For most part, Eowyn handled his hostility and lack of confidence in her abilities well enough but Arwen could see that she was still rather incensed. Arwen however, was sad to say goodbye to Celeborn for she had a premonition that the next time they came upon each other, things would have changed greatly. She did not know how she knew this with such certainty, but as she cast him a final look as he waved her goodbye, Arwen knew that it would be the last time she viewed him as Lord of Lothlorien.
They traveled away from Lothlorien towards the Misty Mountains, a course Eowyn was still unhappy to take because of Arwen’s condition. She knew the journey would be longer but a day or two down the range of the mountains would find them an easier way to reach their destination. However, Arwen would have none of it. She was determined to cross and since Moria was no longer an option, Eowyn had little choice but to obey. From all accounts the bridge at Khazadum had been destroyed and while Gimli and the dwarves had vanquished much of the Orcs that had overrun Moria, it was not to say that they were all gone.
From Lothlorien, the journey to the Misty Mountains required almost two days of constant travel. Fortunately for them, their travel was without incident and there was ample opportunity to take in the magnificent range of mountains as they neared it. The Misty Mountains bordered the valleys where Rivendell was located and for many ages had kept the Hobbits in the Shire beyond the reach of Mordor and other elements of darkness. As they approached it, there was none of the inhospitable weather that had beleaguered the Fellowship when they had tried to reach Mordor. The snow covered peaks appeared still and while Arwen had no desire to attempt the crossing over those points in the mountain, she could not help being moved by its resplendent beauty.
In the meantime, Eowyn continued to be mindful of her injuries and though it had been difficult for her to ride during the first hours of their departure from Lothlorien, the maid of Rohan bore it nonetheless. Arwen was aware of her attempts to hide her weariness and often feigned needing rest herself when she saw Eowyn was in need of it, just so that he companion would agree to pause. Arwen loved her for this effort and knew that if she succeeded in her quest, it would owe a great deal to Eowyn’s conduct in this. Arwen wondered why not more women chose to take up arms as Eowyn had. The elves were not so against their females bearing weapons as immortality brought with it certain wisdom. However, it was not the same with the race of men. They preferred their women weak, gentle and defenseless. More should follow Eowyn’s example for it was perfectly obvious to Arwen that they were more than equal to the task if Eowyn was any basis for comparison.
It was almost nightfall when they finally reached the pass they would have to traverse to cross the mountain and both women were exhausted from being in a saddle for almost the entire day. Neither disagreed with one another when the suggestion was brought forth of making camp that night. Celeborn had included in their stores, some lembas and they ate around the warm fire, wondering how far they would have to continue tomorrow in order to reach the pass that would take them through the mountains. Little was said of the quest, though both of them were thinking constantly upon it.
Arwen’s thoughts were mostly preoccupied with Aragorn and how he would have taken the news of her departure. No doubt, Galadriel would have explained things once he discovered her gone but Arwen was certain that he would not understand. It did not help that she missed him terribly and each day apart made her long for her king. It was foolishness, this pining for him. It was not as if they had never been apart before. Prior to their marriage, he was always travelling from place to place and his time with her only came in between his adventures. She wished she could have been like any new mother with the freedom to enjoy the arrival of her babe but she could not. All she could feel was this terrible weight pressing down on her soul that demanded her completion of her quest or it would cost her everything she held dear. It was not fair.
Fortunately, Arwen knew in her lengthy existence that life was seldom fair in anything.
Eowyn’s worries were a great deal different to Arwen’s. What Faramir felt about her leaving, Eowyn would find out when she saw him face to face again. Eowyn was too practical to torture herself with how her beloved might behave in this situation. She had larger concerns on her mind, concerns that she dared not voice to the Queen of Gondor for fear of how she would react to them. Eowyn’s fears were centered upon the time they were allowed to reach the Blue Mountains in order to prevent Arwen’s unborn child from being affected by Melkor’s essence.
Galadriel had told them that they had until the next full moon to reach the Enemy. It had been that when they departed Minas Tirith and it had taken them four days to travel to Lothlorien. It would take another four days to reach Rivendell after they breached the mountain. If they had been on foot, the journey would take six days. As Eowyn calculated the days, she knew that they could not afford delay. Part of the reason she was so adamant about leaving Lothlorien was because she knew that they could not waste one second if they aimed to reach the Enemy before it was too late. After crossing the mountains, they would need to pass Rivendell, then Shire before reaching the place known as the Grey Havens. From there, they would take the river into the heart of the Blue Mountains that would take them to sea.
