10. Chapter 10
Her fingers closed over the end of the bow, but before Devoran could pull it free from its strap, a man stepped out from behind the rock. His hand held a long knife, it pointed it towards her.
“You stop there if you know what’s good for you,” he snarled.
Devoran gasped, shock and fright freezing her for a moment. But with an angry growl, Drummer rushed to attack, hackles stiff along his back.
“No, Drummer!” Devoran yelled, terrified he’d get hurt.
Unheeding, Drummer launched himself. Obeying some instinct he went straight for the arm holding the knife. In his surprise, the man slashed too late, dropping the knife as the dog’s teeth dug into his arm. Drummer’s weight pushed him over backwards and he tried to get his hands around the dog’s neck. But Drummer held on, ripping through the wool.
Forgetting the bow, Devoran shouted again. If Drummer came away, she could turn Col and gallop back to the village; Drummer could outrun a man. But as Drummer tore at the attacker’s arm, another thug appeared. He picked up the dropped knife and tried to plunge it into Drummer’s neck. But the twisting dog did not make a steady target and the knife sank into his shoulder. Drummer shrieked, and let go. His assailant booted him hard in his ribs and Drummer crumpled onto the road. He lay quivering.
As the first attacker struggled to his feet, Devoran kicked Col forward. Scared they would use the knife again she could only hope to mow them down. But as the horse moved, a hand grabbed at the reins. Intent on Drummer she hadn’t seen the third ruffian come out the other side of the rock behind her.
Sweet Elbereth, save her! She recognised his cratered face. Desperately she tried to kick him, but neighing furiously Col reared up, pulling the reins from restraining hands. The thug stepped back quickly out of the way of flaying hooves. Her balance upset, Devoran could do nothing as the horse reared again. He snorted angrily, trying to trample his enemy. Warhorse he might be, but she had not been expecting this reaction and, not skilled enough to manage him, she couldn’t hang on. She fell, landing hard on the ground, the wind knocked out of her.
Col galloped away, kicking his heels. She lay on the road gulping air, too shaken to move. But as her breathing eased she became conscious of whimpers coming from Drummer. Thank the Valar! He was still alive! Then she heard that hateful voice – the pock-marked man – it sent shudders through her.
“Get rid of the dog, and I’ll get the boy to call the horse. They’re trained not to leave their riders.”
“No!” she pleaded. “I’ll get the horse, if you don’t hurt my dog anymore.” Her only thought was for Drummer. Would Col come back if she called? But when she lifted her head, she realised that the horse was standing a little way along the road. As he saw her he whinnied, tossing his head and looking ready to attack at her command, but she had no idea of the words to make him.
Painfully, every bit of her hurt, she tried to get to her feet. Before she could do so the ruffian snatched at her collar, yanking her upright. Devoran muffled a cry of pain as her tormentor twisted his grip, pulling the collar tight on her neck.
“Please don’t kill my dog. You can have the horse and the sword,” she choked out, her eyes meeting a yellow- toothed grin.
“Listen to him whine; he doesn’t want his dog killed.” His sneering lips came close to her ear. “So since we are kind folk we’ll just send him on a little journey.” The man, he must be the threesomes’ leader, jerked his head towards the edge of the road. Unable to move, she watched helplessly as the two others picked up Drummer by the fur on his back.
He struggled and snapped, but they threw him over the edge of the scree slope. He rolled down the loose stones, wailing pitifully. Col snorted, stamping his hooves in fury. One of the men lunged for him but he snaked sideways, out of reach.
Momentarily diverted, the hateful brute holding her loosened his grip. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Devoran kicked and punched to try and get away. Rage gave her strength, and she clawed at his ugly face, not caring what happened to her. But the next moment she was flung backwards, pain exploding in her head. Distraught for Drummer, she hadn’t seen the blow coming. She lay panting, the side of her face on fire. The man stood over her, his eyes glittering malice. But as he stared, a change came over his expression. His lips twisted into an evil grin.
“Why, look at this, lads. What a prize! It well makes up for that climb over the hill!”
She had lost her hat falling off Col, now her hood had got pushed back in the scuffle. Revealed as a woman, Devoran trembled uncontrollably, the lust in her attacker’s eyes all too apparent.
The other two crowded round, leering hungrily down at her.
She said the first thing that came into her head. “No, don’t touch me! I am under the King’s protection. He will reward you if you let me go!”
“Oh!” The leader laughed cruelly, already tugging at this belt. “I think we will take our reward now.”
