A Morning Star ~ Chapter 11 of 18 - Return to Gondor
Chapter 2: The Road West
Chapter 3: Questions and Answers
Chapter 4: The End of a Quest
Chapter 5: A New Home
Chapter 6: Decisions
Chapter 7: The Battle of Ridden
Chapter 8: A War Ends and a Journey Begins
Chapter 9: Rohan
Chapter 10: Captivity
Chapter 11: Return to Gondor
Recap: Édren was captured by a band of orcs, who marched him toward Mordor. Ariya and Beros caught up with the orcs and slew them, freeing Édren. After Édren and Beros left the orcs' camp for Durlow, Ariya was captured by a second band of orcs and taken to Minas Morgul. She has now escaped from the tower and fled into the caves at the top of the pass of Cirith Ungol.
Once it became clear to Ariya that the orcs had no intentions of following her into the caves, she walked far enough into the tunnels to be well out of sight from the tower and sat down to rest. The wounds on her back burned with a pain such that she had never experienced. She was exhausted; yet she knew she could not sleep with such pain. She shivered in the cold and held her bare arms across her body for a moment, wishing she had her long-sleeved tunic. She then groped in the darkness for her water skin and took a quick drink.
Orc liquor! she thought, nearly spitting the brew out of her mouth as soon as it touched her lips. She forced herself to take another sip, knowing that she would likely not find water for several days. As she sat in the darkness trying to decide what to do, she suddenly realized that the tinsar given to her by the hobbits so many years before was still around her neck. The orcs must have thought that the now tarnished chain and locket were worthless; otherwise they would have seized it. She opened the latch of the locket and a pale blue light shone through the tunnel. Its light did not reach far into the darkness, but it lit the path well enough for her to easily find her way.
As she rounded a corner in the tunnels, the tinsar illuminated an immense spider web not far ahead. There were many thick silver strands completely covering the entrance to a side tunnel. She recalled the stories of the great spiders of lore, of Ungoliant, and of the land of the spiders through which Beren had passed. She had no desire to meet such a spider, not in her weakened condition, and kept to the smaller side tunnels. She thought back to the time she spent in the Shire with Perry and Tanagrim, and realized that without their gift she would have likely been caught in one of the webs. After what seemed like hours of walking, she finally collapsed to her knees, unable to take another step. She lied down and soon fell into a deep sleep.
She knew not how many days she wandered through the tunnels and later down the stairs of Cirith Ungol. It seemed as though her wounds would not heal, and even with the orc liquor and flatbread she grew weaker each day. The periods she spent walking grew shorter, and the hours she spent sleeping grew longer.
Finally, she reached the bottom of the stairs and saw the first rays of sunshine ahead. She quickened her pace as much as she could, and soon she found herself standing under a warm morning sun. She walked a few more paces and then sat on the grass, overjoyed to see the sun even though it burned her eyes after so many dark days. Her supply of orc liquor and flatbread were nearly gone, but she felt confident that she would find food and water soon enough and thus ate another bit of flatbread. Knowing that she could not stay there forever and needed to find a healer soon, she finally stood to her feet. A wave of dizziness passed over her, and she steadied herself against a nearby tree. She began to walk northwest, toward Rohan and Durlow. After a while, her knees weak beneath her, she collapsed to the ground. Not even attempting to rise, she laid there for a long moment. In her dreamlike state she thought she heard hoof beats approaching, but before she could lift her head she once again fell into darkness.
She slowly opened her eyes, trying to rid her mind of the dreams that had been haunting her. Some of her dreams began beautifully, of her home in Imladris or walking under the stars with Duran, but all ended with the horrible torture, the pain, and the screams of the tower. Her heart was pounding, and it took her a long moment to realize that the images were just nightmares, yet they were based in reality.
She slowly became aware of the world around her. She found herself lying on her side, a thin blanket pulled up to her chin. Her wounds were still sore, but not unbearably so. Looking around the room, she saw that she was in a cave of some sort. She then noticed a man sitting near the foot of her bed. He was wearing light armor, and after a moment's thought Ariya recognized the symbol on his breastplate as the White Tree of Gondor.
"Good morning, my lady," he said. "We were wondering if you were ever going to wake up."
"Where... where am I?" Ariya asked, still feeling rather groggy.
"That you will discover soon enough. Here, take this, it will help you regain your strength." He handed her a plate of food and a cup of water. She slowly sat up and realized that she was now wearing a long-sleeved men's shirt over her undershirt. She began to eat, grateful that she did not have to suffer through any more orc liquor. "You developed a high fever from your wounds, and you would have died had we found you much later."
"Who are you?" she asked. Her thoughts still seemed rather hazy; her fever must not have completely left.
"My name is Menrod. And yours?"