After that, Eowyn had little idea what would transpire next or how long it would take to accomplish it. Galadriel’s instructions had been vague at best and what Eowyn feared the most was if they had long to travel once they arrived at the Blue Mountains, they may not be able to reach the enemy before the full moon. That thought alone sent fear into her heart not merely for the babe and for all of Middle Earth should the child be born with Melkor’s spirit, but what Arwen herself would do to keep a second darkness from befalling the land. The queen of Gondor was perhaps one of the strongest women she knew in spirit and a fierce desire to protect those she loved might force her to act irrationally.
Was it possible that might mean ending her life?
And should Eowyn stop her?
That was a possibility the Lady of Ithilien did not want to consider even for a second because it filled her heart with such dread that Eowyn could hardly breathe. Yet she was certain even if Arwen never said it to her directly, it was a course the queen might take if the situation gave her no alternative. Eowyn knew that Arwen might be strong enough to make such a sacrifice but what Eowyn did not know was whether or not she could stand by and let her friend do this terrible deed.
The answer to that question was something she never wanted to learn.
The raging wind in her ears and the sudden chill on her skin awoke Arwen from her slumber at their campsite at the foot of the Misty Mountains. The night before had shown them a canopy of stars ahead, a sure indicator that the day following it would be clear and good for travel. Yet as she opened her eyes and stared briefly at the sky, she saw only clouds of gray, allowing no sunshine to pass its thick cloak. The wind was whistling in her ears and she saw the trees swaying above head, bending to its will with each breath of the gale. Arwen sat up and saw Eowyn already awake, packing their things away in order to begin their travel or at the very least, seek shelter away form the tempest.
Arwen looked up at the top of the mountain and saw the higher reaches of it covered in sheets of snow. The wind was gently chipping away at its volume and she understood in an instant why Eowyn was so determined to get moving. If this storm were to grow any worse, it might conceivably precipitated an avalanche that would bury the passage way in snow and force them to take a different route. However, as she rose to her feet in order to help Eowyn with their rapid departure, Arwen sensed something ominous. It was the same feeling she had experienced in Cadras Nar, although there the danger had been more overt and did not require elven senses to detect.
"Eowyn," Arwen called out as she gathered her bedding and stumbled towards the Lady of Ithilien.
"We need to go," Eowyn said as soon as she saw Arwen approaching her. "That snow is going to come down soon. We need to pass or else we shall have to go around the mountain."
"There is something not right about all this," Arwen replied as she fell into Eowyn’s purposeful stride towards the horses.
"What do you mean?" Eowyn squinted at Arwen as she tried speaking over the wind.
"I do not believe this is natural," Arwen explained as they reached the horses that were growing agitated at the worsening weather.
"It is a storm," Eowyn retorted not understanding, "it is unfortunate but storms are a part of life. They happen."
"Not this one," Arwen interjected. "Trust my word sister, there is something amiss."
Arwen did not use the word ‘sister’ often but when she did, it was because she was earnest in her desire to convince Eowyn of some truth the latter could not see.
"I believe you Arwen," Eowyn replied honestly. "But what is to be done? We must cross that breach."
She was right. If the forces of nature did not create this storm, it still did not alter the fact that they had to cross through the pass between the mountain. Arwen argued no more with Eowyn and they both quickly mounted their horses and rode towards the pass, ignoring the growing intensity of the wind and the falling of snow that was turning the clarity of their path into a vague, indistinct fog. The nearer they drew to the pass, the more Arwen became disturbed by what she was sensing. Something terrible loomed in the passageway, something that was going to harm them. She wanted to turn back but Eowyn was right, they needed to make the crossing.
Inside the small canyon that had been carved through the mountain by years of erosion by water or some other force, Arwen swallowed thickly as they moved deeper and deeper into its confines. The comforting sight of dirt and soil disappeared for the thick cover of snow and the horses grew just as anxious as she. Eowyn lead the way, aware that this leg of their journey was worrying Arwen and she went ahead to show the queen that there was nothing to fear, though she did not exactly discount Arwen’s belief of danger.
