5. Lost Part I
Swan-song Chapter 5
Lost Part I
Do I still remember the anguish of years spent hoping for another child, the look of sympathy in my maid's eyes when month after month I had to call for linen? The memories are put away in that part of the mind only visited when dark shadows crowd near. Éomer accepted his small family easier than me – he had a fine son who grew in stature and wisdom every day – and many times he would hold me close, when disappointment overwhelmed me, whispering words of sense and comfort. A bargain had been made, and Éomer convinced me that it was foolish to chafe at the consequences. No person goes through life without some heartbreak and there were other joys to compensate – the peace and prosperity of the Riddermark under Éomer's strong rule and the inner knowledge that never again would his life be so threatened, could not but bring happiness. And so I determined to put the guilt and disappointment behind me and enjoy the continuing love of my husband and son.
But I was a woman, and I longed for more children around me. They came of course, as Éowyn had said they would, children to be treasured and loved – my grandchildren. No grandmother has been more attentive and caring. Perhaps that was why my son and his cherished wife felt they could brood so many – I was never happier than when Meduseld rang with the noise of their games. There were others too, unlooked for, unexpected, that surprisingly helped to fill the void in my life.
But all that was to come, and I only bring those memories out now as I think of that awful time in the Healing Houses. For as I still reeled with the likelihood that I might have sacrificed, not only the babe I had been carrying, but the chance to have life spark in my womb again, my mind staggered with the knowledge that my beloved brother was missing. And knowing how I had suffered at the thought of losing Éomer, my heart and thoughts went to Devoran, whom I had also come to love.
Dol Amroth FA5
They were so sweet that Devoran itched to pick one up. 'I won't hurt him, Avorn,' she said, reaching for the largest pup who had crawled a short distance from its mother. The hound, still sleek and beautiful, even though swollen with milk and pride, eyed her suspiciously but made no protest. Devoran cradled the little dog against her chest, dropping a kiss on its velvet head. Puppies smelt so lovely.
Wagging his tail, Drummer edged a bit closer and licked the tiny black and tan pup on the nose. Immediately Avorn curled a lip, warning him to keep his distance. 'It's a bit late for that, Avorn,' Devoran told the hound, 'you should have rebuffed him when he first sidled up to you.' But she laughed at Drummer's affronted expression. 'No, you are probably right, Drummer, I am sure she would always welcome a fine warrior like you. But I don't know what Amroth is going to say. He told you last time what he would do if it happened again.' Not that she really thought Amroth would carry out his threat to take a knife to Drummer's manhood, but he wouldn't be pleased with another crossbred litter from his favourite hound.
Devoran got up from her cramped position on the floor and put the pup into the curl of the hound's belly. It fought its way to a teat, milk immediately oozing around eager pink lips. Relieved to have all her family near again, Avorn laid her noble head back down on the blanket.
'If he'd been here, it wouldn't have happened, would it, Drummer?' Devoran sighed, and rubbed her hand across her rounded stomach. Perhaps the news of a second child to come would distract him from her dog's misdemeanour. 'Come on, Drummer, we must leave them in peace.'
Devoran checked the water and food bowls were filled before she ushered Drummer out of the door. Avorn didn't seem to object to her, only Drummer, so perhaps she'd be able to bring little Elenna to see the pups tomorrow. She'd not told her daughter about them yet, so Elenna had been happy to be left with Meren. The lively toddler loved playing with her younger cousins, probably because she could boss them both about – Eldir as he was only just walking, and Elphin because, although older than Elenna, the chubby boy was blessed with a sunny nature. But Meren would soon be wanting to put Eldir down for his afternoon nap, he got grizzly if deprived of his full amount of sleep.
