20. Chapter 20
And when they had reckoned up all their strength and taken thought for the journeys they should make and the roads they should choose, Imrahil suddenly laughed aloud.
‘Surely,’ he cried, ‘this is the greatest jest in all the history of Gondor: that we should ride with seven thousands, scarce as many as the vanguard of its army in the days of its power, to assail the mountains and the impenetrable gate of the Black Land! So might a child threaten a mail-clad knight with a bow of string and green willow! If the Dark Lord knows so much as you say, Mithrandir, will he not rather smile than fear, and with his little finger crush us like a fly that tries to sting him?’
‘No, he will try to trap the fly and take the sting,’ said Gandalf. ‘And there are names among us that are worth more than a thousand mail-clad knights apiece. No, he will not smile.’
‘Neither shall we,’ said Aragorn. ‘If this be jest, then it is too bitter for laughter. Nay, it is the last move in a great jeopardy, and for one side or the other it will bring the end of the game.’ Then he drew Andúril and held it up glittering in the sun. ‘You shall not be sheathed again until the last battle is fought;’ he said.
The Return of the King. J. R. R. Tolkien
March 21st. 3019
The maid approached the room reluctantly, opened the door, and peeked into the darkened chamber. “Princess, Princess, wake up!” she called softly. The quilt didn’t move, so Hisael padded over to the window and drew back the heavy curtains. The morning light flooded the chamber, but still the girl in the bed did not wake. Hisael sighed, and leant over, reaching out to gently shake her mistress.
Lothíriel woke with a start. Pushing the covers back, she immediately swung her legs over the side of the bed. “What time is it, Hisael?” she cried out in a panic, seeing the bright light outside. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Not long enough. Barely three hours. There must have been a fair wind because the ship arrived on the first flush of the tide. I did not wish to wake you, Princess but you made me promise. You were up all night. I am sure the Master will not mind if you sleep a little longer.” Her maid chattered on as she poured warm water into the basin.
“Maybe he won’t,” Lothíriel agreed. “But I will mind a great deal.”
Lothíriel ignored the water for a moment and ran to the window. She could see the great ship berthed at the docks below the city. It had once been a Corsair ship, but now an ensign bearing the White Tree of Gondor flew proudly from the mast. Lines of wains were already lining up along the dockside ready to take off the wounded and the dying.
So many of them. But the decision to send a large portion of the battle casualties back to Dol Amroth had been a good one. The Healing Houses in Minas Tirith could not possibly have coped with the vast numbers of the injured. Most of the men coming back were from the southern fiefs. It eased the burden if relatives could help with the nursing of those that survived. This was the third ship to arrive, and Lothíriel was drained and fatigued by the long hours of grisly work. She might have been helping in the Healing House for many years now, but nothing had prepared her for this: the carnage, the stench, the sheer horror of seeing their soldiers and knights so cruelly maimed, not to mention young farmers and fishermen who should never have had to go to war.
She left the window, and quickly washed her face, hands and neck. There was no time for more.
“You must have something to eat before you go down again, Princess,” her maid said as she handed her a cup and some bread. “It will do nobody any good if you faint from hunger.”
Lothíriel drank the tea and managed a few mouthfuls of bread before donning a clean apron and rushing out of the room. The first wain had already arrived by the time she entered the Healing House.
She walked straight through the hall to what they called their clean room, stopping to wash her hands outside. The Master was replacing a dressing on a large wound in a young soldier’s chest. He looked up when he heard her enter and acknowledged her presence with a slight nod. Lothíriel looked at him expectantly and he gestured to another young lad who lay on a nearby table. He was moaning softly to himself, taking no interest in his surroundings but she could not see an obvious wound. Putting her hand upon his head she whispered soft words in what was to most a forgotten tongue. He quietened immediately: once again she thanked the Valar for her gift. With the upset of the siege, and her lapse from grace, she had feared it might be taken from her. But the power still tingled in her hands.
Lothíriel ran her fingers gently down his legs. There was no response, so she tweaked his toes and then pulled harder, but he did not move. She scratched on the soles of his feet, but still he made no movement. She sighed; no gift however skilfully wielded could heal this malady. How ever would a farming lad survive with a broken back?