They were less than a quarter of the way through when suddenly, she heard Arwen cry out behind her. Eowyn brought her mount to an immediate halt and looked over her shoulder. The elf’s features were contorted in fear and sent tendrils of alarm through the warrior maiden. "What is it?"
"Something is here," Arwen said looking about her, trying to find something that could convince Eowyn as well as herself that they should leave here while they still could.
"Where?" Eowyn asked automatically, her hand reaching for her sword.
"I don’t know," Arwen cried out in frustration. "But I can feel it."
Eowyn would have liked something more tangible then that and she swept her gaze across the canyon way to find something that would give truth to Arwen’s premonitions. There was nothing at first, not until she looked closely and saw that the canyon was littered with rocks and boulders of varying sizes. This in itself was nothing out of the ordinary, since rocks and boulders were to be expected when one was travelling through a mountain. But upon closer observation, there were jagged and sharp, not at all smoothed from years of erosion. The look of them made her dismount the horse, uncertain whether her need to investigate was inspired by Arwen’s warning or because she herself was starting to see something odd.
"What have you found?" Arwen asked, still gripped with this feeling of foreboding.
"These rocks," Eowyn looked ahead and then behind her on the path they had taken to this very spot. "Why are they only here?"
Arwen realised that Eowyn was right, behind them the path was clear. There were rocks but these were formations that had been there for quite some time and had blended in with the landscape through the ages. However the collection that Eowyn viewed with such anxiousness bore no such unity with the terrain, they seemed out of place and they were broken as if dwarves had chosen to split them apart with their heavy axes. She looked further into the canyon and saw that in the distant end of the passage, the path once again cleared. The collection of rocks and boulders seemed specific only to their immediate location.
She shivered and it was not because the wind was heavy and blowing at her skin with force or because of the snow flakes that had covered the terrain after being dislodged from their perch above that she pulled her cloak nearer to her body. She stared up at the uneven edge of the mountain above their heads and could only see the raging blizzard of snow and wind. Yet every sense that she possessed told her that this was not right, that the sudden emergence of this storm was by the design of something other nature.
"Eowyn, I think we should take another route."
Eowyn stared at her sharply. "Arwen that will place undue burden on our journey, it could mean a delay of a day perhaps more."
"I know," she replied anxiously, "but I do not make this request lightly. We should go now."
The fear Eowyn saw in Arwen’s eyes was real and though she did not wish to waste time by finding another way around the mountain, there was something about this whole situation that was cause for disquiet. After a moment, she decided that if Arwen thought that there was peril lying in the route before them, then they should leave. She trusted her friend’s instincts. She stepped away from the rocks when her foot struck something underfoot. It did not make the sound of rock but rather something much harder. Arwen had heard it too for her brow had knotted in confusion as to what that could be. Eowyn lowered herself to the ground and saw the irregular shape her foot had struck, concealed by a thin layer of snow.
She had only to brush it aside when she found herself staring at a skull. Judging by the size of it, probably a dwarf’s. She staggered back in shock and slipped on the ice, landing heavily on her rear.
"Eowyn!" Arwen called out, dismounting her animal immediately and running to the shield maiden’s side.
"What is it?"
Eowyn would have answered except that when she looked at where she had landed, she noticed another pile of bones, covered by the sand. She let out a short cry of shock as she scrambled away.
"I think you are correct," Eowyn said in a hasty breath as she hurried to meet Arwen. "I think we should leave now."
"There are bones everywhere," Arwen said as she stared at the snow she had just cleared away underfoot. At first she thought she was standing on gravel but that was not all. The canyon was a veritable tomb. Suddenly, she remembered what had Celeborn had said about travelers who had vanished trying to cross the Misty Mountains. They could be standing on the edge of why that was. "Something in there is killing travelers, I think we should leave while we still can."
"I will never question you again," Eowyn declared as both women hurried to their horses and mounted.
They started riding out of the canyon, not even looking back and grateful that they had come to their senses before it was too late. Neither knew what form of creature had caused so many to die in that narrow expanse but Arwen was grateful that they would not be finding out first hand. They galloped hard through the pass, paying no heed to the gale that was lashing at them or the unearthly howl that ripped through their ears when they departed. It could have been the wind by somehow Arwen was not so certain of that. As they reached the mouth of the passage and saw the land beyond the Misty Mountains, Arwen felt a great flood of relief wash over her that for the moment at least the danger had passed.
