17. Chapter 17
Aragorn was silent for a moment. ‘Three days,’ he murmured, ‘and the muster of Rohan will only be begun. But I see that it cannot now be hastened.’ He looked up, and it seemed that he had made some decision; his face was less troubled. Then, by our leave, lord, I must take new counsel for myself and my kindred. We must ride our own road, and no longer in secret. For me the time of stealth has passed. I will ride east by the swiftest way, and I will take the Paths of the Dead.’
‘The Paths of the Dead!’ said Théoden, and trembled. ‘Why do you speak of them?’ Éomer turned and gazed at Aragorn, and it seemed to Merry that the faces of the Riders that sat within hearing turned pale at the words. ‘If there be in truth such paths,’ said Théoden, ‘their gate is in Dunharrow; but no living man may pass it.’
‘Alas! Aragorn my friend!’ said Éomer. ‘I had hoped that we should ride to war together; but if you seek the Paths of the Dead, then our parting is come, and it is little likely that we shall ever meet again under the Sun.’
‘That road I will take, nonetheless,’ said Aragorn. ‘But I say to you, Éomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between.’
The Return of the King. J. R. R. Tolkien
March 9th 3021 Dunharrow – the Riddermark
Saddened by Aragorn’s departure, Éomer rode east with a heavy heart, his mood only lightened by the continual swelling of their numbers as men from the high valleys of the Ered Nimrais answered the call to arms. He had no doubts the Rohirrim would give a good account of themselves on the battlefields of Gondor, but as well as losing the services of a masterly warrior, he would personally miss the comradeship he had enjoyed with Aragorn. Their journey to Isengard, and the confrontation with the traitor Saruman, had given him time to enjoy conversation with the one-time ranger, and learn a little of his life when he rode with Éomer’s grandfather, Thengel. Yes, he would miss the companionship of such a mighty man and thus joy leapt in him when, upon reaching the crossing over the Snowbourn to start the last part of their journey to Dunharrow, he picked out Elfhelm’s tall figure amongst the group of riders coming towards them. One friend he had not lost.
Dúnhere, Lord of Harrowdale, stopped in front of Théoden to give his report, but Éomer, a wild surge of relief coursing through him, didn’t wait to hear. Kicking Firefoot past his king he rode straight up to his old friend, holding out his arm in greeting.
“You made it!”
Elfhelm clasped his hand tightly, whilst managing to keep his gelding out of the range of Firefoot’s teeth. The Marshal’s stern face broke into a smile. “Gandalf sent me to secure Edoras, and compared to you my battle was light.” He paused, the smile leaving his face and a look of sadness and regret clouding his clear eyes. “I am sorry, Éomer, about Théodred. I got to the Fords too late.”
The familiar jolt of anguish tore though his stomach, but although he tried to hide the desolation he felt at the loss of his cousin, Éomer knew Elfhelm had perceived his pain when the other man’s expression hardened, and his lips drew into sneer. “Damn Gríma! I should have gone by my own instincts.”
“No.” Éomer determinedly shook off his grief: whatever the cost, the Mark had survived. “You could not have disobeyed the king’s orders. It is something we will always regret. But Saruman’s intention was to destroy the House of Eorl and we have Gandalf to thank that he failed.” He slapped Elfhelm’s arm with deliberate cheeriness. “We will talk of each others’ deeds later, now we must prepare to ride to war. But I wish to see Éowyn; I presume she is safe at Dunharrow.”
“She is, and the people of Edoras with her.” Elfhelm confirmed.
That was good news, but there was one other he wanted to know about. Fearful of the reply his voice dropped involuntarily. “Is Déor here?”
Elfhelm’s face relaxed and he jerked his head towards the mountain. “I sent him up to the Hold, to check everything is ready for the King’s party.”
Éomer followed his gaze. Way above he could glimpse the white tops of tents on the Firienfeld, the green swathe of grass and heath that provided a cushion between the rocky crags. And behind the Firienfeld the Dwimorberg rose as a black wall, a menacing fortress barring passage. Éomer shuddered: had Aragorn really gone under the mountain, braved the Dimholt road? Shaking off the uneasy thoughts, he turned back to Elfhelm. “Déor’s not injured?”