"Ariya," she simply replied. After a few moments of silence, she pushed the plate away, feeling too nauseated to each much. Menrod took the plate and stood.
"It will take time before you are well again," he said. "Please, try to get some rest. I will check on you again later." As he left the room, Ariya laid back down. Soon she had drifted off to sleep once again.
The next morning Ariya felt much better, but Menrod insisted that she remain in bed. He brought her breakfast, and she ate it eagerly, her appetite much stronger than the day before. Menrod left, and soon another man entered the room.
"Hello, Ariya," he said, taking a seat near her bed. "My name is Faramir, captain of these men, and son of the Steward of Gondor."
"I thank you for the care you have shown me," she said. "But please tell me: what is this place? How did you find me? Menrod did not want to answer my questions."
"One of our scouts found you not far from the pass of Cirith Ungol and brought you here. As for your current location, for now I will say only that it is a secret refuge for my men." When he saw that she was satisfied with his answer, he continued. "Now I wonder if perhaps you could tell me how you ended up so near the borders of Mordor? It is not every day that I find a female elf in these lands, wearing an orc-belt, an elven knife, and a man-made sword."
It was obvious that he did not know what to make of her, but Ariya felt that she could trust him. Had he wanted to harm her he could have done so already. She proceeded to tell him of Édren's capture, of her hunt of the orcs, and of her own capture. She was still cautious though, and did not reveal any of her friends' names or the fact that she was a half-elf. When she said that she was imprisoned in the tower at the top of Cirith Ungol, he stopped her.
"You were imprisoned in Minas Morgul?" Faramir asked. His eyes had grown wide for a moment, but he soon regained his composure. "No one escapes the City of the Nazgûl," he said, crossing his arms and looking at her suspiciously.
The Nazgûl, Ariya thought, surprised. She remembered reading of the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, in books of lore, but she had no idea that she had been so near to them. She quickly realized that the screams she heard must have come from the Nazgûl; no earthly creature could have conveyed such evil.
"Then perhaps I am the first," she said. Sensing a growing doubt inside him, she told him how she had killed the orc captain and made her way to the kitchen unnoticed. After describing how she killed the Uruk-hai at the main door, Faramir concluded that the Nazgûl must not have been in the tower at the time; otherwise, she would not have escaped so easily.
"I then escaped into the passage of Cirith Ungol. I do not know how long it took me to travel through the tunnels and down the dark stairs, but I had the flatbread and the orc liquor and managed to make it to the clearing where your scout found me."
At this point she again saw doubt creep into Faramir's face. "You may have escaped the Nazgûl," he said, "but now you mean to tell me that you passed by the great spider Shelob unnoticed as well?"
She then opened her locket to expose the tinsar. The light of the tiny stone was brilliant in the small, dimly lit cave. "I had this tinsar, a star-stone, to guide the way. By its light I saw the great spider's webs and stayed in the smaller side tunnels, likely the same tunnels that the orcs use."
"That is an incredible story," he said, not knowing what else to say. Ariya could tell that he no longer doubted her; indeed, there was much evidence to support her story--the tinsar, the orc-belt, the remaining flatbread and liquor, and of course her terrible wounds. "Excuse me, I have other matters to attend to," he said after a pause. As he left the room he added, "If you need anything, Menrod will be back shortly."
Ariya smiled for the first time in weeks. She somehow found it amusing to see the young captain so utterly amazed by a female half-elf who had escaped from the towers of Mordor.
Ariya spent the next several days with Faramir and his men while her strength returned and her wounds healed. She learned that the place was called Henneth Annun, and while she was free to roam through the cave, Faramir never let her wander more than a few steps from the cave's entrance. One day, Faramir sat down with Ariya alone to speak with her.
"Ariya," he began, "I am afraid I have been withholding some information from you, and I pray that you will not be angry."
Ariya smiled to put him at ease. "I have escaped from within the borders of Mordor and you and your men have saved my life. I cannot be angry with you."
He nodded slightly but did not return her smile. "This place and the land in which we found you are forbidden to all except those with the steward's leave. It is my orders that I kill any found in these lands. However," he quickly continued, before she could say anything, "I know that you are not an enemy of Gondor and did not come to this place intentionally. Therefore, I will take you to Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, and ask him to set you free. I do not anticipate that he will refuse."
"If those are the laws of your land, then I will happily appear before the Steward of Gondor," she answered. Pleased with her response, Faramir stated that they would leave the next day.
After he had left, Ariya recalled her journey to Minas Tirith years before. She hoped the steward would not recognize her; even though she had disguised her elven features before, he may still recognize her face or voice. She was suddenly thankful that Gandalf had introduced her to the steward as Arelen. She knew that she had done nothing wrong, but feared that the steward may not allow her to return to Durlow if he learned of her deception years ago.
