A Lady's Tale - Part Twenty Five
Part Twenty Five
The rain stopped after a few more days, but no one was quite ready to pack away all the rain gear in case it started up again. So they just rode about on their patrol, searching for any more signs of the Mador-hai. After the cryptic "Here," that the dying Mador had given as a clue, everyone was skittish that they might be ambushed, and being a messenger was a feared post now, though a valuable one.
After the return to the castle from their first battle, Analsiel had not used her leaf except for the most serious injuries. She remembered what Galadriel had said, and knew that she had to find a teacher before she ever healed as much as she had the two times before. But she did use her herbs from Firndil and Celebra, and they saved many lives. She also explored the castle, and found it the ideal place for her post. It was easy to defend, with a few hidden escape routes that could only be opened from the outside. There were plenty of storerooms where she could keep supplies, and the messenger had set up a serviceable infirmary. She was glad that Mena and Reliand gave it to her without protest. But it was very dirty, and musty and old, so she hadn't expected them to see it the way she did. It also helped that they didn't know about the passages and the storerooms. They had gone to sleep and then ridden back to their posts. So she was already busily making plans for it.
"Firnciliath!" Analsiel called. "Hand me that broom!"
The Elf turned around and pushed her kerchief farther up on her head. "What?" she called, as Astianen passed her with a dirty rag and a bucket of water.
Analsiel sighed. "This room in here needs sweeping. Hand me that broom and I'll keep do it. You can dust."
Analsiel's first order had been to move in out of the wild and clean this musty old place from top to toe. They had been at it for a week, and guard duty was a favored chore, whereas before the soldiers had all grumbled about the hours alone just watching for danger. But now they would "Do anything to escape all the bloody housework!" So it mostly fell on those unlucky enough to not have guard duty and Arwen's ladies.
The girls, who hated sleeping on dirty beds without sheets and in dirty rooms, were actually eager for the task. So it had been done with a will, and was almost finished now. Analsiel herself was leaving for the nearby lake in half an hour to pick up the sheets she had left to dry their.
But now she shoved herself against the heavy door had that hadn't opened all week. She had applied some cooking grease, and now it opened quietly. She reached for the broom with a "Thanks," to Firnciliath, and then stepped in.
"Oh," she breathed out slowly. Even covered in dust, the room was beautiful. An enormous four-poster bed stood in the center. It was carved out of black wood, and hung with faded blue and silver curtains. It reminded Analsiel of her bed at the palace. There was a closet in here made of the same dark wood, and a desk. A window to the east gave her view of the lake. She could see the white bed sheets even through the thick grime on the window. The window seat was laden with faded cushions. It all looked fine, but old.
"Analsiel?" called Nori. "What's in there? I can't believe you got it open."
She entered the room, and stared just as Analsiel was doing. "Oh, Ana," she said softly, using her nickname for Analsiel. "It's beautiful!"
Analsiel nodded. "Send Astianen in here, and we'll clean it together. You could help if you're done in the infirmary."
Nori nodded. "I'll be right back."
It took them a solid three hours to get the room in passable condition, and by then they were all exhausted. So Astianen went to give her bucket and cloth to a man on guard, and Nori left to sleep. But Analsiel still had to go out and get the laundry.
She blinked when she stepped out into the bright sunset. The day was already over. Luinduriel and Lhunidil, who'd been set to cleaning the kitchen, should have made something to eat by now. Encouraged by the thought of hot food, she quickened her pace to the lake.
She was picking the sheets off the stone she'd laid them on when she heard the rustle in the trees.
Peering through the dense foliage, she saw a pale shape tinged with green, with long black hair, and then she saw others behind. Her muscles wavered, and suddenly her eyes teared up in fear. What if they had archers? She was out her alone, and the Mador-hai were preparing to attack.
She ran as fast she could between the trees so they wouldn't see her. But she was tired, and she was frightened. Still, the sun had not yet sunk beneath the horizon when she reached her castle.
"Sound the call to arms!" she shrieked to the men on the walls. "The Mador-hai are coming!"
She had just enough time to run to her room and grab Ruthruin and her wretched bow before someone banged on her door.