“No, he came through unscathed. But I thought Éowyn could do with a friend up there.”
His mood lightened further. “That is good news, so let us join them.”
They followed Théoden up the long road through Harrowdale. Éomer’s heart swelled at the sight of the hundreds of tents that clothed the sides of the wide valley, and the companies of Riders that lined the side of the road, calling greetings to their king. Not only were there those from the Emnet and the Wold who had answered the call, but the myriad of fluttering standards convinced him that Gandalf had spoken the truth when he said that not so many Riders had lost their life at the Battle of the Isen as they had feared.
“Most were scattered, not killed.” Elfhelm answered in response to his queries. “Against such odds I felt prudence to be the best course: better to retreat and live to fight again. Thus we will be able to take many spears to Gondor.”
The sun slipped behind the mountain as they started to climb the steep road that wound its way up the Hold of Dunharrow. Soon the camp was way below them, the tents disappearing in the murk as they rode up through the lines of Púkel-men, the stone images of a forgotten people that lined the ancient way.
The camp had been set to the right and left of the line of standing stones that strode across the short upland grass marking the way to the Dimholt. But rather than huddle against the shelter of the high rock wall, the tents crowded the edge of the cliff, as if wary of being drawn into the mountain. From the king’s pavilion on the left, a warrior came riding to greet them – coming out from the shadow, mail gleaming in the lingering light. Belatedly, Éomer realized it was his sister – long braided hair flowed out under her helm and on her hip a great sword hung. Dressed for war, her horse, Windfola, held his head high, eyes glowing like black coals through slits in tooled leather. She stopped in front of Théoden and held up her hand. “Hail, Lord of the Mark!”
Éowyn welcomed Théoden with all ceremony and warm-hearted greetings, but Éomer, watching her closely, saw that her eyes were heavy with sadness. Now why was that, when they had just won a great battle? His clue came when he witnessed her reaction to Théoden asking for news of Aragorn: her upright bearing imperceptibly sagged, perhaps unnoticeable to all but him. And as she spoke her eyes dulled further. But he had reckoned without Théoden. Knowing Éowyn so well he picked up on her frame of mind straight away.
“You seem grieved, daughter,” said Théoden. ‘What has happened? Tell me, did Lord Aragon speak of that road?” He pointed away along the darkening lines of stones that led to the Dimholt. “Of the Paths of the Dead?”
“Yes, lord,” said Éowyn. “And he has passed beneath the mountain from which none have returned. I tried to stop him, but he has gone.”
Éomer’s heart fell, somehow he had hoped that Aragorn had changed his mind and he would be riding with them. He could not stop his own disappointment from surfacing. “That is ill news, for our paths are now sundered. We must ride without him, and our hope dwindles.”
Éowyn stared at him, her eyes glistening tears. He could tell she was just holding on to her composure. Damn! He was right: there was more to her sadness than the loss of a fine warrior. He would have to find time to speak to her before they left for Mundburg. He did not want her to have any false hopes, better to put Aragorn from her mind now when the attraction was still new, than spend fruitless time yearning for a man she could not have.
The evening had waned by the time all reports were heard and counsels given and received. So it was late when they sat to eat, and only after all had partaken of their fill and Merry sat next to Théoden entertaining him with stories from his homeland, did Éomer take Éowyn’s arm and lead her out into the darkness. “Come and walk with me, for soon our ways will part for a while. It may be many weeks before we will be sitting in Meduseld together again.”
She lifted one delicate eyebrow in scorn at his attempt to make light of the conflict to come, but let him guide her anyway – away from the tents to a group of tumbled rocks where they could look out over the encampment below. But all was in darkness, for Théoden had ordered the muster to be in secret, lest the enemy learn of their plans. Éowyn stared down to where they knew the éoreds had gathered.
