13. A Fool's Hope
But Celeborn would not repine, and grief he would use only as a spur to greater effort. Let Sauron tremble, for every one of his vile deeds would be avenged one day. As Eru Iluvatar was all powerful, one day Sauron would pay, even as his master had. And though Celeborn himself might be long dead when that happened still the estel consoled him.
"Was Sam there?" he said.
"Sam?" Galadriel looked up at first with a gallows smile, as though she thought he jested, but a moment later her eyes widened, and brightness returned to them. "I saw nothing of Sam, and it seems to me Sauron knows nothing of him. You think my little gardener strong enough to carry the Burden alone?"
There had been that in Sam - comical though he seemed at times - that Celeborn had recognized, but found hard to describe. He was as common and tenacious as dandelion, with a connection to the soil that reminded the Lord of his own people's stubborn devotion to this world. Deep roots, and an obstinacy like that of the earth itself. "I do not think it wise to overlook him."
A fool's hope, and yet had not Mithrandir used the same words to describe the Quest of the Fellowship itself. All hope was now foolish, but that did not make despair wise.
"If the Enemy had the ring, surely it would be upon his finger now, and you would know. Until that time comes let us act as if we may still prevail." Looking back on a life Galadriel had described as 'a long defeat' he laughed suddenly, for though horror and evil were in the world, still he stood in Lorien, and it was springtime, and the boughs were laden with new blossom. Until the land itself gave up, he would not. "Yet even if the Quest fail and Sauron regain the Ring, what of it? He is not mightier than Morgoth, whom we fought without hope, and yet survived. I stood against Sauron once when he bore the One Ring new forged, and I am more than willing to do it again."
At that Galadriel laughed softly. Lifting up her white hand she gestured, and a wind touched the canopy of the mellyrn. Clouds drew reluctantly apart above the clearing and a pale gleam told where the moon steered his wayward course. A star glimmered in the heavens, and on Galadriel's finger Nenya glowed in response, gilding her with light. "Nor am I, even now, utterly without power," she said. Then she looked at her husband narrowly, and he felt for the first time how filthy he still was. His hair tickled him, gummed to his cheek by dried blood. With starlight still in her hand Galadriel reached out, smoothed the lock of hair away, tucking it behind his ear. Her immaculate dress bore now a pattern of black circles where the orc blood from his mail had soaked into it, and at the sight he thought guiltily, as at times long ago, that perhaps all he truly did for her was sully her purity and dim her light.
"Come," said Galadriel, and rested her palm fleetingly against his cheek, "Let us go and face the new day together. You should rest, ere it begins again. But thank you, my Lord. Thank you for reminding me again that it is never wise to underestimate the partner of a Ringbearer."
His heart warmed at her words and he leaned forward, lightly to kiss her. "Rest?" he said, "Is there time for it? What else have you seen of the Enemy's plans?"
Sighing she reached for his hand and laced her fingers through his. "Alas," she said, "Each time you talk me into hope I reply with ill news. What we have weathered thus far has been as nothing to the third and greatest attack. It will encompass us with foes, but it will begin in the North. With Moria."
Celeborn paused and looked towards the vale of Nimrodel, thinking of the forces he had sent there. It did not seem enough, but it was all he had. "Even if the Ring is lost, and Nenya's strength fails us, and the wards must be abandoned, still Tasariel and Haldir will hold," he said, defiantly.
"Perhaps," said Galadriel.
Over Dor-Nimrodel there lay a long shadow. As the hidden sun went down into the West, Haldir stood on the very top of a tall ash and looking out beheld a brown day fade into featureless black. Only to the South was there a red, sullen light where embers still smouldered on the borders of Caras Galadhon. Ash was on the wind, and a smell of death.
"What do you see?" Tasariel called. She would not venture into the higher branches, not having shed her Noldor love for stone cities and paved paths.
"Nothing," Haldir sighed, "From Moria all seems quiet. But I feel..."