The thought had no sooner crossed her mind when suddenly; something tore her from the saddle of her horse. She let out a small cry of shock but it was eclipsed by Eowyn’s own shout of outrage as she endured the same occurrence. There was little time to think as Arwen saw the ground come up to swallow her. All she could do to protect her child was to curl her body into a ball and hope that would be enough to lessen the impact of her landing. She hit the ground hard and though she was certain that her positioning had saved the slumbering babe in her womb, she was helpless to prevent the black fog that descended upon her moments later where she knew nothing else.
"Lady," she heard Eowyn’s insistent voice prodding her into consciousness. "Lady!"
There was a moment of confusion when Arwen opened her eyes and felt the dirt scrapping against her cheek, when she wondered where she was. The voice calling her was familiar and only when her senses returned to her, did she realize that it was Eowyn calling her. Starlight flooded her eyes, the glare of awakening settling the blur before her into more familiar shapes. She saw night sky filtering through the canopy of trees above her and heard voices that upon meeting her recognition brought Arwen abruptly back to her senses. Arwen started to sit up but was hampered by the fact that her hands were tied. She would have descended into panic at the realization of this if not for the fact that it would avail her nothing.
Arwen did not know where they were but it was clear that they were deep within the woods. She had no sense of time and that frightened her more, not knowing how long she had been unconscious. She could smell smoke close by and upon investigation, saw that it came from the fire of the camp they were in. Sitting above the flames was a cooking pot; its contents simmering with heat and a stench that turned her delicate stomach. There were at least a dozen of them moving about the campsite, some were guarding her and Eowyn, the rest were more interested in picking clean the contents of their saddle bags.
"Are you hurt?" She heard Eowyn whisper quietly.
"No," Arwen shook her head as she gazed upon the Lady of Ithilien, who was seated before her cross-legged, her arms bound behind her. A streak of blood ran down Eowyn’s face, the cause being the angry gash slashed across here forehead. "Are you?"
"It is appears worse than it is," Eowyn replied dismissively because they had larger concerns at the moment.
"How long have I been unconscious?" Arwen asked as she attempted to shake the disorientation out of her head.
"A few hours," Eowyn answered, watching their jailers cautiously. Their lives hung on a knife’s edge at this moment and lest she found a way to free them both; neither would survive the night. "I feared that you were injured far worse than appeared."
"My strength is not what it used to be," Arwen explained breathless, her eyes following the proceedings in the campsite with as much caution as Eowyn. "Carrying a babe is tiring work but I am well enough."
"Good," Eowyn spoke quietly. "That is something at least."
One of their captors, noticing that Arwen was awake started towards them, his feet crushing the dead leaves beneath him as he barked the Black Speech of the Orcs to his brothers. Arwen felt her blood run cold as she saw the foul creature advance upon her, his terrible eyes full of purpose. She had seen Orcs in her time but in this situation, Arwen could not hide her disgust, especially when there would be no help for either herself or Eowyn from this ordeal. The Orcs fed on man flesh and what they did to women was too unspeakable to think of. The idea of what could befall them both, made Arwen’s heart pound even louder.
"They will ask your name, do not tell them." Eowyn instructed quickly before her words entered the hearing of the enemy.
The Orc paused before Arwen and hissed at her, its jagged teeth covered in filth borne like fangs. Arwen raised her chin in defiance of his attempt to scare her, refusing to allow this creature any more power over her then it already had. She wondered why they were not already dead. Orcs did not waste time with hostages. These were undoubtedly a renegade band left over from the War of the Ring and such Orcs usually waylaid helpless innocents for food or supplies. Arwen could not understand why she and Eowyn had been kept alive and being held prisoner. It was more expedient if they were to be killed for the Orcs would not have to worry about any attempt to escape or resistance to their will.
"Evenstar," he spoke the word and made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end at its sinister delivery. "Which of you is the Evenstar?"
The question explained a great deal. These creatures were in search of her but one noble woman appeared more or less like another to them, they could not tell which of the prisoners was the one they sought. These Orcs were in the service of the Enemy that is why she and Eowyn were still alive. They dared not kill either one of them because they feared incurring their master’s wrath if they were wrong about the choice. As long as they did not know that she was the Evenstar and the object of their search, Eowyn’s life was safe.
"You can find that out yourself," Arwen returned sharply.