"Lady, they're not coming out of the woods yet. I think they're waiting for darkness." It was Herdil, her second.
"That's good news. Is everyone prepared?" She ripped her sword out of it's sheath and swung he door open, holding a kerchief in her hand with which h to tie back her hair.
Herdil nodded. "Yes, M'lady, and everyone's ready to be given their assignments."
Analsiel nodded as well. "Do you know anything about Uruk-hai? About they fight?"
"Yes," Herdil replied. "They don't really have formations-"
Realizing that her second was about to launch into Uruk-hai battle techniques while she stood there, she cut him short. "Tell me as we go," she said, and then she dashed up the stairs to the battlements.
It turned out that Herdil knew about a great deal of important things about Uruk-hai. Not only did they have no formation, they had no discipline, and one only because of numbers and their sickening desire to kill. Judging from her previous battle with the Mador-hai, and what the dying one had told her, she assumed that they would be better fighters than Uruk-hai. They would also probably not send their whole force against them at one time.
When Herdil cleared his throat, she was brought back sharply to the moment.
"Milady? Where do you want us posted?" he asked humbly.
"Archers on the all parapets, with your best facing the woods. Send out two units, Carneth's and Theraug's, to meet them on the ground. They should try and disable whatever bows or ladders the Mador-hai have. If they have none, don't let them get past the defenses, or we may be lost. Carneth and Theraug should each give the signal if they need more people, so have Norinel's and Lhunidil's unit waiting just in case. You command Waenaren, Firnciliath, and Vanath. Take them to the North, and cut off retreat to the forest after the Mador's have attacked, but watch your backs. We don't know how many are out there."
"And you, Lady? Where will you be?" asked Herdil, concerned.
"I will be in charge of the defenses. I'm keeping Luinduriel to command the archers, and all others will prepare basic defenses. Now hurry. The sun is setting."
It was true night when the Mador-hai attacked. Herdil had had plenty of time to move slowly around the forest in a circle that would close in when all the Mador-hai were out of the woods. Lhunidil's and Nori's men were getting fidgety, wanting to be out there fighting, and not in here, waiting. But Analsiel had commanded them to put all their fires and keep still and quiet, hoping and praying to give the illusion that the castle was asleep, and vulnerable.
The Mador-hai came creeping out of the forest, and several men shivered. Analsiel herself had to suppress a shudder as the worm of greenish-white bodies poured silently out of the darkness of the woods. By all accounts, Uruk's would just have come roaring out in a stupid, noisy assault, but obviously these creatures were much smarter. They were prepared for a silent massacre.
Analsiel made the quick light signal using a candle and a mirror to Carneth and Theraug to "be ready." Then she did a different combination of flashes to Herdil. He would have to move when the last Mador was out, and not sooner. Then she crept silently up the steps to the East parapet, facing the woods. Her best archers were there, with Luinduriel. She had given command of the other three parapets to more competent archers, who could gauge distance better than she could. But she could see best on the East parapet, so she would wait there.
Her armor was mercifully quiet under her black cloak, but the red glow that came from Ruthruin could not be dimmed. It seemed excited be in another battle, and Carandae, down in the courtyard, waiting in case she needed to ride out, was fidgety and skittish. Her plait of black hair had fallen long past her waist, was a comforting weight on her back. She was glad in a silly way that her hair was black, and not the obvious white-blond of Lhunidil's.
Now she had reached the parapet, and climbed the stairs to the top. Luinduriel nodded a silent greeting, and Analsiel nodded back. Then she saw the last green body trickle out of the woods, and knew the time was at hand. She nodded down to the courtyard, and two young women mounted their horses and slipped out of the secret exit that led south. One rode deep into Ithilien, to bring her message to Mena, and the other rode only so far, to reach Reliand. After murmuring a quick prayer to the Valar, Analsiel turned her attention back to the matter at hand. She could see Herdil quietly moving in to block retreat into the forest, and Carneth signaled to the wall that he and Theraug were ready. And then Analsiel screamed for all she was worth, shattering the heavy silence with a feral yell.
And then the battle was begun.