Devoran screamed. Using her heels she desperately pushed herself away from him. The cliff was behind her. She’d rather fling herself over and join Drummer than endure what was coming. Before she got to the edge, the lout grabbed at her ankles and pulled her back towards him. She tried to lash at his face but she couldn’t reach. Frantically she kicked her legs trying to get free. His grip tightened.
“Get her arms, you two,” he bawled to his friends as he got her to the middle of the road. “Keep her nails away from me.”
The scream echoed back from the mountainside. Amroth froze. Devoran! He dug his heels in and Aero thundered down the road. From behind, he heard Erchi yelling for him to wait, but paid no heed.
Another scream. The terror in her voice made the blood in his veins run cold.
He rounded a bend – two men were legging it up the hillside, but there were three of the bastards…
“Up there!” Erchi shouted from behind him. “Get them!” He bellowed out an order, and Caedor and the two soldiers peeled off, charging up the slope after the fugitives.
Sword already in his hand, Amroth hauled Aero to a halt. Erchi slid to a stop alongside him, his horse foaming.
“Let her go!” Amroth spat. He had made a mistake; her scream had banished any rational thought. They should have circled around and crept up, instead the noise of the horses had given warning. Now Devoran had a knife at her throat. A red weal blazed down one side of her face and her plait had worked loose, but it was the sight of her frightened eyes that angered him more than anything he had ever known.
“Let her go, I said.” But the crud holding her only sneered. A big ugly sod with slit eyes and a cruel mouth.
“Come any closer and I’ll slice her from ear to ear.”
“And your guts will be spilling on the road!”
“Is that so! Then I have nothing to lose. I might as well have a last bit of fun.”
“Go careful, Amroth,” Erchi whispered. “He knows he’s a dead man.”
Devoran tried to pull away. But the arm around her waist tightened, and she gasped for breath. The knife pressed against her throat, a thin line of blood trailed down her creamy skin.
“Wait!” Amroth shouted, petrified. “I am only interested in the woman. Let her go unharmed, and you can make your escape.”
“Want her yourself, do you!” he jeered. “And what’s she worth to a fancy lord like you?”
Everything! She was worth everything he had. But what did the bastard want! The horse? Col stood a little way down the road. Ears pricked. Watching.
“Bribe him, Amroth,” Erchi murmured. “Promise anything.”
“You can take the horse. That’s what you were after, I imagine. I’ll call him, and you let her go. Make your escape.”
“How far would I get! You’d run me down before the next bend.” A scornful laugh turned his pock-marked face into a hideous mask.
He would tear the swine limb from limb for putting his hands on Devoran! Revolted, Amroth spoke abruptly. “I told you, I only want the woman. You can go free. My word on it.”
“Your word!” Another sneer played on his lips. “You’d not waste it on the likes of me. I’ve a better idea. Get the horse, and I’ll take the lady, too. I’ll drop her off when I am sure you can’t catch me…” His mouth twisted. “My word on it.”
“No…, Amroth,” Devoran moaned. “Don’t let him take me.”
Amroth tried to smile reassuringly. But in truth he felt far from confident. The brute held all the aces – any aggression on their part would put Devoran in real danger. He had no doubt that her captor wouldn’t hesitate to kill her. No chance of the others sneaking up on him either – the swine had his back to a steep drop and would see any attempt to get behind him. But Amroth might get Col to cause a diversion. That was if he, and the horse, could remember the Rohirric commands.
“I can’t let you take her, but I’ll dismount and move a distance from my horse. So will my brother. That will give you time to get away.” He didn’t think the swine would go for it, but wanted to keep him talking whilst he thought.
The slit eyes narrowed further. “I’m not such a fool, you’d catch me in minutes on that great charger!”
“Then take this one yourself! He’s worth twice as much as the other.” That would end it; Aero would have him off with one whistle.
“You really do believe I am a dumbhead, thinking I’d get up on that beast. I’ve said what I want and I’m not budging. In case you haven’t noticed.” He leered down at Devoran. “She’s going nowhere without me.”
Amroth gritted his teeth, rage choking him. He had to keep calm. His eyes swept around looking for some inspiration, when he saw a movement down the hill, just below the road. Drummer! It was Drummer! The dog was crawling slowly up the slope, keeping to the edge of the scree. Had Erchi seen him? Amroth dared not draw his attention in case it was noticed. But his brother’s horse fidgeted, chewing down on his bit, and Amroth realised that he had. The tension had made him tighten the reins.