Lothíriel worked on. Cleaning, stitching, comforting until her mind and body were numb, leaving no room for worrying about herself, the only important thing to try to give relief to others. Gradually the day waned. The young farming lad died. He had not even tried to fight. As she leant over to close his eyes she heard her name being called softly. Looking up she saw her brother, Elphir, standing in the doorway, worry etched on his face.
“Lothíriel, I need your help,” he whispered.
“Please. It’s important.”
Accepting this, she nodded and went to excuse herself to the Master, before following her brother from the room.
Elphir waited for her in the passage outside and together they crossed the square towards the palace gates, threading their way through the mass of people. Relatives of those injured crowded the city, some were sitting around and some lying in open wagons. Luckily the weather was fair.
“What do you want, Elphir? Has something happened?” she asked when they reached the relative peace of the palace.
“I have had a letter from Father. It came with a fast supply boat on this evening’s tide. No more casualties,” he put in quickly, seeing her expression. “I think there is another ship due in the morning, but it will be mostly carrying convalescents.” He took hold of her arm. “I realize how exhausted you are, but I know the letter is important. Pelilas carried it personally, and Father made him swear to destroy it at even a sight of the Enemy. I need you to translate it for me. It would take me hours as you know.”
They reached the door of the study at the same time as a servant carrying a tray of food -soup, bread, cheese and fruit. Elphir waited for the man to leave the room and then took the letter from his pocket and handed to her. Whilst she was looking at it he passed her a goblet of wine.
“You must eat and drink first,” he insisted. “I doubt you have had anything all day.”
“Only water,” she agreed, “but I am not really hungry.”
“You must be. Come on, Lothíriel. You must eat something. Try some soup.” He moved the small table nearer to her and handed her a spoon.
Lothíriel began to eat, not even tasting what she was putting in her mouth. She scanned the letter at the same time. It was written in the form of ancient elvish peculiar to the House of Dol Amroth, passed down through the ruling family and a very few trusted scribes. Its main value was, as now, to keep messages from prying eyes. Lothíriel had picked up the language easily; as had her father and Amrothos, but Elphir and Erchirion struggled.
She put down her spoon and gave full attention to the letter. After a few moments she looked up at her brother who was sitting waiting in his chair, fingers tapping the polished wood.
“I will read it to you, Elphir,” she said. “Only I wish I did not have to.”
She read it in a flat voice, trying to divorce her mind from the contents, otherwise she would falter and breakdown. Elphir needed her to be strong.
‘To My Son Elphir,
This may be the last time I speak to you, my son, for I feel that we are at the end of our time. The first battle is won, yes, but the Dark Lord has not yet released the armies that lie behind his gates.
We held council, the Lord Aragorn, Mithrandir, Éomer of Rohan, the sons of Elrond and I. Mithrandir has counselled that we, the Captains of the West, should lead an army right to the Black Gates of Mordor. We will assault Sauron in his lair with a force of seven thousand.’
There was a gasp from Elphir at this, but Lothíriel read on.
‘Elphir – remember Eärnil!
Lothíriel stopped, confused. “What’s this about Eärnil?” But her brother unexpectedly grinned.
“He was one of Gondor’s greatest generals. For his deeds they made him king,” Elphir reminded her. “Many times we have played his strategies on the big table. He was master of the diversion. When the Haradrim massed at the Poros during the war with the wainriders, Eärnil sent out a small force to lure them, and once across, his real strength bridged the Anduin in barges and came behind.”
“Oh, I see. So you think this march is a diversion?”
“It has to be. Seven thousand cannot possible attack the armies of Mordor.”
“But from where comes the real threat?”
Elphir shook his head. “I do not know. Read the rest, maybe Father has given us some other clue.”
Lothíriel dropped her eyes back down to the letter.
‘Lord Aragorn stands beside Mithrandir in this, and I will follow their lead. Aragorn is Elendil’s heir and thus I count him my liege. You have met him, so you know that there is no man as truehearted and noble.
Éomer will follow him also, they are as brothers. I envy them, for they share that special bond that comes only when men stand side by side, unfaltering, against overwhelming odds.
