A TALE OF MIRKWOOD - Chapter Thirty-two - Galadriel's Warning
OK, I've submitted this really early, just because there seems to be quite a backlog of writing. Hopefully it'll be posted soon. I hope you all enjoy this. I think the title is really prophetic.
The battle had lasted three interminable days. When it was certain that the enemy had, indeed, gone, the palace doors were opened, allowing a first glance at the devastation for those who had been, all the while, inside.
The aftermath was disastrous. In the warm morning sun, all was finally revealed. Smoke still rose from burnt bodies and smouldering trees, and an immense feeling of woe clung to the air, making it thick and stale. Mithryn walked with the crowd of silent elves, taking in the horror that had been inflicted on their beloved home. Dead orcs were strewn everywhere and the foul stench attracted incessant, buzzing flies. The king, too, walked with the group, surveying the damage.
"We have lost many heroes and many of our cherished, ancient trees this past night," Thranduil said to his sons as they walked beside him.
"Aye,"replied Tarnil sadly, "They succeeded in destroying much that we hold dear. . .but not all. . .not our hope. More trees will grow."
"Aye,"Haldof agreed, "but what a terrible death for these trees which we have loved and nurtured. They have been kin to all of us."
"Their deaths were not of our making," Thranduil replied, touching the crisp, charred bark of a fallen oak. "We shall put their names and stories into songs, so that they shall live on and be remembered."
The deaths of their own brave kindred was a greater loss still; twenty-one had they lost in the great battle for Mirkwood. Many everlasting lives were snuffed out, never to be seen ever again. Funeral preparations were slowly and sadly set in motion as cleanup began.
While only twenty-one elves had perished, for the orcs, the death toll was in the many hundreds. Mounds of their disgusting bodies littered the wood, fouling the earth and air. Quickly the elves began the repulsive task of destroying their remains. On great carts, the loathsome carcasses were carted away to a secluded spot and burned. Fires burned for days; there were so many dead, and when, at last, the fires went out, neither grass nor tree grew on those spots ever again.
* * *
A week or more had passed, and still Mithryn had been unable to see the damage. The wounded were convalescing, and still required constant care. The king, however, had finally commanded her to cease her ministrations and go and rest awhile. Mithryn would not have said it, but she was grateful for a break away from the pain and suffering of others and for the chance to restore her own depleted energies.
It was at this time that Mithryn had none to watch her. Celebwen, her companion, and the other healers were busy tending the injured, while everyone else assisted in the restoration and cleanup. Mithryn was appreciative of the break from constant supervision; she knew it would not last long. She strolled in the wood, tall staff in hand, analyzing the damage to their fair wood. Her specific destination was to that of Legolas' beloved tree, Belegaladh.
As she drew nearer, however, her eyes would not believe what they saw. Once ancient and magnificent, the eldest tree in the forest was left naught but a fallen trunk, black and burnt. An elf sat next to it, and at first it appeared to be Legolas! She gasped, and he turned, revealing only Haldof.
"Mithryn, what do you do out by yourself? You are not permitted. . ."
"Celebwen is busy with the wounded, Haldof. I would not have the infirm neglected simply because I am suffering for a keeper." Haldof made no answer, and for the first time Mithryn noticed that Haldof appeared deeply melancholy. Discarding her animosity, she asked gently, "Are you alright?"
Haldof turned away, wiping his eye, "I am well enough."
Mithryn, facing the fallen tree, said softly, "It is a great loss, indeed, Haldof. Legolas told me of how you played in its branches as boys so many years ago. If I went in search of him, more often than not, I could find him here, sitting high in its boughs, deep in contemplation."
Haldof smiled. "Our teasing and carefree pranks did not stop as boys. This was our favourite refuge whenever Mother or Father thought we had overstepped the bounds of decorum. How sad Legolas will be when he discovers this loss, and the loss of our kinsmen. Perhaps he will never return to see it."
"Do not say that!" Mithryn snapped, heart suddenly racing. "Legolas will return. You know not what you say."
Haldof placed his hands on the scorched flesh of the tree, anger swelling. "How I hate Sauron! There is no end to his malice! He will not stop until all is destroyed. Do you not see?" he asked, turning toward her. "His army is that of thousands! Legolas' army is that of nine companions, one being dead already! What hope has he in returning? Trust it, Sauron will throw all of his powers into seizing the Ring! This is but the beginning, Mithryn!"
Mithryn's heart pounded, but before she could think of a reply, Haldof's eyes welled with tears, and he darted deep into the wood. Tired, Mithryn sat down, absently caressing her unborn child. "Legolas' absence does not get easier with the passing of time," she thought. "Each day is harder than the one before. It is not until I think I cannot miss him any more, that I discover it is not so. Everyday my grief for Legolas becomes more deep. I wonder if he shall change as battle changes a man?"
Upon departing Edoras, Aragorn led his friends down the Paths of the Dead. The Rangers, tall and proud, rode with him, as did Gimli, Legolas, and Elrond's twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir. The journey was fraught with doom and peril, yet, still they rode onwards. It was not until Aragorn called forth the dead of that land, demanding them to compensate for their past betrayal. Bound by their promise, they came, ghostly figures with tattered banners held high in the dimly awakening sky.