“Éomer, do not try to ease my mind with platitudes. You and I know that the Rohirrim will be riding to a battle such has not been fought before. There is evil abroad. Evil which has never been seen in the Mark in all the long ages. The men say that all hid their heads when the winged shadow passed over Edoras.” She paused, and a slight sob caught in her throat. “And the hope we had rode to his death under the mountain.”
Éomer suppressed a sigh. How did he reassure her without giving false hope? He did not wish to ride away leaving his sister distressed. But as always he could only speak the truth as he knew it. “Éowyn, I am loathe to see Aragorn go, for I had hoped we would ride into battle together. But he is a man with a great destiny on him, and as such maybe he rides a road that is closed to lesser men.”
“You do not believe that!” She threw at him, pulling her arm away and turning to stare wildly into his face. “No one has taken the road under the Dimholt and lived. He is a man, not a wizard or some immortal being. He can bleed and die like any other!”
“Éowyn, listen to me.” Éomer pulled her back against him, smoothing his hand across her hair. “That is true, but he is also Elendil’s heir – the true king of Gondor. And as such the road may be open to him. Elladan and Elrohir brought a message from their father, Elrond of Rivendell. It was that message that made Aragorn think he could take the Paths of the Dead. Also he has received some insight into the enemy’s plans that convinced him the risk was worthwhile. We must trust that he has taken the right course.”
Éowyn dropped her head, her voice coming out in a whisper. Her fingers dug into his arm. “I wanted to ride with him, but he would not even consider it. He took the elf and the dwarf, but he would not take me.”
Now what did he say? He hated to do it, but he could not let her think there was some glorious future awaiting her. “Éowyn, there is something you must know.”
She raised her head, her eyes seeking his expectantly. Éomer let out a long sigh he had been holding in; he was not finding this easy.
“Well, Éomer, what should I know?”
Éomer drew her against his chest, hugging her against him and speaking softly into her ear. “Éowyn, I would not like you to wait in vain for Aragorn to come back, for if he lives, and if he wins the throne of Gondor, still he will be removed from you.”
Eyes open wide, and with trembling lips, Éowyn, clutched at his shoulders, the cloth of his tunic bunching in her hands. “What do you mean?”
He didn’t want to do this, and his heart hammered a protest. But he could not shirk his duty to his sister. Small pain now might save great torment later. Hoping his decision to tell her to be the right one, he launched in. “Aragorn’s kinsman, Halbarad, brought him a standard. It was the standard of the King’s of Gondor – The White Tree on Black. Arwen, Elrond’s daughter, fashioned it with her own hands, with silks and gems, they said. Painstakingly made for the day Aragorn will reclaim the throne. I saw his eyes, Éowyn, when her name was mentioned. They were eyes filled with longing and love.”
The body in his arms stiffened. Éowyn let out a low wail of misery, before she roughly shook off his enfolding embrace. But he reached out to grab her hand: small and cold, he warped warm fingers around it. “Éowyn, I am sorry.”
“No, Éomer! Let me go. You have said enough.” Reluctantly he released his grip and she ran stumbling back towards her tent.
March 10th 3021 Dol Amroth.
Lothíriel raised her head from the pillow, but the headache had not lessened. Some giant clam must have caught her in its grip, and the more she tossed and turned, the tighter it held her. The tisane hadn’t helped and she daren’t take any more, somehow she had to force herself to get up. She had to do her daily check on the children living in the Palace, so many were sick and the numbers mounted each day. There was no excuse for lazing on her bed in the middle of the morning with so much to be done. No excuse except that she had not slept properly for three days, ever since…No. Put it out of her mind, shut out the horror.
Struggling to push aside the painful remembrances, she rose, only will power making her get to her feet. She stood for a moment before half-heartily attempting to smooth out the creases in her dress. What a mess she must look – she certainly felt it. The water in the bowl was cold, but she splashed it over her face and then soaped her hands. The smell of sweet-jasmine reminding her of happier times, when she would spend hours quietly reading amongst the fragrant flowers in the palace gardens, perhaps waiting for her father to come home.