Elladan and Elrohir will also go, because this, I think, is their father’s plan conceived by him and Mithrandir in Rivendell many months ago. Remember the riddle Boromir rode to his death to unravel.’
Lothíriel paused, seeing the look of puzzlement cross Elphir’s face. By now she had a fair idea what most of the riddle meant – the libraries of Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth were extensive – although Isildur’s bane still eluded her. “You said Boromir died defending Halflings, but none were with Lord Aragorn when you met him at the fords. A Halfling forth shall stand, the riddle said. So where are they?” she mused.
“A Halfling!” he snorted. “Are you telling me a Halfling is assaulting the Dark Lord whilst our forces draw his eye?”
“I don’t know, but that’s what the riddle says.”
“Well, I suppose if one is creeping up to Sauron, dagger in hand, he’s less likely to be noticed than a full-sized man,” Elphir scoffed.
Lothíriel did not react to that. She had already read the next line and had to blink back the tears. “Listen to what Father says, Elphir.”
‘I have little expectation of retuning, but if by our sacrifice there is a faint hope of survival for the free peoples of Middle-earth, then I gladly give my life.
Erchirion is coming with me, but Amroth is staying in Minas Tirith, as he received a scratch that still needs attention. He will help control the City with Elfhelm of Rohan and Hùrin of Gondor. Your cousin Faramir lies in the Houses of Healing but will recover.
If we are lost, but Sauron is destroyed, then I know, my son that our country is in good hands. If Sauron is victorious all will be dark. You must do as you think fit. To fight to the last or to run in the hope that some shall be saved. I cannot decide for you.
Elphir, you must promise me this: Lothíriel must not be taken. Umar may be gone, but there are many others like him. I have seen their evil. Whatever they promise, however they bargain, do not let them have my daughter.
Sergion knows what to do.
By the time you read this letter we shall be well on our way. Say goodbye from me to our family.
I love you all.
Lothíriel put the letter down onto her lap; as yet, with the terrible injuries they had had to deal with, Umar’s death had barely registered with her. She had always thought she would rejoice if it happened, but up to now she had felt nothing. Too many other fears had taken her attention. Her hand unconsciously strayed to the locket that she wore hidden beneath her dress. Elphir moved across to her and taking the letter threw it into the fire.
“I am sorry, Lothíriel. If I had known its contents I would not have asked you to read it,” he put his hand on her shoulder and she reached up for it.
“But we needed to try and work out what it meant.”
He nodded. “That’s true. But I fear that for all their manoeuvrings, there is little hope.”
“None…?” She asked, the fear making her voice crack.
Elphir grimaced, but he squeezed her hand. “We must not give up yet. But at the same time we must make plans in case the West does fall.”
She lifted her head, seeking his eyes. “Father and I decided my course long ago.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“We came to an understanding, Elphir, before he rode to war, that whatever happened I would never be taken. I might have foolishly decided to give myself up to the Haradrim, but I never intended to live for very long.” With that she pulled at the barrel-shaped locket from around her neck and held it up for him to see. His eyes opened wide and his mouth opened.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Hemlock. I prepared it as soon as father left. I couldn’t let the responsibility rest with Sergion.”
“Sergion! He was in on this?”
“What if Umar hadn’t been killed, and had come here leading a great force? Do you think Sergion would have handed me over? Would you?”
“Father should have told me.” Elphir sunk back in the chair, his healthy complexion greying with revulsion and disbelief.
“There was no need with you gone to the Fords. Did any of us really expect Gondor to triumph? Do we expect it?”
“I don’t know,” Elphir replied slowly. “So much has happened that was not expected. But we will have to plan for the worst.”
“What will you do?”
“My instinct is to fight,” he replied. With that he stood up, punching one hand into the other. Resolution in his step, he strode to the window resting his hands on the sill and gazing out. Then his shoulders slumped. “But where? It is a difficult decision. If I take the able bodied into the mountains, what of the others? I would be leaving them to the mercy of monsters. But the city is vulnerable to siege …”
“I would not want that again,” Lothíriel put in quickly.