The Orc bellowed in rage at being refused and raised his hand to strike, when another of his party barked at him to stop. His hand paused in mid air and he snarled at her again in rage before turning away and returning to the horses. The two Orcs standing close by watched them closely.
"They’re preparing to move out," Eowyn explained.
"What happened?" She asked.
"They ambushed us as we attempted to leave the passage. I believe the storm allowed them to emerge into the day briefly in order to captures us. They tied a rope across the mouth of the pass and we rode straight into it. When I awoke, we were here. I am uncertain but they may have kept us in their lair until the night came so that they may venture out in preparation to depart."
"For where?" Arwen asked horrified by the notion of being taken anywhere by the foul creatures.
"Probably to the Enemy," Eowyn guessed. "They were most unhappy with me for not telling them my name, I think they hoped to feast upon one while travelling with the other."
Arwen’s stomach hollowed at the thought, aware that Orcs were infamous for being man-eaters. "Do you think they were responsible for the bodies we found?" Arwen inquired, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"No," Eowyn replied quietly, mindful that nothing she said was being overheard. "I don’t think so. The bones I saw did appear as such. Whatever happened to them was something else entirely. These Orcs have purpose in seeking us out. I believe they are sent here by the Enemy in order to bring you to them. If he has a palantir, he must know that you are no longer at Minas Tirith and moved to find you before you slipped out of his reach. If we allow them to take charge of us, it will take much longer to reach the Enemy because Orcs do not ride. We would be making the journey on foot."
"Then we must escape," Arwen declared without hesitation. "Somehow, we must find a way."
"I agree but that is easier said then done," Eowyn retorted even though she was slowly attempting to free herself of the ropes tied behind her back. It was not hard to do because the fingers of Orcs were far from nimble and their ability to tie ropes even less so. With time, she would not doubt be able to untangle the unruly cluster of knots that kept her bound. However, it remained to be seen whether or not they would have the time to spare. The Orcs before them were sharing a meal, no doubt the precursor to beginning their journey to the Enemy. Eowyn would prefer it if freedom came to herself and Arwen before that.
Or before the Orcs became hungry and threw caution to the winds by choosing one of them as a meal.
The Ranger watched the proceedings through the trees as one of the two women made a furtive attempt to free herself while under the watchful gaze of the Orcs who had captured them. The warrior maiden was undoubtedly trying to loosen the ropes around her because the Ranger could read the subtle movements made by her body as she made the attempt. The Orcs were too unschooled in interpreting the body language of men to know what was transpiring before them but then there was little reason to fear the warrior woman’s freedom from her bonds. Why should they? There were many of them and one of her. Even if she should free herself, she was unarmed and her companion was still tied. It would be an exercise in futility that would no doubt get one or both of them killed.
The Ranger considered deeply what was to be done. The Orcs were preparing to leave with their captives, a happenstance that could not be good under any circumstances. The Ranger was somewhat confused by this action for Orcs were not known to take captives and since the fall of Isengard and Mordor alike, they served no master and were renegades hiding from the King’s forces. Whatever the reason for their unusual behavior, the Ranger had little choice but to act. If not for a chance discovery while travelling towards the lands beyond the Misty Mountains, the Ranger would have continued the journey unaware of the peril faced by the two women.
There were about a dozen Orcs, not a great many but certainly enough to give one who was preparing a rescue pause for a moment. Orcs were not to be taken lightly and while the warrior woman might be useful in the battle if it came to that, the other was still bound. No, the Ranger decided quickly, facing the Orcs and vanquishing them was out of the question, the best that could be hoped for was the safe retrieval of both followed by an extremely hasty flight away from the Orcs. Hopefully with all their skins intact.
The Ranger took a moment to grumble at the inconvenience of the situation. True, the women had to be helped but the Ranger had no time for this for another purpose was waiting for the Ranger’s attention. That purpose was by no means as urgent as the quandary in which the noblewomen found themselves, but it was no less important. Still, the Ranger was not the kind to ignore the distress of others, particularly when it involved Orcs. After dealing with the vile creatures for so many years, the Ranger knew exactly what fate awaited the two women if something was not done.
Death would actually be the more pleasant of the possibilities.