She started to cross the courtyard towards the main part of the palace, one hand holding onto her hair— a breeze blew off the sea, as happened about this time most days. Inhaling the salty tang, Devoran decided that it would be a good idea to take Elenna down to the beach before supper to work off some more energy. Their firstborn had inherited her father's love of the sea as well as his dark good looks. Thoughts of Amroth brought on a deep regretful sigh, and she stopped for a moment to resolutely push down the misery that lay just below the surface of her outward show of acceptance. But she missed him so much, and had only received one letter when he first got to Prince Amal's camp. It had made her laugh with the descriptions of the strange food, the insects that laid siege to their tents – she would have hated that – and the women – either shrouded from head to foot, or displayed like goods in a market. But there had been nothing more, although she supposed that if he was busy fighting he'd have no time. Fighting! Devoran swallowed, not yet able to relegate that worry to the back of her mind however hard she tried.
Devoran jumped, and looked up to see Prince Imrahil coming towards her from the direction of his study, an unusual droop to his shoulders. She smiled, wondering what had upset him. 'I've just been to see Avorn's puppies. They are so sweet, but Amroth is going to be mad Drummer fathered them again: he wanted a litter of pure-bred hounds.'
Unabashed by his transgression, Drummer bounded up to the Prince, tail wagging. Imrahil pulled at the dog's ear, sending him into ecstasy. 'There is no accounting for a woman's taste it seems.' His lips twitched but the dark eyes remained grave.
Devoran laughed, but realising her laugher wasn't being returned, she searched his face. 'Father, is something wrong?'
Reaching her, he took her arm and dropped a kiss on her head. 'Come with me a moment, my dear, there is something I need to discuss with you.'
'Oh, is there a letter from Amroth? I thought I saw one of the ships coming in.'
'There is news,' Imrahil replied. 'But not here, come to my study.'
Devoran went icy cold; a terrible premonition started her heart thumping. 'Father, what is it?'
'Come inside.' He steered her around, back in the direction he had come from, but she resisted the pressure on her arm, all her senses screaming.
'No, tell me now. Is it Amroth?' She closed her eyes. Please no! Not her worse fears come to reality.
'Devoran, please.' Imrahil grasped her firmly, opening the door to the passage outside his study and leading her through.
Inside! Would that make any difference? Devoran stumbled along the flagstone floor at Imrahil's side, her heart beating louder than the click of his boots. He pushed the door to his study open, and she sank into the nearest chair, weighed down by the leaden lining of her stomach. Calaerdis put a hand on her shoulder and, through the sound of her own blood thumping in her ears, she heard Imrahil sigh.
'We don't know much, Devoran but it appears Amroth is missing...'
'Not dead?' Devoran interrupted, a jolt of relief making her sit up.
He shook his head, and signalled Calaerdis to pour out a cup of wine. 'We don't know. At the moment he is missing in the desert. But of course any news we get is about five days old.'
'Missing? What do you mean?'
'Drink this, Devoran.' Imrahil put the cup in her hands. Obediently she lifted it to trembling lips and gulped a mouthful – it tasted sour in her dry mouth.
'How is he missing?' She looked up quickly, wanting to know if she was being told the truth. 'He had hundreds of men with him and guides. He told me in his letter he had guides.'
'Yes, he did. But it seems he went with a small patrol into the desert.'
Devoran frowned, her thoughts jumbling together. 'Why would he do that?'
'From what I can understand, they came across a camel-herders' encampment that had been raided. None were left alive: men staked out in the sun, the women and children horribly mutilated. Amroth was so angry that he took off after the raiders without waiting for the rest of his company.'
'Women and children...,' Devoran let out the words slowly. Oh yes, there was no doubt Amroth would have been angry. His black eyes would have flashed with fire.
Near Harad, FA 5
'We cannot follow them any further, lord. They have camels; it is risking death to take tired horses into the Endless Sands. Besides, we have already come farther than I would like, I have no experience of the paths this far south.'
Amroth didn't answer, but Gidon grimaced and wiped a hand across his sweating face. 'I hope you can get us back, Karam.'
The guide looked behind, to the direction they had come; their prints were already filling with windblown sand. 'I have made a picture in my mind,' he turned and peered south to where the horizon was hidden by a dark haze. 'But we must go now, as I sense a great wind coming and the dunes change shape when it passes over them.'