Most hearts quaked at the sight of the grim, spectral entourage, but not Legolas. Gimli walked by his side, occasionally glancing back at the dead men following. Legolas saw his friend's distress. "It is not you they mean to harm," he said gently, placing a tender hand on his friend's shoulder causing him to jump.
"They are the dead!" Gimli whispered, so that those of whom he spoke should not hear. "You know not what their object be!" Gimli let out a pitiful whimper. "Oft have I worried that I may not go on, my heart is frighted so."
"Gimli, my friend," Legolas said firmly, "never would I exit these lands without you."
At last, Gimli felt some comfort, and the pair steadily walked behind the company as they made their way across the fields of Dor-en-Ernil.
* * *
They had been walking steadily south east, following the haunted trail, stopping only when necessary. Four days had passed since departing Edoras, and the first sign of the enemy had appeared upon that day. Tracks! Aragorn, leading the party, was quick to spot them and pick up their trail. "A massive band of Orcs has been this way," Aragorn said to Halbarad, as they closely surveyed the ground.
"What evil deeds are they up to here in Gondor?" Halbarad inquired.
Gimli, so short in stature, could neither see nor hear what the commotion was all about. "What goes on?" he asked Legolas fearfully, expecting the dead following to overtake them at any moment.
"Orc tracks," Legolas replied, attempting to listen to Aragorn's words. "Our enemy has been this way."
"Orc tracks, did you say?" Gimli asked, a smile growing on his face. "Well, that is another matter!" Seeking confirmation, he charged up to Aragorn, planting both sturdy feet in front of him. "Is it true, Aragorn? Are there Orc near?"
Aragorn, closely observing evidence in the dust, rose up. "It is true, Gimli. A band passed this way neigh twelve hours ago."
"If they have not rested, then surely they could not be far off?" Gimli asked eagerly.
Aragorn smiled, and turned towered his elven friends. "What do your elven eyes see, Legolas?"
Legolas shielded his eyes with a slender hand, but shook his head. Far do I see, but the hill obstructs my view. I must climb it to tell."
Legolas wasted no time sprinting ahead, and Elladan and Elrohir quickly joined him. Upon reaching the crest, they gazed at the far horizon. Rolling hills speckled with trees filled their view and a long, wide river flowed along the horizon.
"The Anduin!" Elrohir whispered. We are so close to the sea! How I long to see it!"
Legolas recollected Galadriel's words, of her warning. His conception quickly strayed to Mithryn, wondering what she must be doing on such a fine day as this, until Elladan brought his thoughts back to Gondor.
"There they are," Elladan said, pointing eastward. They are not far. Not more than twenty leagues off, I should say."
"Come," Legolas said, turning back, "we must tell Aragorn."
* * *
The pursuit was on, and Gimli was happier than any. "My axe," said he, "is weary of hanging idly by my belt. It craves Orc necks to hew!"
"What would happen," Legolas said, teasingly, "if we slew every Orc in Middle Earth and then there were no more?"
Gimli stared up at Legolas, his eyes wide. "Do not jest of such things, elf!"
The company then maintained silence as they rode on. The dead still followed behind, and remained ever close even as Legolas rode hard on his steed, Arod. Gimli glanced back less and less, his mind now firmly set on the slaying of Orcs. Much was he now looking forward to!
* * *
The west wind, however, was against them and their backs for it blew their scent far, and the band of Orcs soon knew of their pursuers. A fight ensued amongst them for some wished to turn and fight, while others thought it wiser to flee than to stay and perhaps be slaughtered. In the end, Ghashná, the Orc captain, beat to death one who opposed his authority. "Pick up the pace, you stinking maggots or you shall feel the back of my club! We shall wait for them beside the river. They will not expect what we have waiting for them there!"
His followers roared their response, and with great might and speed, the band resumed their course, Aragorn and his army followed close behind.
* * *
"It is a dark night," Aragorn whispered, "Clouds conceal a full moon."
"It is dark, but their fires aid me much," Legolas said, surveying the Orc camp. "Two hundred or so wait by the water. They have great ships with them. Their purpose is evil, on that we can rely, but what is their intent?"
"They come to invade Osgiliath," Aragorn whispered. "Tell me, my friend," he said, turning toward Gimli, "is your axe up for a fight?"
Gimli smiled. "I was hoping you would say something like that!"
"Come then!" Aragorn said, rising. "We must not keep our enemy waiting!"
The host charged, riding at full gallop. Legolas dismounted, aiding Gimli off Arod. Together they fought side by side, Legolas with his bow and Gimli merrily swinging his axe. The Orcs, however, were not caught unawares. Two hundred stood by the river as Legolas saw, but three hundred more lingered down the river, waiting for the signal to attack.
"We wait!" snarled Ghashná to his three hundred beasts, anxious to spill the blood of men.
Suddenly, one Orc saw something move in the darkness. "Something's out there. Some elvish beast or such," he whispered to his commander. Ghashná stepped forward, and pulled out his filthy blade. "Show yourself, coward! You fear to fight me?"