“No, and I imagine a small number of us could hold out for some time if we took horses and travelled North, as you suggested. But it could only be a small number. And although I would wish do my best to get Alphros away, I cannot forsake our people.”
Lothíriel knew he would never do that. “I do not think there is an answer, so we must hope that the decision does not have to be made.”
There was a pause, brother and sister deep in thought. “Lothíriel,” he fought for words, “that which you wear around your neck, will you give some to Meren if it goes ill?”
She stood up and hugged against him. “It may not come to it.”
Elphir felt her sway slightly and just stopped her from falling to the floor by scooping her into his arms. Making for the door he realised that she had fallen completely asleep, just like she used to when she was a child. Sighing to himself, he remembered the times her maid had called him to carry her to bed when she’d worn herself out. But it was hardly surprising that she had collapsed now, considering how hard she had been working, and with shock and fear to add to the exhaustion.
Elphir negotiated the door with his burden to meet his wife coming along the passage. She looked so pretty and sweet, and he felt a surge of love for her, but it was closely followed by a bolt of fear. How could he tell her about what he had asked Lothíriel to provide? And Alphros – what about him? Would he have the strength if all they feared came to pass?
Meren’s face softened when she realised Lothíriel was asleep. “I will call her maid,” she said touching her on the cheek and pushing some hair from her eyes. “She should not have worked for so long.”
Elphir nodded. Wanting to put down his sister and hug his wife to him, but instead he just smiled at her. “Please ask Sergion and Adian to come to me, and then go and rest yourself.” He watched her retreating figure longingly, and wondered if there was any hope of protecting any of them.
Road to the Black Gate.
‘The King Elessar has returned and all this land that is his, he takes back.’ Three times a day the trumpets blared and the heralds bellowed their message into the gloom. If that didn’t make Sauron think Aragorn came with the confidence of the Ring-bearer, nothing would, but so far the dark cliffs that edged the land of shadow remained silent. Éomer shuddered; what wouldn’t he have given to be back on the rolling plains, galloping Firefoot through the spring grass. Or even routing the orc army in Anórien with Elfhelm would be better. Four days out from Minas Tirith and the slow pace and inactivity, coupled with the growing weight of evil, sunk him deep into the saddle and wound tendrils of doubt through his mind. Only a fool would not believe they were riding to their doom.
He cast his eyes to the left; there the trees still fought for life, buds preparing to thrust young leaves into the noisome air, and with meagre rays filtering through the open canopy, the determined sun encouraged the spiky leaves of bluebells to a worthy effort. But on the eastward side only a few dark bushes clung to the harsh slopes of the Ephel Dúath, the rocky crags rising like the walls of some fearsome fortress, its battlements wreathed in smoke and mist that hovered threateningly in the heavy atmosphere.
Beside him Aragorn was silent, riding with his head down and his thoughts veiled, but suddenly the ranger looked up sharply as if some change in the air had caught his attention. Éomer felt it too, the back of his neck tingling as his senses registered an unseen movement. Quickly he scanned the trees, searching for any hidden menace. At first he saw nothing, but then what he thought was a shadow behind a tree moved into an open glade. His hand flew to his sword hilt, but before he could react further the shadow materialized into a man, cloaked and hooded and in green. Swiftly he leaped down to the road, followed by another.
Éomer relaxed, waving a greeting. Their scouts returning – Rangers of Ithilien, Faramir’s men – great bows slung on their backs they covered the ground with long strides. Their leader, coming to a halt before Aragorn, nodded his head in a gesture of respect.
“Lord, foul Orcs and Easterlings have set a trap. They hide on the slopes a league hence, where the road cuts through a deep ravine. Their intention must be to harry your leading companies. We worked our way above them, but there were not enough of us to attack. Captain Mablung suggests,” his eyes flicked to Éomer and then back to Aragorn, “you send a force of horsemen around to the west and assault their flank from behind. He will meet you at the top of that gulley,” he pointed to where a stream chattered through a rocky channel between the trees, “just below the ridge.”
Éomer gathered his reins, already working out whom he would take, but the quiet amusement in Aragorn’s voice stopped him.
“Éomer, you don’t have to go. Send a captain you trust.”