But that seemed an age ago, the remembered peace all gone – her father at war and she… caught in a trap of her own making. Her temper and loss of control had led her into a dark tunnel from which there was no way out. She could find no rest anywhere: every time she tried to sleep the demons would invade her mind, worming insidiously into her dreams. Dripping blood, they tormented and jeered at her. And in her waking moments the anguished thoughts crowded in, giving her no rest from the constant lashing of self-recriminations – she was a healer who killed. A healer who laughed and shouted at death, who enjoyed seeing men run from her arrows…
Angrily, Lothíriel threw down the drying towel and stared at herself in the glass. Umar had done this to her! His evil had touched her, and now she was no better than him. Shuddering, she quickly turned her face from the mirror and hurried out of the door of her chamber, slamming it shut behind her. She stopped outside to take a deep breath, desperately trying to thrust all this from her mind. She had to ignore the people staring at her and whispering about a princess who had brought all this trouble upon them. Resolutely, Lothíriel started walking down the long passage, but at the end, where the passage widened into a large embrasure in the corner tower, she stopped, drawn by some force to look out one of the slit windows. High above the other buildings in the city, the window looked across the Haven towards Edhellond, where after sweeping down from the far Ered Nimrais and across the uplands of Gondor, the Ringló River spilled into the sea. Then suddenly an all too familiar rushing noise started in her ears. No! Not now! She didn’t want one of her visions, but in no state to send it away, the images flooded her mind. Reeling from the horror she was seeing, Lothíriel grabbed at a pillar for support. But insistently, and without mercy, row after row of men with sightless eyes marched in front of her face. An army on the move – an army of dead men!
“Lothíriel! Oh, there you are.”
Meren’s anguished voice came from along the passage, breaking the spell. Lothíriel blinked a few times to clear the awful vision. But banishing it left her dazed and shaky and Meren was right in front of her by the time she had regained some composure. She looked into a face white with shock. “Meren, what is it? What’s the matter?”
Meren opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Lothíriel took a step towards her sister-in law, firmly grasping her arm. “Meren, tell me what has happened. Is Alphros not well?”
“No, he’s fine,” Meren managed to get out in a strangled voice.
“Then what is it?”
“Lothíriel, I don’t want to tell you, but there is no way you will not find out…”
“What, Meren? Find out what?” Lothíriel clutched at Meren in panic – her father – her brothers... “Tell me please!”
“It’s the Haradrim. They have taken their revenge for your killing. Some farmers who didn’t manage to get into the city. A father and two sons…” Meren paused, tears running down her pale cheeks. “They cut their heads off! Right in front of the gate, with those awful curved swords.”
The walls around her spun, vaguely Lothíriel felt Meren grab her shoulders, before she doubled up and vomited over the floor.
March 14/15th Drúadan Forest – Gondor.
“What think you, Éomer?” Théoden asked when Ghân-buri-Ghân had finished speaking. “Can we trust a savage?”
Éomer let his eyes lock with the man sitting crossed legged on the ground in front of him. Ghân held his gaze for a moment, and then his face relaxed into a toothless grin. Éomer’s lips quivered with amusement, now he was under scrutiny from this relic from an ancient time. He had seen his like before: old Ghân bore an uncanny resemblance to the Púkel men of Dunharrow. Squat of figure, with dark leathery skin, his belly protruded over the scrap of cloth that served as his only clothing. His arms and legs were adorned by bracelets that appeared to be made of bone, and his body decorated by intricate drawings in blue and red pigments. Long black hair framed his wrinkled face, but deep set eyes glittered intelligence. And in them Éomer could see no lie.
Coming to his decision quickly, he turned to Théoden. “I feel he is trustworthy, lord. Why should he lead us to death now? His people could have harried us when we entered the forest, their poison arrows picking us off whilst we chased shadows in the trees.”
“That is true, Éomer, my son. And time presses. We have ridden for four days, and to be thwarted at the last will be ill indeed. If we have to battle through the army in Anórien then maybe Mundburg will have fallen ere we ride beneath her walls.”
“And we will have less warriors to go to her aid,” Éomer agreed.