Taking a deep breath, the Ranger crept across the soft ground of the wood, careful not to make a sound that would alert the Orcs. The Ranger’s horse awaited not far away from the campsite and the rescue plan such as it was, required the animal’s participation. As the dark figure moved across the uneven trail through the trees, the Ranger named Melia removed the crossbow slung across her back. She loaded the weapon silently and reached the black mare waiting patiently for its mistress to return. The animal, acquired in Rohan for nowhere else were there horses finer, was accustomed to remaining silent for the purpose of its rider.
Melia ran her hand across the animal’s flank and whispered her gratitude for its silence into its ears before climbing into the saddle.
"Come along Lomelindi," Melia said quietly as she faced the Orc fire in the near distance, "we have Orc to hunt."
Eowyn was still as the night as her fingers worked deftly on the final knot. She had closed her eyes in concentration, focussing singularly on the purpose of freeing her hands. Arwen watched her surreptitiously, appearing anxious for the benefit of their captors and focussing their attention on her by asking questions that they were ignoring. Eowyn knew that she could not keep that course indefinitely because Orcs were not known for their temperament. While they may not be prepared to kill either of them for fear of their master, there was nothing to prevent them from harming them and Arwen was threading a thin line with her efforts.
Suddenly the Orc leader who had questioned them stared at Eowyn, his eyes widening in malice when he realised that she was up to something. Eowyn felt her heart sink with disappointment as the knot came apart in her fingers but would do her little good because she had been discovered. He cried out to the rest of his comrades as he strode towards her and Eowyn was filled with dismay to realise that all her hard work was for nothing. If they did not kill her for what she had done, they were certainly going to tie her up again and she would be right where she began.
"Do nothing," Eowyn commanded Arwen, forgetting for an instant who was Queen and who was not. "Do not interfere with them on my account."
"Do not ask that of me!" Arwen cried out desperately as Eowyn stood up to face the Orc coming towards her while the two guarding her brandished their swords in preparation for the order to run her through.
"Escape," the Orc sneered malevolently, his voice a cold hiss, when he reached her, grabbing her arm to confirm his suspicions that she had been attempting to escape. "Escape is pointless."
He raised his sword, readying himself to deliver a blow that while might not necessarily kill her, would disable her and ruin any chance she had of making another escape attempt. Eowyn wanted to run but she knew the weapons of the other two would end any flight before she even had a chance to take a step. She braced herself for the pain and felt anguish rise from the depths of her soul that she had failed her queen so utterly. However, she would not go down easily and not before making him sorry he had ever taken them prisoner.
However, there was little chance for the Orc to do anything because at that moment, a horse burst through the bushes, carrying a rider on its back as it landed a hair’s breath beyond the reach of the fire. Once his eyes and that of his minions turned to face this new threat, Eowyn acted swiftly. The edge of the palm slammed into the creature’s face and forced him to drop his sword, which Eowyn liberated swiftly enough before she tore open his belly with one swipe of the weapon. When the others heard the death cry of their leader, they turned back to her. Eowyn slashed at one of them while the other was halted in his step by the bolt of a crossbow.
"GET TO THE HORSES!" The rider astride the mare shouted as she trained her deadly aim upon the others Orcs.
It was a command that need not be made twice. Eowyn hurried to Arwen who had jumped to her feet following the sudden turn of events and quickly freed the Queen of Gondor from her bonds. Then both made their way swiftly to the horses, with Arwen staying close behind Eowyn as the Shield Maiden of Rohan hacked her way through anyone or anything attempting to prevent their departure. The Orcs were starting to regroup from the chaos running through their camp when Arwen and Eowyn reached their mounts. Their mysterious rescuer had almost exhausted her supply of bolts for her weapon.
"Let’s go!" Eowyn shouted as she dug her heels into her horse and the animal bolted forward.
Arwen did the same and the horse broke into a powerful gallop across the campsite. An Orc attempted to pull her out of the saddle but Arwen kicked out, smashing the ball of her foot against its mouth and feeling its teeth crumble underneath. The creature staggered back and Arwen dug her heels into her horse with even more strength, expressing the urgency of a hasty departure to the animal with that one command. The horse thundered forward, following Eowyn and also their rescuer into the forest with the swiftness of the wind. An arrow flew past her and she ducked, feeling relief when she saw it embed itself into a tree.