But he wanted to go! Anything would be better than this slow, hopeless march.
The horsemen returned just before all light left the sky. Unlike his young friend, Imrahil hadn’t felt the need to ride personally. He’d been happy to send Erchirion and some of his knights under Éomer’s command. Watching him ride in now, at the head of a mixed group of mounted warriors, Imrahil almost chuckled aloud: Éomer’s eyes were alight for the first time in days. “No need to ask what happened,” he said as the Rohan King slid from his stallion in front of him and Aragorn, looking as though he had just enjoyed a pleasant country ride, “your face says it all.”
“Trounced them!” Éomer grinned. “And only a few minor wounds.” He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder. “They are coming behind.”
“I will tend them before supper,” Aragorn said. “But let us not get too elated over one small victory. I guess our enemy only tries to encourage us further into his lair by false account of his weakness.”
Éomer’s face lost its vitality, and his brows drew together. “You are right, of course. But every stinking orc killed now is one less to deal with later.”
“I’ll second that,” said Erchi, who had dismounted behind Éomer. “And it damn well beats shouting useless threats into the air.”
Imrahil winced. In spite of a noble upbringing, tact and diplomacy had managed to completely ignore his middle son. But their new Liege-lord’s guffaw of laughter caused those nearby to look around in surprise. Aragorn slapped Erchirion across the back. “I can promise you plenty of chance to make good those threats, my intrepid friend.”
A small victory, perhaps, but it signalled a shift in the enemy’s position, for as they sat at supper a wailing cry shrieked high above them. The first heard since the siege of Minas Tirith. There was not one, other than the elves amongst them, and Mithrandir maybe, who did not blanch from the howl of that foul messenger. Imrahil noticed that even Elendil’s heir wrapped his cloak tighter around him. But as no more was heard, one by one the men relaxed again, huddling around the fires or crawling into their bedrolls to rest when they had the chance.
However, during the next days when every stride of a booted foot, and every clip of a warhorse’s hoof, took them farther from living lands and into desolation, the wraiths flew high above them. Silent and out of sight from all but Legolas they might be, but so terrible was their aura of evil, and the land through which the host travelled so full of horror and hopelessness, that fear tugged at the will of all, turning the strongest men’s minds to wretchedness and despair.
Six days out from Minas Tirith, their force had lessened in numbers as many young men, far from home and comfort, had fallen down in fright, begging to leave. And even the Captains struggled to maintain their facade of hope. But seeking to chase away the swelling misery, Aragorn ordered large fires to be lit that evening with the plentiful fuel that lay around. Once fair forests had clothed this land, but now trees rotted into the barren earth, their branches scattered like forgotten limbs in the aftermath of battle.
But none seemed to want to sleep in this cheerless land. As though afraid their dreams would slay them in this evil spot, they sat in groups talking quietly of places they had been and seen, and of times when laughter and joy were remembered.
Imrahil leant back against a rock, half listening to the conversation going on next to him. Aragorn and Éomer were discussing the ranger’s early life and his sojourns in Rohan. Looking around the camp his eyes rested on Mithrandir, who although talking to Gimli had the young Halfling at his feet, shielding him from the dark emptiness that stretched out behind the protection of the fires. Imrahil had heard the tale of the seeing-stone and guessed that the nearer they got to the Dark Lord’s domain, the more Pippin would relive his brush with pure evil.
Nearby the three elves sat together cross-legged on the ground, talking so quietly only another elf would hear what was being said. Over to his right a group of warriors from Dol Amroth and Rohan sat in a rough circle, and occasionally a loud laugh would come from one of them. Erchirion was amongst them, and he and the Rohan captain, Déor, were in deep conversation. An unlikely combination Imrahil acknowledged – the Rohir elegant and neat, giving every impression of a cultured and privileged upbringing, and his own son looking somehow disorderly, as though he marched with the armies rather than led them. Smiling to himself at the vagaries of life, he heard the words ‘Rivendell’ and ‘Elrond’ from beside him, which awakened his interest, and he turned slightly. Éomer must have felt the shift in his position because he moved so that Imrahil could join in.