'Lord,' Gidon moved his horse closer. 'Karam is right; we shall have to give up. That scum is better equipped to deal with this terrain than we are. We haven't a hope of catching them.'
'Damn!' Amroth dragged his eyes from the vast empty land that stretched away south and looked his captain in the eye. 'Leaving them alive to commit more atrocities is a hard thing to do.'
'I feel it was a last vengeful act before they ran for home,' Gidon said. 'The border is sewn up tight now; Amal will have no further trouble.'
That was no comfort to the families they had annihilated. Bile rose to his throat as he thought of the scene of carnage and depravity – old women with their breasts hacked off, an unborn child torn from its mother's womb. He hated to let the filth go on living. But both Karam and Gidon were right: they were almost out of water and he couldn't put any more lives at risk.
'Very well, we will return. It wouldn't surprise me if Erchirion hasn't already left to go back to the main camp.' For some reason Erchi couldn't wait to return. But Amroth found the desert fascinating; probably because it reminded him of the sea: immeasurable and empty. Here, land, horizon and sky merged into a seamless whole. Besides, he had fancied a pot at the unique screw-horned antelope which was why he had joined one of the last patrols to go out. Fingering the great bow tied to his saddle, Duinhir's bow, he sighed – so far today it had claimed neither man nor beast.
'Do you think I might get lucky on the return journey, Karam?' Amroth asked when they started back along their fast-disappearing tracks. Not that he could do much chasing, his horse was long overdue a drink.
The guide was looking uneasy and kept glancing behind him. 'Maybe as dusk falls, lord, and we near the waterhole. The antelopes prefer the scrublands; they seldom traverse the deep sands until the rains come.'
'What is it, Karam?' Gidon joked as the guide stopped his horse and gazed behind him once more. 'You look like a man who's being hounded by his wife's nagging mother.'
Karam ignored, or didn't understand, the quip, but he stood up in his stirrups and shaded his eyes with a long-fingered brown hand. The fringed ends of his headdress whipped out in the building wind. Hot and arid, it brought a foul tasting dust with it, drying their mouths. 'We will have to seek shelter, lord,' he said addressing Amroth. 'I feel a terrible storm is about to descend on us.'
'A storm?' Amroth looked above him at the cloudless sky. 'Are you sure? I though the rains weren't due for weeks.'
'You are looking in the wrong direction, lord; the Desert Death comes from the southern wastelands, not from the sky.'
'Great Ulmo!' Gidon mouthed incredulously. And Amroth heard one of the men behind him let out a startled oath. He twisted in his saddle and saw that what he'd thought to be a high ridge of dunes was a moving cloud of sand that had obliterated the horizon and stained the sky a dirty brown.
He didn't like the look of that at all. 'What do you normally do?' he asked the guide.
'We would crawl into our tents, or if our horses were fresh we might be able to outrun it.'
Amroth bit back the retort he was about to make - since they had no tents and the horses were already struggling, he wondered why Karam wasted his breath. But after the weeks spent with these people, he realised that it was the Harad way of coming up with the right answer.
'So we take shelter,' he prompted, 'and the only place is the leeward side of a ridge.' They were on an undulating plain of low dunes halfway between two high ridges. Any real shelter was a fair distance away.
'You can do that of course, lord, but the swirling power of the wind picks up great amounts of sand and tends to dump it at the foot of the dunes. We would be buried alive.'
'Where then?' Amroth barked, his patience lost.
'Just below the top. We must get the horses to lie down and shelter behind them. You must cover your eyes, nose, and mouth.' Karam pulled on his headdress, bringing the ample folds of material down over his face. He motioned the others to do the same.
Amroth did likewise with his. Already the grit in the air stung his face, and now he saw the sense of their Harad friends virtually insisting on them adopting the local headgear for their patrols.
'What about the horses?'