Drummer had a fair way to go; Amroth saw that the dog was moving awkwardly. He looked in pain. That made sense – Drummer would never have left Devoran otherwise. But now the dog might distract the bastard for a moment, giving Erchi an opportunity to act. The other option was to wait until Devoran was seated on Col and get him to rear as the sod tried to get on.
He had to let Devoran know he was working on a plan: she might have to move fast. “Devoran,” Amroth wanted her full attention. “Devoran,” he repeated. “I promise that there is no way I will let you get hurt.”
Devoran’s eyes fixed on him. She tried to smile but her lips only quivered.
“We will have to trust this gentleman to keep his word.”
Panic flashed on her face. “No…,” she mouthed. But Amroth kept his gaze on her, sending all his thought that everything would be well. Slowly she relaxed a bit and nodded.
He lifted his eyes from Devoran to the brute holding her. “All right,” he said, deliberately sounding defeated. “I will call the horse. You let her off an hour down the road. I won’t follow, that way we have to trust each other.”
“That’s better. I knew you’d see sense. Get down off your horses and put your swords on the ground. I don’t want no tricks. I hear you coming after me, and she’s for it.”
Amroth looked towards Erchi, who nodded. They both dismounted and laid their swords on the road.
“And those knives.”
Amroth didn’t argue, he pulled his knife from his belt. So did Erchi.
“Right! Call the horse. But don’t come any closer; remember my knife will be right there.”
Amroth risked a glance towards Drummer. He was nearing the top, moving slowly, exhausted by the effort. Amroth prayed he wouldn’t announce his presence with the knife still at Devoran’s throat. Not sure what the dog would do, he put his fingers to his lips and whistled. Col pricked his ears, and Amroth whistled again. “Néal?can!” He shouted the Rohirric command for the horse to come.
Blowing down his nostrils in answer, Col started to trot towards them. But he stopped a little way away, the unusual situation unnerving him. Good, Col had done what he had hoped. Amroth kept his face impassive.
“You’ll have to let Devoran get him.”
Amroth let his breath out – he didn’t realise he’d been holding it – when the swine dropped the knife from Devoran’s throat.
He roughly pulled her arm up behind her back and pushed her forward. “Go on. I am right behind you.”
Unbalanced, Devoran stumbled. And as her captor heaved her up, Amroth saw Drummer. The dog had reached the road, just to the right of them. He stood there panting for a moment, but then he saw his mistress in the grip of a man he detested. His lip curled, and he growled a vicious warning. Knife in one hand, the other hanging on to Devoran, the man swung around just as Drummer launched at his legs.
“Devoran, get down!” Amroth yelled.
Devoran pulled from the hand holding her with such force that she fell on the floor again, scrambling to get away as the attention moved from her to Drummer. Roaring in pain and anger, the lout kicked out at the attacking dog, and lifted his knife to finish him. But before he could strike, he fell forward, Erchi’s dagger, plucked from his boot in a well-practised movement, sticking out of his back.
Amroth snatched up his sword. Hurling himself the few yards he rammed it through the bastard’s neck, pinning him to the ground and leaching his stinking blood into the dust.
With a cry of relief he scooped Devoran into his arms. She was shaking so much she could hardly get her words out.
“Amroth…, what are you doing here?”
“What do you think, Devoran!” His breath came in gasps, relief that she was safe being replaced by anger that she had put herself in danger. “I came to talk to you. I came to marry you!” His voice rose as frustration mounted. “But instead I have been chasing you through the mountains for two days. Whatever possessed you to do such a fool thing!”
Her eyes opened wide in surprise, and her lips trembled. Then the tears came and she started to sob, taking great gulps of air. His anger disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced; only guilt remained for yelling and upsetting her more. Amroth hugged her against him, murmuring words against her wet cheek. “Shhh… It’s over now. You’re safe. I shouldn’t have shouted at you.”
Gradually the sobs subsided until they became little sniffs of distress. “I’m sorry, Amroth.”
Sorry for what? Sorry she had done something so stupid? Sorry she didn’t want to marry him? His heart went cold, but he had to know. “What are you sorry for?”
But a whimper came from Drummer, and instead of replying Devoran tried to shake herself free of his arms.
“Drummer! Amroth, is Drummer all right? Did he get stabbed again?”