“Aragorn has been telling me about Rivendell. For years they kept his real identity from him. I am now hoping he is going to tell me about Elrond’s daughter. Talking about a beautiful woman will chase the shadows away.”
“Oh,” Aragorn raised an eyebrow, “how do you know she is beautiful?”
Éomer grinned. “Intuition,” he answered, winking at Imrahil before probing Aragorn again. “So, is she fair of face and dark-haired like her brothers?”
Aragorn said nothing, only his eyes registering the question. Imrahil didn’t think he would answer but then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly in a long sigh. His face twisted into a lopsided grin. “Arwen is so beautiful that when I first saw her I thought I had stepped into a dream and Lúthien again walked on Middle-earth.” His eyes glazed and Imrahil waited, not having expected such an adoring response. “Her hair shines as black as a star-filled night, and her skin glows like sunlight. And when she walks she floats on air, the soft folds of her gowns trembling like flower petals in the breeze. …”
…Her dress had been blue, and she had glided across the hall towards him, Imrahil lost the rest of Aragorn’s words as memories of his late wife grabbed his mind. So alive in the early days, with sparkling eyes and hair an ebony cloak that framed her pale cheeks to fall streaming down her back. Lovely, and loved, she had been, and he cherished every moment they had spent together. But then the picture clouded as an image of their daughter drifted across his thoughts. When he had last seen her, the morning of his departure to war, she had looked as grey as a foggy morning: her wonderful hair scraped back into a tight plait and the dull linen of her healer’s dress effectively covering any hint of her womanly curves. A great sadness overwhelmed him, quickly replaced by a flame of anger: even if they got out of this mess would he ever see Lothíriel floating on air in a beautiful gown, hands stretched out to greet her husband? He doubted it. Deep in his heart he knew the years of torment from Umar had damaged her. And only the Valar knew what havoc the siege had wreaked on her equanimity. Some others might be flattered to be harried and chased for their beauty, but not Lothíriel. His daughter too sensitive and high-minded to wish to be valued only for her good looks.
But suddenly his attention was caught again by a loud gasp from Éomer. “Aragorn!” The young king looked totally amazed. “Say that again.”
Another of Aragorn’s engaging grins. “Elrond will not let me marry Arwen unless I hold both the sceptre of Arnor and the crown of Gondor. He feels he cannot let her relinquish the gift of immortality to wed with any lesser man.”
The reaction of new Lord of the Mark to this confidence lightened the air of even this grim place. Imrahil relished the coming of the inevitable response, watching the palate of emotions — disbelief; incredulity; horror, to name but a few – cross Éomer’s features.
Saying nothing for a moment, Éomer took a sip from the cup he had been cradling and stared at the Heir of Elendil from over the rim, fixing intense blue eyes on him. “So, you are telling me, Aragorn, that we are camped in this hellhole, preparing to act as stool-pigeons to lure the Dark Lord from his lair, all for the love of a woman?”
Aragorn’s lips twitched. “Not exactly. It is for her father that I have to gain the Crown of Gondor. Arwen’s heart, I already hold in troth.”
Éomer put his lips to the cup a second time, his brow furrowing in thought. “It seems a great deal of effort to go to. I hope she is worth it.”
“Oh yes,” Aragorn nodded, and a beatific smile lit his face. “She is worth it.”
Éomer frowned, but did not answer, and Aragorn reached over to refill his cup. “Do I gather, my young friend that making any exertion to secure a woman is something out of the ordinary to you?”
The lazy, characteristic smile that lit up the Rohir’s face warmed Imrahil more than any blaze could do in that desolate spot. He laughed aloud, appreciating Éomer’s fun, as the young king raised one mobile eyebrow and held up his little finger, twisting it around to make dancing shadows in the firelight.
March 25th 3019
The Black Gate Opens.
Folly had brought them to this forsaken place. Great mounds of slag rose up amidst pools of reeking vileness, the earth spewing forth all its evil in a fetid sludge. What could they do here? Only play out the game until the last, and hope that somewhere a player would roll the dice their way.
Bravely the banners flapped their challenge, the trumpets pierced the air with threats, and the heralds raised their voices high over the battlements to where the Nazgûl waited like great, black vultures, knowing their time was near.