He strained his farsighted gaze. The carrion-tainted wind stirred his long hair and whined in the fletchings of his arrows, slung on his shoulder. The tree swayed beneath him. Dread seemed to fill the empty spaces of the night and whisper with ghost voices along the moving air. Again he turned his eyes to Moria, and frowned. Something was amiss. The great hollow place under the hill was an abyss, as always, but the texture seemed wrong. Not like rocks or the ruins of old roadways, but like a mass of insects crawling. Either the very stones of the mountains moved or...
"Ware!" he called "They come!"
He saw them now - Moria orcs as black as the night, their mail dirtied so that not a gleam came from them, even the blades of their swords as dull as pitch. Their black standards had no device, and their eyes did not reflect light. In front, what he had taken as gnarled trees bent beneath the wind were revealed as trolls. Great, scaled, green-grey cave trolls with leashes around their necks and their slab-like faces contorted with rage at the sky above them. Mutely the host of Moria drew close, and fear struck Haldir at the sheer silence of it.
As he stood in wonder he was aware of his archers spreading into position in the trees around him, and Tasariel's forces mounting, setting on their helms. Light gleamed from drawn blades. The air felt heavy, hard to breathe, and as it were an exhalation from a tomb, the dread which lay over the forest deepened and rushed over him. At once the waiting hush was riven with the pound of drums. A shriek like that of some huge, cold creature, miserable and full of malice shivered the trees.
"Haldir!" came Orophin's voice, panicked, full of warning. He turned towards the sound, and the great naked wings and iron talons of a Fell Beast soared out of the darkness and were upon him. Its gaping charnel mouth he ducked, and twisted out of the way of its claws, but the lash of its tail caught him as he was reaching for his knives and slammed into his chest. Overbalancing, he clutched vainly at a dry twig. It came off in his hand and he fell like a falling star.
There had been no hushed muster in the South. Instead one moment Erethon had ventured outside the wards to gather seeds from the withered cherry-tree, the next he was racing for his life with the wargs of Isengard on his tail. As deadly as elves in a wood, the wolves loped behind him, long shapes, shadowed and grey, their eyes like yellow fire, full of bestial thought. Arrows harried him, and he leapt up into the branches to evade them. Tucking his handful of cherry-pits into his tunic, he climbed one handed, hoping that the orcs would have lost sight of him.
But the wolves had other senses than sight, they came to snarl about the base of his pine, standing upright in their eagerness to devour him, their claws against the trunk. Uruks already clambered up into the boughs behind him, and other orcs were swarming into the surrounding wood, so he could not run from tree to tree..
"Ha rhach!" Erethon pulled back, shot straight down into the red cavern of a warg's mouth, but even as it fell its rider was clutching at his ankle. With no time to reach for his knife he put an arrow through the grasping hand and kicked out, aware that even as he struggled others were scrambling after him, scimitars drawn.
The maimed Uruk pulled itself up by its wounded hand and sank its filthy teeth into his leg, worrying it. Disgusted, he put an arrow through its eye. Blood fell from the treetops and the Wargs gave tongue, filling the night with their howling. Yet more of them poured into the woodlands, and five more orcs scuffled between themselves as they each tried to scramble into his tree at once.
Gritting his teeth against the hot stab of pain in his calf Erethon cursed himself again and climbed. Right to the top he went, and looking down saw the orcs as thick upon the tree as blackfly on a stem of roses. Then he steadied himself and rained down death on them from the heights, knowing that when the last arrow was spent he would jump, and in his fall not only kill two or three more, but ensure that he was not taken alive.
In the East there was a watchful peace, as wains drew out of Eryn Fuin and two new siege engines arose into ugly, oil-soaked menace just beyond bowshot. Both were trained on the City of Caras Galadhon, where even now unarmed women worked to heal the wounded. The city lay silent, awaiting the rain of fire.
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