He had no option but to set her on her feet. Drummer lay on his side, panting heavily. Amroth could now see blood seeping from a wound on his shoulder. “No, he didn’t…”
“He saved me, Amroth,” she interrupted. “We’ve got to do something.” Devoran flung herself down on her knees beside Drummer. “The wound needs to be washed. It’s got dirt in it.”
Drummer saved her! Amroth caught Erchi’s eye. His brother grinned.
“See to the dog, keep her attention.” Erchi whispered. “I will get rid of this piece of shit.” He jerked his head to the corpse on the road.
Nodding his understanding, Amroth grabbed a waterbottle from his saddlebag and took it over to Devoran. Silent tears were running down her cheeks. She took the bottle, managing a wan smile of thanks, and poured some water slowly over Drummer’s wound, and then into his mouth. The dog twitched, but nothing more. She sniffed. “He’s badly hurt. He got stabbed, kicked and thrown down the scree slope. He could have awful injuries inside.”
“If he had, I doubt he would have managed the climb back up, or attacked with such force,” Amroth tried to reassure her, although Drummer looked awful. “But I think it best we get him back to the village. His wound will need stitching.”
“Yes, we must.” She went back to tending Drummer, concentrating all her attention on him.
Amroth watched her for a moment: she was filthy, her lovely hair matted and dull, she wore peasant clothes, and a livid bruise had started to appear on her cheek. And whilst she was not concerned with him at the moment, she was obviously expecting him to somehow transport Drummer back to the village. But he loved her and would do anything, whatever she felt about him. How to achieve it was the problem. Pondering for a moment, he heard horses a way off, the rest of their men must be coming to join them. But Drummer could hardly be put on a saddle. Then another sound: the clip of hooves and the rattle of wheels coming from the other direction. He saw a small cart being driven slowly along the road. That might solve one of his difficulties.
But Erchi interrupted his thoughts. “Amroth.
He looked over to his brother. Erchi had dragged the body over to the rock, leaving a big stain on the road. He was staring up the hill. Amroth followed his gaze. Three horses were coming down. Caedor was leading one, a body draped over the saddle. The other two were being ridden, a man stumbling on a rope between them.
“Two dead, one alive. We need to know what to do,” Erchi said, glancing at Devoran.
Amroth nodded, and went back to Devoran. “Leave Drummer for a moment, I need to talk to you.” She looked ready to argue, but he pointed down the road. “There’s a cart coming, we can get him to the village. This is important.” He took her hand and helped her up. She was stiff, obviously in some pain herself, but he doubted she would admit to it until Drummer was out of danger.
“What is important?” But then she saw the men coming down the hill. She shuddered. “Oh, I see.”
“Devoran,” he said as gently as he could. “I need to know if all three attacked you. Can you tell me what happened?”
She shuddered again, but then nodded and spoke quickly, as if not really wanting to remember. “One jumped out at me, but Drummer knocked the knife from his hand. The other picked it up and stabbed him. But that one”, she pointed at the body, “came behind and grabbed Col. I fell off and … it was horrible, they threw Drummer down the hill and that’s when my hood came off and they saw I was a woman.” She dropped her eyes, red stealing up from her neck. “You came just in time.”
Bile rose in his throat. Thank the Valar he had. Amroth put his arms around her shaking shoulders, knowing talking about it would not be easy. “Were they all of the same mind?” he asked her. “None tried to defend you?”
She shook her head, still not looking at him. “The two holding my arms ran away when they heard your horses, the other one wasn’t so quick because he was…” She couldn’t say it, but he had the information he wanted.
“Don’t worry, that’s all I need to know.” Justice had to be fast and fair. Lord Angbor lived a day’s ride away, so it was up to them to dispense it. Amroth gave Devoran a squeeze and pulled her head down on his chest so she couldn’t see. She relaxed into him, and slipped her arms around his waist. He would have relished it more if he knew her embrace was from more than a wish to be comforted. Holding her close against him, he looked across to Erchi over the top of her head and made a slice across his throat with his finger.
Erchi answered with a cold smile. “The rest of our lot are coming. I suggest you get Devoran and the dog out of here and leave me to clear up.”
Amroth nodded. Thank goodness Ana would be at the inn, at least he knew Devoran would get some proper care.
To be continued.
List of Original Characters in this Chapter.
Devoran- G Lord Duinhir’s Daughter.
Caedor – G Soldier in Erchirion’s Company. Trained as scout in Rohan. Married to Ana
Ana - G Junior maid in Dol Amroth. Went to Rohan with Lothíriel.
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.