“We need to get there with numbers enough to fight. I would not see Gondor’s fair city reduced to dust whilst I have the strength to protect it.”
Éomer marvelled at the change in his uncle. He could only thank Gandalf that the Riddermark had a strong king once more. “Then I say, lord, that we take up the offer for the Wild-men to lead us through the Stonewain Valley and past the army in Anórien. Ugly they may be, but true of heart, I deem. And although we cannot hope to come to Gondor’s aid today, then maybe we shall be there soon enough to save some portion of the City.”
Passing through the dense trees like ghostly serpents, the strings of horses and Riders gradually advanced east, every winding snake trusting the silent Wild-man at its head to lead it safely past the enemy. From the wood around them, drums throbbed out their messages – no orc scout would take back news of the fighting force on its way to Minas Tirith. But neither would that city have the comfort of knowing the Rohirrim were so close, for the Errand Riders of Gondor, who had brought messages to Théoden, were found slaughtered on the road. Denethor would not hear of the éoreds riding to the relief of the City.
Frustrating: moving so slowly, but the paths that led down to the old wagon road that ran through the Stonewain Valley were treacherous with tangled roots and snatching creepers. No quicker pace could be made. But before the day was out, Éomer, riding beside the king, rounded a tree and saw the ancient track below him.
Ghân’s gurgling laugh showed his satisfaction that they had outwitted the orcs he hated. “Kill orcs!” he ordered Théoden. Then with a shout that the wind was changing, he disappeared into the trees.
But now they needed no guide, for the track followed the floor of the valley until it joined with the Great West Road that swept around to the North Gate in the Ramos Echor, the wall surrounding the Pelennor fields that spread out before the White City.
Night had fallen when they reached the main way from the Riddermark to Gondor, and they could travel swiftly now. Éomer breathed in the air, fresher than it had been for days. Old Ghân had been right — the wind had changed, blowing away the stink and murk that had been issuing from of Mordor since before Helm’s Deep. But then the men cried out in horror – flames shot high into the clear sky – the City of Kings was already burning, and the enemy swarmed like black ants around her walls, intent on subduing their prey.
Éomer tensed, his muscles bunching in fury. “We must make haste,” he said to Théoden, “or we will be raking through the ashes to find our friends.”
Théoden nodded, but his gaze was far away, and Éomer saw that an answering fire had been kindled. The Lord of the Mark raised his hand, and in the old blue eyes the flames burnt bright and true. “Rohirrim,” he called in a voice of thunder. “Oaths ye have taken, now fulfil them all – to lord and land!”
Spears clashing upon shields – the éoreds roared their answer.
March 15th Early hours – Minas Tirith
Alerted by a slight stiffening in the body posture of the man next to him, Amrothos swung around just as the bow twanged. The arrow hissed past his unprotected ear and almost immediately a wail of agony wafted up on the wind.
“How do you do that!” Amroth was full of admiration for the two brothers. They had been picking off individuals all night, where possible going for the captains, who tended to strut around bellowing orders. But all had been relatively quiet for some time; the bombardment had stopped, giving the fire watchers a chance to douse some of the flames. Even so, much of the lower level of the City still burnt.
Derufin grinned, his eyes glowing white in the darkness. “He made the mistake of moving out of the shadow, his helm caught the light of the flames.”
“Still,” Amroth said, “I have never seen such fine shooting. Keen eyed must be the men from the Blackroot.”
Laughing, Derufin nocked a further arrow, just as his brother, Duilin, loosed one of his, the cry of anguish confirming a hit. “The mountain hares give us good sport, and teach patience and perseverance – miss, and the pot stays empty. And my sister and mother go hungry.”
Amroth wasn’t quite sure he believed that, for although the brothers’ raiment was plain, it was of good quality. “Duinhir has shown his loyalty: marching so many of you here. The vale must be empty of men.”
Derufin sneered, his lip curling in disgust. “Not all came. Our cousin chose not to let his people answer Denethor’s call, even though my father tried to persuade him. As my father said: if Minas Tirith falls, what use will it be to hide in the mountains, eking out a miserly existence. What joy would we find in life, knowing Gondor’s jewel to be overrun by stinking sewer rats.” He grinned suddenly. “But anyway, if the Dark Lord prevails it would please me to imagine fat cousin Alhael living off the land and trying to survive in the wild.”