Ariya, Faramir, and three other men left for Gondor early the next morning. Faramir blindfolded her for the first few hours of the journey, explaining it was the law of the land and she was not allowed to know the location of Henneth Annun. They traveled on foot but kept the pace rather slow, not knowing exactly how strong Ariya was.
As the daylight faded they found themselves walking along a narrow path surrounded by tall trees. Ariya felt a sudden, intense fear and recognized it to be her elven instincts. "Stop!" she said, quietly but sternly.
"What is it?" Faramir asked, keeping his voice low and placing his hand on his sword hilt.
"There is a danger nearby; orcs no doubt," Ariya answered. Her body was tense and alert.
Suddenly several orcs and Uruk-hai ran out of the trees and attacked them. The men of Gondor began to fight them off, but Ariya stood weaponless, for Faramir had insisted on keeping her sword and knife until the steward released her. Two of the men stood nearby and tried to keep the orcs away from her. "Faramir!" she cried. "Give me my sword!"
"I cannot!" he answered, battling with an Uruk-hai. "You are my captive!"
Cursing silently, Ariya watched the other men fight. She saw an orc run past one of the guards and straight for her. When the orc reached her, he swung his sword high in the air. But before he could bring it down upon her, Ariya grabbed his wrist with one hand and jammed her other fist under the orc's chin. The orc stumbled and loosened his grip, and Ariya quickly took the sword from him, beheading him with one swipe of the stolen blade. She then joined the other men in fighting the orcs, and soon their enemies had all been slaughtered or had retreated.
Ariya had her back to the other men when the last orc was slain. Before Faramir could say anything, she dropped the sword and turned to face him. The three guards were still, their eyes moving quickly between their captive and their captain. "What are we waiting for?" Ariya finally said with a smile. "Let's get to Minas Tirith."
When they arrived at the White City, Faramir and Ariya went alone to the steward's chambers. She waited anxiously as Faramir described to his father her capture by the orcs and escape from Minas Morgul. He also described the orc attack along the road, and told Denethor how she had alerted them to the orcs' presence and had not taken the opportunity to escape after the attack. Ariya studied the steward's reactions closely. Denethor was obviously surprised at this remarkable tale, but she could see no hint of recognition in his eyes. It has been over ten years, Ariya thought to herself. And now he believes me to be an elf, not the mortal apprentice of a lore-master.
"Ariya," Denethor said, and she suddenly realized that she had never told Faramir her full name. "You have suffered greatly, and I have no desire to keep you here against your will. You are free to return to your home, but under one condition: you must never mention the secret caves in which you stayed; indeed, do not even speak the name of Henneth Annun."
"You have my word, my lord. I shall be forever indebted to you and your son for the kindness you have shown me."
Denethor then dismissed her, and she left the steward's chambers and began her journey back to Durlow.
List of Names and Places through Chapter 11
- Ambilë: Ariya's mortal father. Chapter 1.
- Arelen: "Morning Star"; Ariya's Elvish name. Chapter 1.
- Ariya Alayah: Translated as "Morning Star" in an ancient tongue of men; the heroine of our story. Chapter 1.
- Beredhel: "Bold Elf"; Ariya's maternal grandfather. Chapter 1.
- Beros: Lamir's older brother. Chapter 9.
- Cul-Rômen: "Golden-Red Sunrise"; the name of Ariya's sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran's brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya's only son; succeeded his father as King of Ridden. Chapter 6.
- Dunneth: The city-kingdom to which the refugees of Ridden fled. Chapter 6.
- Duran: Advisor to the king of Ridden. Chapter 3.
- Durlow: A small village in eastern Rohan. Chapter 8.
- Édren: Lamir's father; farmer and soldier of Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- Halamir: Lamir's younger brother. Chapter 9.
- Isilmë: "Moonlight"; Ariya's maternal grandmother. Chapter 1.
- Kalen: A man from Dunneth; leader of a group of archers in the resistance against the Northern Tribes. Chapter 6.
- Lamir: Son of Édren; Ariya's apprentice in Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Land of the City-Kingdoms: A land northwest of Rivendell, consisting of several small cities of men, each ruled by their own king. Chapter 2.
- Lein: Ariya's half-brother, son of Ambilë; a smith in Ridden; killed in the Northern Tribe's invasion. Chapter 2.
- Lindë: Lamir's love interest. Chapter 9.
- Lómion: "Descendant of Dark"; maker of Ambilë's ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: "Kind Maiden"; Ariya's elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Nía: Lamir's sister. Chapter 9.
- Peramac "Perry" Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renna: Beros's wife. Chapter 9.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Selleth: Lamir's mother. Chapter 9.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.