Arwen did not know how long they rode through the night, knowing only that they were putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the enemy while they were doing it. For a time it seemed as if they would never stop and if it were not for the fact that Orcs could not tame horses, they might not have. However, after what seemed to be an eternity of time, Arwen heard Eowyn’s call to her that they were going to stop. Arwen was grateful for the break though she was pleased they had put a good distance between themselves and the Orcs who would have surely killed Eowyn or done great harm to her if not for the timely arrival of their rescuer.
They came to a halt in a brook that was fed of the water of the Anduin, several leagues away from the Orc band. As Arwen dismounted her horse and led the exhausted animal to the water in order to drink, she felt a great sense of relief at the knowledge that for immediate present, they were safe. Their new companion had made no introductions, seeming more concerned with the plight of her mount then anything else. As Arwen approached, she noted the person to be about the same size as Eowyn with a slightness of frame and figure that was distinctly female.
"We are in your debt, lady," Arwen said upon reaching her.
The Ranger stood up and lowered the hood her cloak. Long, black hair spilled forth, framing a face whose skin was lightly bronzed and whose brown eyes stared at her with as much curiosity as Arwen was showing herself. Arwen had heard of people in the lands beyond the Inland Sea with coloring such as this but she had never seen it for herself. Her features were decidedly exotic, Arwen decided and she was fair, much too fair to be roaming the lands of Middle Earth alone. Arwen wondered who her people were and was genuinely curious to learn from where she had come.
"I am a Ranger in these parts, it is my duty to ensure that travelers are safe from Orcs," she answered Arwen with a slight bow. "This is the first time that I have ever rescued two noblewomen travelling alone. Should you not have escorts?"
"We have business that requires us to travel alone," Eowyn replied cautiously, even though the stranger had saved their lives.
"Then I would suggest you exercise some prudence," the woman retorted. "What happened back there could have been worse if I had not stumbled upon you."
"We would have found our way out of that predicament," Eowyn said defensively.
"Yes," the woman responded with no small amount of sarcasm. "I saw how well you were finding your way. Another minute more and your problems would have been ended permanently."
Eowyn was about to retaliate when Arwen stilled her with a look. "We are thankful for your assistance. We need to cross the Misty Mountains swiftly. If we cannot go through the pass, might there be another route that we might take?"
"You are wise to avoid the path," the Ranger said earnestly. "Many have died attempting to cross there."
"You know what happened to them?" Eowyn asked.
"No," she confessed. "But I have seen the bodies and I did not remain long enough to find out what killed them."
"That is probably wise," Arwen could not disagree with that course. "Can you help us then?"
"I can lead you across the mountain but that depends on where you need to go," she looked at them in question, wondering where these two noblewomen were headed to risk such danger as travelling alone.
Arwen and Eowyn exchanged glances, wondering whether or not they could trust this stranger. Unfortunately, they needed to continue their journey quickly and they could not afford to waste time searching for an alternate route if this Ranger had that information already. Finally Arwen nodded in Eowyn’s direction, giving her permission to speak about their intentions.
"We are travelling to the Blue Mountains," Eowyn said finally, realising they had no choice but to trust this stranger. "We need to get there well before the next full moon."
The Ranger sucked in her breath and stared at them in astonishment. "That is going to take some doing. It is a long journey and very little time in which to make it. Might I ask what is the purpose of such a trek?"
"It is safer if you do not know," Arwen replied before Eowyn could. "Except that it is a matter of great importance."
"It must be," the Ranger sighed, "if the Evenstar is making it."
Arwen stared at her. "You know who I am?"
"Yes," the Ranger nodded. "I visited Minas Tirith after the crowning of the King. I have seen you before."
"Then you will help us?" Eowyn asked, her distrust of this woman lessening because it appeared that the Ranger was wise and her skill might be useful to them in their quest. Besides, a woman who was willing to rescue strangers from the hands of Orcs could not be entirely without honor and there was a part of Eowyn who liked the fact that this Ranger was also so capable of defending herself like any other warrior.
"I will help you," the Ranger smiled as she saw Eowyn’s outstretched hand and took it. "Lady of Rohan."
"Call me Eowyn," Eowyn returned the smile in kind.
"What shall we call you?" Arwen asked, gladdened that Eowyn had relented in her distrust of the woman and Arwen sensed no danger from her.
"Melia," the Ranger replied. "My name is Melia."
"Welcome to our quest Melia," Eowyn said wryly. "Let us hope you do not live to regret it."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.