'We must make haste and will cover them as soon as we reach the ridge,' Karam said, panic in his voice. 'The storm is approaching faster than I thought.'
But they never had the chance, as the sandstorm came roaring towards them like a giant wave, blotting out the sun and engulfing all in its path.
'Keep together!' Amroth heard Karam shout before his ears, eyes and mouth were filled with choking dust. He slithered to the ground and hung onto Aero's saddle, trying to get some shelter from the horse's bulk. But the horse fretted and pulled, striving to snort the sand from his nostrils as he experienced a horror he had never encountered before. Within moments Amroth could see nothing in front of him, all vision blocked out by the churning sand that clogged the air. Fuelled by the incredible wind, the storm sucked strength and heat from his body as the temperature plummeted. He struggled to stay on his feet. His sense of direction lost, he fought to keep the wind behind him, but it seemed to come from every angle. Thinking he saw a dark shape in front of him, he did his best to follow, but when he looked again it was gone. Each step he made was like walking through cloying mud as the sand thickened around his feet. His strength was waning, how long would it last? But after what seemed hours of mind numbing exertion, he reached the ridge, although it gave him no more shelter. He had no idea of where the others were, but surely they had made it this far. Suddenly Aero collapsed, the horse's legs giving way as he gasped for breath. Frantically Amroth tried to claw out the sand from his nostrils, wiping it away with the ends of his headdress. Aero was still breathing, but in great distress, his chest heaving.
At last it seemed the horror was lessening; Amroth could definitely see a few yards. Then the wind died almost as suddenly as it had come, leaving the air around reminiscent of a brown fog. He rubbed his eyes, raw and gritty as they were, looking for his companions. He had crossed the high dunes, but no one was within sight. Ignoring for the moment the fact that he seemed to be on his own, Amroth fumbled for his water skin. It was almost empty, but after taking a mouthful, rolling it around with his tongue, and spiting the sandy mess back out, he poured most of the rest over Aero's nose, washing out the sand.
'Come on, boy. It's over; you've got to get up.' With a little more encouragement the horse wobbled to his feet. Shaky but alive.
'By all that's good,' a familiar voice hailed him, 'we thought we'd lost you as well. How did you fare? Blessed Ulmo, I never want to go through that again.'
Amroth looked around to see Gidon and two others, Borinon and Galor, he identified as they materialised through the haze of dust that the storm had left. Gidon's eyes were red rimmed, his face stained ochre-red. Amroth supposed he must look the same. 'Lost me as well?'
'We can't find the others. I thought I was following Karam,' Gidon said. 'But then I discovered I was following Galor here, and he started off behind me.'
'Well, they can't have gone far. Over the next ridge, I imagine.' Amroth stared; the open desert between the ridges looked very different than it had on the journey here, he recognised none of it. The next bit of high ground looked wider and flatter topped than he remembered, but Karam had said the wind changed their shape. 'Give them a horn blast.'
Gidon shook out his horn; a clot of sand came out. He blew it, but the noise it emitted would not have woken a baby. He banged it against his saddle and more sand fell to the ground. This time Gidon managed a creditable call. Again and again, he blew. They waited for an answer – but none came.
'No matter.' Amroth said at last. 'If we go north we are bound to find them.'
'But what if we miss the waterhole, lord. Then we will be in trouble, the horses will not make it. And I have no idea where in its daily path the sun sits, we may miss our direction by a fraction and be taken leagues out of our way.'
Amroth knew that, as much as Gidon did, but he took his sword out and rammed it into the sand. He marked the end of the shadow with his knife. Now came the waiting part. After what he judged to be a quarter of an hour standing in the blazing sun, he marked the end of the new shadow with his other knife and drew a straight line between the two knives. 'That's the East-West line,' he said. 'So we go that way.' He pointed north. They would no doubt reach Amal's territory, but whether they found the waterhole was in the hands of those greater than himself.