Before Amroth could reply, the clash of a mighty drum rang out across the Pelennor. All ran to the wall, staring out to see what new horror was about to be unleashed upon them. The awful sound – a monotonous drone that set teeth on edge – continued, beat after beat. Soon they could see lights flaring a few hundred yards out from the wall, and gradually a roadway lit by torches was marked out, leading a straight path to the Great Gate of the City. Out of the gloom a mighty structure appeared: a great ram hauled by huge trolls. Its head had been fashioned into the shape of a wolf, and from its open mouth fire sparked and flamed.
Amroth turned sharply at the sound of his father’s voice. Imrahil stood at the top of the steps that led down to the main square, beckoning impatiently. With a nod to Derufin and Duilin, he hurried over. His father wasted no time with greetings.
“Amroth, gather your company together. They are bringing up a ram, and Gandalf thinks the gates will not be able to resist the force of hardened oak when powered by spells woven by the Witch King. We have to be prepared for them breaking through. I and my knights will stand in the centre. I wish Erchirion and his men on my right, and you are to hold the left. They must be contained to the lower levels to give us a chance when Rohan gets here.”
“They will come?” Amroth asked, his heart pounding with hope.
“Gandalf says they will. But our danger comes from the terror that the Nazgûl incites in us all. And their leader personifies evil. You must stop your men from fleeing from his malevolence. I am trusting that my sons will stand firm.”
With that his father clasped his arm, the grey eyes conveying without words a message of love and support. Amroth swallowed, determined not to show any fear. A half smile of understanding, and Imrahil turned quickly, bounding back down the steps.
Amroth called to his captain: the time had come. Great Ulmo, give him strength!
March 15th Before Dawn – Dol Amroth.
Her shoes in her hand, Lothíriel crept along the passage, praying all the servants were still in their beds. She hadn’t dared to use the main ways: the chance of bumping into a guard outside the hall was too great.
Pausing at the end of a side passage, she looked right and left. No option but to cross the wide, tiled corridor. She weighed the key in her hand before taking the half-a-dozen steps that got her to the door of her father’s study. In one fluid movement, she grabbed a burning torch from a wall sconce and fitted the key in the lock. The door opened noiselessly inwards. With a last glance along the corridor she slipped in and closed the door behind her, quickly crossing to pull the heavy curtains before anyone saw the light. She sat and pulled on her shoes, but there was no time to waste – she could be discovered at any moment. Shoes on, Lothíriel went to the bust of Galador that stood on a marble plinth. Going around to the back, she wriggled her fingers into the small crevice between statue and plinth, withdrawing a slim key.
Clutching it in her hand, Lothíriel went to where a large cupboard had been built into the corner. The key fitted, as she knew it would, but before opening the door she stopped, turning back to look at her father’s chair.
“I am sorry, Father.” She whispered aloud. “I love you.” Silent tears started to roll down her cheeks, but she let them be. If her family survived they would understand. She had to give herself up – too many had died on her account. She could not be responsible for any more of her people suffering. She couldn’t eat – couldn’t sleep for thinking of the murdered farmers. And if the siege went on the food would run out, and the thought of the children going hungry twisted her insides. But besides that, what would happen when Umar came? Lothíriel shuddered with loathing – he wouldn’t spare anyone.
She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight together. Sweet Elbereth, what would he do to her?
The only thing was not to think of it and tell herself it didn’t matter – giving herself up would allow her people to escaped north - surely the Haradrim would keep their word on that. How long they could hold out she had no idea, but at least her actions would give them a chance. Her fingers involuntary went to the locket around her neck – after the city had emptied there would be no reason for her to stay alive. She’d cheat the swine in the end!