Without warning, a ghostly soldier appeared, slicing his blade across the great Orc's belly, spilling its contents. Ghashná fell to the ground in a heap. The Orc beasts screeched in wild terror upon seeing the Dead soldiers ride forward on their phantom horses. Far from standing and fighting, the Orc hoard fled in cowardly fashion, but soon discovered there was nowhere to run, the Dead army having surrounded them. Seeing what a macabre enemy assailed them, the Orcs stormed into the water, mad with fear. However, they knew not the cold and deep secrets of the Anduin, and quickly lost their footing and slid frantically to its hungry depths.
When all was over and every last Orc slain, the soldiers of Middle Earth, dead and alive, gathered near the waters edge.
"You have fulfilled your oath," Aragorn said to the translucent army, "and may now have peace."
Without a word, the spectral army slowly vanished until they were no more. The sun began to rise, warming the earth and air.
"One army gone," Gimli grumbled, "and we now need another." Staring up at Aragorn he boldly said, "You should have kept them a little longer."
Aragorn climbed his powerful steed, and rode to the highest hill and looked down on the humble cottages in the village below. "The hosts of Sauron are defeated, never to return to this land, our home!" he cried to them. "Come and fight our enemy and once and for all time defeat him! I call you men forth of Pelargir to fight with me!"
Doors opened which had all night been barred tight from ravaging orcs. People stood in their doorways and, looking up to the topmost hill, saw a vision of a kingly figure crowned with the golden glow of morning sunlight. Seizing their weapons, they kissed their loved ones farewell, and made their way, six hundred in all, to the hill to see their King, though they knew not it was he.
Aragorn rode back to his friends and his new living army followed, cheering loudly for this powerful deliverer and leader.
"Is that a fair enough army for you?" Aragorn asked Gimli when he reached them.
"They will do," Gimli replied, smiling. "What now?"
"We sail to where these ships were destined. . .Osgiliath," Aragorn said.
Gimli blanched. "Sail? I dislike boats as much as I dislike horses. Must we sail?"
"The wind, as well as oars, will carry us there swiftly. If we rode, our horses would grow weary much sooner. Time is of the essence, my friend. We sail!" Aragorn said, mounting one of the dromunds, the great sailing ships with billowing black sails.
Gimli nodded, for he felt it fruitless to argue further. All boarded the dromunds which were five in all. Men from Pelargir filled the bowels of the ships, manning the oars, and soon they were off!
Legolas stood next to Gimli, who was now looking a trifle green and sickly. "Fear not, Gimli. We shall be there soon enough."
"Nay," cried Gimli, "not soon enough!"
Legolas laughed when suddenly, a gull cried overhead. It was a strange, languid cry, and one Legolas was unfamiliar with. His head turned upward to see it soar, and turning, he followed it.
The sun rose, and glistened with magnificence on the rolling waves on the Anduin, leading out to the sea. Powerful eyes he had, but could not gaze beyond the winding bends of the river. Legolas walked to the aft of the ship, captivated. Elladan and Elrohir joined him, equally entranced.
"The sea. . .Are we really so close" Elrohir whispered.
"Aye," whispered Legolas. "So close, yet so far." More gulls joined the first, calling out their sad, lonesome song of the sea. A strong north east wind blew across their faces, and caught up the black sails, bringing with it the fresh scent of salty sea air.
"The sea! How I long to sail across it!" Elladan said, smiling.
"Well, I certainly do not!" Gimli said, leaning heavily on the rail as he joined them. "I'll be happy if I never set foot on another boat as long as I live!"
Elladan smiled, listening to Gimli's grumbles. "That is because your fate does not dwell beyond the sea, but in caves. Our fate, our destiny is quite different."
"What? What? What is this you speak of?" Gimli asked, confused.
"In long days past," Elladan began, "our people traveled across the sea. Once we feel the call to journey forth again, to reach our ancestral home, the Grey Havens, there is no turning back. Our time here is at an end, my friend. Soon, Elves shall dwell in Middle Earth no more. I, too, have now heard the cry of the gull, and wish to sail across the sea's mighty waves."
Gimli gazed skeptically at Legolas, but Legolas did not look his way. He stared forever forward, drawn irresistibly to the breathing wonder of the waves moving out toward the sea, and felt them call to him. "Alas that the fair Galadriel's words rang true! A thirst has awoken in me unable to be quenched."
Aragorn suddenly jumped up onto the mast, standing high for all to see. "My friends!" he cried, calling out to all. "You fight alongside me as we journey onward to destroy our common enemy. And as you go with me, you go not with Aragorn the Ranger, but Aragorn the King," he said as he let loose his fine standard displaying a white tree, seven stars and a glorious crown atop it, resplendent in the sun. At once Legolas could see the intricate handiwork of Arwen, sister to Elladan and Elrohir. The twins smiled proudly at their sister's gift for it was beauteous beyond explanation. "Onward to Osgiliath!" Aragorn cried, pulling out his sword.
All followers shouted their fealty and allegiance, and the eager ships, catching the mighty wind in their black sails, sailed onward to Osgiliath.
End of Chapter Thirty-two