The sun beat on their heads with relentless ferocity. They had given up riding, as the horses were lathered up with thick sweat, panting shallowly in their distress. Amroth had a horrible feeling Aero wasn't going to last much longer, no youngster, already his muscles were trembling. His eyes were dull and glazed, the membrane under his lid turning blue. His tongue thick in his mouth, Amroth licked his own cracked lips; the sun was dropping, if they could just find the water hole his horse might make it. If not then none of them, horses or men, would be likely to get through one more day. After a slow weary trudge they crested another dune, eagerly looking around hoping to see the cluster of vegetation that marked the waterhole, or see the rest of their party – but nothing. Then with an agonised expulsion of breath, Borinon's horse went down. Amroth knew immediately that it would never get up again. The poor animal's sides heaved, as it took its last breaths. He knew Aero would be next and the thought further cramped his insides. They had been through so much together – not least that Aero had been there when he had first met Devoran and when he and Erchi had rescued her from filthy felons. He put his face close to Aero's nose. 'I'm sorry, old boy, I led you into this.'
'Lord, look,' Gidon hissed. 'There's smoke over there.'
'It must be them,' Galor started back down the dune but Amroth stayed him.
'No wait! Let's make sure who they are first.'
'What do you mean, lord. Who else could it be?' Gidon queried.
'If they had been friends they would have responded to our horn. ' Amroth looked around, thinking hard. Something didn't seem right. Considering the distance they'd travelled, they should have been able to see the start of the scrubland from here. Had he become so disorientated in the storm that he had ended up going totally in the wrong direction and passed their enemy without knowing it? It seemed impossible, but it would explain a lot of things. 'I think we turned completely around in the storm and the dunes we crossed were those to the south of us, so when we started north we headed back to where the storm hit us.
'You think so? Everything looks so different it's hard to tell.'
'I'm almost sure of it, otherwise the others would surely be near and looking for us. Do you see anyone around that smoke over there?'
'No,' Gidon answered, 'but they have obviously set up camp in a dip.'
'And if I am right about who they are,' Amroth mused, 'they will be hoping we moved off in the opposite direction after we sounded our horn.'
'I think the Prince is right,' Borinon chipped in. 'Karam wouldn't want to go back without us, he'd be looking.'
'Maybe they are looking,' Amroth said, 'but in the wrong place. I feel we must be miles behind them. And darkness will fall soon, so there is no hope of meeting up with them before tomorrow.'
'The cold of the night will bring little relief. We need water.' Gidon shook his empty waterskin despondently.
Amroth looked again at the rising smoke. 'They'll have water.'
'But we're not in a state for any fighting,' Gidon objected. 'And we know there were around a dozen of them.'
Amroth cast his eyes over the horses. None were likely to make it and an idea surfaced in his mind, gruesome but perhaps their only chance. Yet before acting on it, he wanted to determine the owners of the camp.
Amroth and Gidon crept towards the smoke, using the cover of the approaching darkness. Night came swiftly in the desert. Long before they reached a vantage spot they could hear voices, a harsh language unfamiliar to their ears. Silently they topped a dune, crawling on their bellies. One sound, one warning from the camels, and they were dead men. But no call of alarm came.
Amroth peered down on the camp, thrilled and angered by the sight that greeted him – camels formed an outer circle, in the centre of which a fire blazed, giving enough light to see about a dozen black-skinned figures sitting cross-legged around it. Long odds, especially when they were so weak, but there was no way he would let the filthy crud leave here alive – for a little apart, huddled together, ropes binding their wrists to their ankles, were three young girls.
To be continued.
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Devoran Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond – married to Prince Amrothos.
Meren Married to Prince Elphir.
Elphin Second son of Elphir and Meren
Eldir Third son of Elphir and Meren
Elenna First daughter of Amrothos and Devoran.
Lady Calaerdis From Sirith in Lebennin. A rich widow, mistress to Imrahil of Dol Amroth.
Gidon Amroth's Captain
Borinon & Galor Two Dol Amroth soldiers.
Karam A Harad Guide
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.