Before her courage failed, Lothíriel turned the key in the lock, and torch in one hand, eased into the cupboard. Inside hung a thick curtain, behind which was another door. She reached for the key hidden up on a ledge. Two bolts to slide back before she was through to the dark stair. Dry and musty this high up, but as she descended the rocks felt cold and damp. Something scuttled down the steps beside her, but after jumping with surprise she ignored it – mice and rats wouldn’t hurt her, only men had the power to do that.
Abruptly, around a corner, the steps stopped. A flat tunnel ran for a few yards, and at the end a door. She held up her torch: Amroth had opened it the only time she had been down here before. The key was in the lock, but two bolts and a bar held it fast. Remembering, she looked above her head – she had to disengage the warning bell or the guards would be alerted. She reached up, just able to reach the rope – the bell meant to warn against intruders, not escapees. Lothíriel jammed the torch in a split in the rock, held on to the rope with one hand, and unhooked it from the door. She carefully kept the tension on the rope hooking the end onto the ring Amroth had shown her, breathing out in relief when she had done it.
Now the door – a struggle with the bolts and the bar. Finally the key. It turned easily, the lock kept oiled and greased, like all other ironwork in the Palace. Retrieving the torch, Lothíriel passed through the door, locking it behind her and putting the key in a crevice above her head. Unlikely anyone who didn’t know would find the entrance at the back of the cave, but she couldn’t leave a way into the Palace unlocked. Now the steps were steep and slippery, water trickling from the rocks made every footstep treacherous. Many years ago a wooden rail had lent support, but now it was split and broken. She went down slowly, feeling the side so she could clutch at the wall in need.
Soon Lothíriel could hear the sea below her and the air smelt of salt and fish. If she had timed it right the cave should just be free of water, with enough beach uncovered for her to reach the path that led up out of the cove. It could not be better: the path reached the cliff top only a few hundred yards from where the Haradrim had their camp, and it should soon be getting light.
Pools of water remained in the cave, and her feet got soaked. But ahead she could see the white surf of the ocean and the dark shape of clouds against the lighter sky. Emerging onto the beach Lothíriel shivered, drawing the dark cloak tightly around her. The cold hour before dawn, and misery seeped into her bones. Choking back a sob and telling herself it was too late for a change of heart, she searched the rocks on her left, trying to pick out the path. It all looked different in the dark. Pretty sure where it was, still she tarried, unable to take the first step that would end her freedom for ever. But then she thought of all the women and children in the city – only yesterday a sweet baby had been born. If Umar came it would spend its life in slavery. Blanking her mind from her own precarious future, Lothíriel started the climb up the path.
She would have to be careful. Go quietly down the road and enter the camp as dawn broke. She had to avoid the mercenaries. Give herself up to the Haradrim commander or Umar would never get a chance to claim her. Puffing a bit – she’d not had much exercise lately – Lothíriel saw the top of the cliff outlined against the sky. Was there a hint of lightness?
Reaching the top she kept low, hiding behind a bush while she made sure which direction to go. Seeing the shapes of the tents ahead she flitted from bush to bush, making for the road, but a faint noise behind her made her stop. With no other warning a hand clamped over her mouth, and she was dragged roughly to the ground.
To be continued.
And so the companies came and were hailed and cheered and passed through the Gate, men of the Outlands marching to defend the City of Gondor in a dark hour; but always too few, always less than hope looked for or need asked. The men of Ringló Vale behind the son of their lord, Dervorin striding on foot: three hundreds. From the uplands of Morthond, the great Blackroot Vale, tall Duinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, and five hundred bowmen.
The Return of the King J. R. R. Tolkien
List of Original Characters mentioned or appearing in this chapter:
Umar - Prince of Harad. Device – the Black Serpent on Scarlet. Obsessed with Lothíriel.
Princess Meren - Elphir’s wife. Rescued by him from Corsairs to whom she refused to give away the hiding place of her brother’s children in spite of being assaulted.
Sergion - Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard. Injured when an attempt was made to kidnap Lothíriel. Charged with the defence of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
Alhael- Nephew to Duinhir – plays a prominent role in the next part of the story.
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. Now a Rider in Elfhelm’s éored.
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