Suddenly a drum started to throb back its answer, the dreaded message echoing around the hills. Horns bellowed, assaulting their ears with a terrible cacophony of warning. And the gates clanged open.
The space between the great bastions of iron was just enough to let out a horseman and escort. Éomer blanched; he had never seen anything so revolting in his life. The most hideous orc had nothing on the abomination in front of him. He whispered an aside to Imrahil, “Is it a man?”
“I think so,” the prince replied under his breath.
So malformed and altered by service to Sauron, its claim to human form remained only as a shadow on the edge of reason. Screwing up his face in disgust, Éomer flicked his eyes to the hideous horse the messenger was riding, and his stomach contracted with revulsion - a travesty of a noble animal, with a skull for a head, and huge nostrils from which flames issued, licking greedily at horny lips. Éomer caught his breath, his anger a dam waiting to burst. Was this mockery an original creation of the Dark Lord’s, or had Sauron taken one of the Mark’s fine steeds and turned it into this vile rendition?
‘I am the mouth of Sauron’ the words came dripping out of the rider’s mouth like liquid venom. Éomer could hardly bear to look at the thing, and tried to close his ears to the back and forth goading that followed between it and Gandalf — it being normal to test the strength of adversaries with words. As the loathsome creature started to lambast the wizard scornfully his hand gripped his sword, wanting to slice that stinking head from its body. But before he could move the Messenger took a bundle, passed to him by one of his aids. Extracting a small sword, he shook the rest of the bundle out for all to see.
The grey cloak and elven-broach Éomer immediately recognised as a match to those worn by Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas when he had first met them, but he had never seen the miniature mail-coat that the foul creature held up with such assurance.
Pippin had, though. “Frodo!” he gasped.
Éomer realised the garments must belong to the hobbit in whom they had put their faith, because Pippin grasped his sword hilt, leaping forward with a cry of anguish.
“Silence!” Gandalf ordered, thrusting him back.
“Hold!” Prince Imrahil whispered fiercely, and caught his arm, steadying him after the wizard’s abrupt thwarting of his action. Encased in his own misery, eyes fixed on the shining mail-shirt, Pippin trembled uncontrollably at the contempt that uttered from so depraved a mouth.
‘Live under the control of Mordor...!’ Éomer listened to the demands with increasing fury. Never! Neither would any of his people – they would fight to the last woman and child. He looked at Aragorn willing him to respond, but without warning Gandalf moved. From his raised hand came a blade of pure, white light that dazzled the black mouth of Mordor. “These we will take,” he cried, and snatched coat, cloak and sword. “In memory of our friend.”
Éomer felt like cheering, but now the wrath of Sauron would fall on them! Rage contorted the face of the Messenger. He bared his black teeth, threats spitting from his filthy lips. Not a man, but a wild beast set on devouring his prey.
Trumpets blared! The emissary turned sharply, galloping back to the gate. It swung wide, and from its yawing pit a mighty army marched out. Then, as the captains remounted, Easterlings emerged from their hiding place in the shadows of the towers, and great hosts of orcs poured down from the slag hills, screaming their hate.
Surrounded! Totally surrounded! Even when he had spied the Black Ships coming up to the Harlond, Éomer had not felt so desperate. He drew his sword, and his mind flew to Éowyn: had she been saved only to die as the darkness overtook them all. No! He would not believe it! He would never believe it whilst he still had breath!
The first slice of his sword clove an orc’s head clean from its body, so great was his anger. He plunged Gúthwinë into the guts of another, but then so many foes were around him that all he could do was to swing wide to keep them away, darting in when chance allowed, taking off an arm or slicing into an exposed neck. How long? How long could he keep this up – his shoulder on fire and sweat pouring into his eyes? A Nazgûl cried overhead, and at that moment he slipped. But as he rolled to the ground, thrusting his sword upwards in a frantic bid to protect himself, he heard a voice shouting.
‘The eagles are coming. The eagles are coming!’
To be continued
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.
Hisael - Lothíriel’s maid.
Pelilas - A captain of Dol Amroth
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. A Rider in Elfhelm’s éored, given his own command for the Battle of the Pelennor.
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