Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone - Chapter Eight - Decisions
Legolas could tell the moment Jaessa's strength began to fail. The steady beat of her wings wavered, and he had to grasp at her chestnut mane as she faltered, listing slightly to one side, before surging up again with desperate strokes of her powerful wings.
"Jaessa!" he called into the wind, "You cannot keep this up! We have left them far behind, land before we crash!" He caught a momentary glimpse of wild desperation in her eyes, before she lowered her head again, and obediently straightened her wings to glide towards the earth. She stumbled a little as her feet touched the ground, and as soon as Legolas slid from her back, she collapsed again, turning back to her human form in a brief flash of light.
He moved swiftly to her side, but before he could kneel by her, she was standing again.
"I'm fine!" she said swiftly, but she swayed on her feet, and, after attempting a single step, nearly collapsed again, but he caught her before she could fall.
"No you are not," he replied angrily. "What happened back there?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all," she said distantly, but he had the feeling that she was not really speaking to him, that she was far distant. Her eyes were dull and listless, glazed over as though from remembered pain.
"Jaessa!" he shook her slightly, "Did you find Zandra?"
"Zandra?" awareness crept back into her gaze, and she shook her head, "He said that Zandra is in Gondor." She closed her eyes tightly, "She's in Gondor."
"Who said? What happened?" he fought the urge to shake her again.
"I don't know who he was, he did not appear, he just spoke to my mind," she hesitated, "But his powers, if their full force were brought to play, are greater than even my sisters and I combined."
"But what happened? What did he say?"
"I found this room . . . saturated with evil . . . he came, and . . . spoke to me . . . and then the orcs came . . ." she raised one hand to her throat, "I nearly didn't escape . . ."
"What did he say to you?" Legolas's voice was now gentle.
". . . That Zandra was in Gondor, and . . . he . . . wished that I had gone there instead, . . . because Angmar is not yet ready . . ." She seemed to sag within his arms, and he realized how hard she had been trying to remain upright. He scooped her up, and, not knowing what else to do, and aware that if whatever power ruled Angmar knew of Jaessa, that the hunt would be up for them, and they had best not remain still, he began to walk.
All in good time my dear one, you will know all soon enough. As for your sister, I should not be so hasty in wishing to find her. For on the day you see her again, you both shall die.
". . . You both shall die . . ." the words echoed again and again in Jaessa's mind, an ever repeating chant, pounding in her mind to the beat of Legolas's steps.
Surely it couldn't be true!? It was just the ominous words of someone who believes themselves to be in full control. He thought he had her prisoner. He thought she could not escape him, so intended to kill them both when Zandra was brought to Angmar. Since she had escaped she had negated his prophecy. Hadn't she?
She hadn't told Legolas about that prophecy. Why? He could hardly think worse of her than he did now. Indignation flared again briefly as she recalled that he had thought she had abandoned her baby sister. . . . but, how could he have known? Then she had blown up at him, in a way she hadn't since the day she referred to only as the Day of Tears, when she had learnt what it meant to live life as Jaessa, Child of Earth, and Healer of the Dae Selador.
In her exhausted state she hadn't the strength to resist the flow of memory.
The sweltering sun of the desert world beat down on Jaessa's dark hair. She wiped the sweat from her eyes with the heavy protective cloth that was so necessary in the heat of this world. She had not learned yet if the world had a name, but the land was known as Avendor.
She doubted from the moment she set foot there that she would find Zandra on a world so apparently devoid of water, but she could not afford to leave any stone unturned, literally as well as figuratively speaking.
As nearly always seemed the case, there was evil in this world that she could not bear to leave uncontested. Creatures known to the people here as Gnomes, though unlike the Gnomes of any world she had yet seen, plagued humankind. They had it as their goal to completely eradicate the race of man, and were nearing success. Jaessa could not allow this to happen.
The humans in that world were of a pacific nature, simple and unaffected by the ravages of civilization that so corrupted other worlds. But they would be destroyed if they did not fight. Jaessa could not fight their battles for them. So she taught them, taught them to fight. She had little time with which to work, the caves that hid the refugees would be found eventually. It seemed near hopeless, but still she had to try. She could not so easily give up hope. There were the children to consider.
The sun had sunk low in the sky by the time Legolas trudged to the sheltering cover of the hills where Haldir and Gimli waited. Jaessa had fallen into a restless slumber, which did not make his job of carrying her any easier. He laid her down on the soft earth, careful not to wake her.
"What happened?" Haldir asked, followed swiftly by a similar question from Gimli.
"She entered Angmar, and was discovered by whoever rules there. She learned that Zandra is in Gondor, and something happened to her there that completely drained her strength, I know not what. I get the feeling that we barely escaped, and that even now pursuit may be hot on our heels."
"There's no way you crossed that plain carrying her the whole way in just today," Gimli grunted, "Not followed by angry Orcs! That would exceed even our feat when we chased the Uruks across Rohan!"
"No, she flew most of the way, until she nearly crashed from exhaustion," Legolas replied, shaking his head. "But still, it will not take too long for the Orcs to be on our trail, if the power in Angmar is as powerful as Jaessa claims, it should have no difficulty in scrying out our position, or at least Jaessa's position. We needs must move as soon as Jaessa has rested enough to continue."
"But where do we go?" Gimli asked. "What did this adventure in Angmar accomplish?"
"We know Zandra is in Gondor, so that is where we must go," Legolas said, surprise evident in his voice. He would have thought that this would be obvious.
Haldir looked down at the sleeping Lady, then looked back up to Gimli and Legolas.
"We are ill-equipped to cross the mountains during the Fall and Winter months," Haldir said to them, "We lost too much in the shipwreck."
"The North is closed to us. The Orcs are swarming there, and whatever happened there, they are searching for her," Legolas nodded at Jaessa.
"What about Orcs? If there are Orcs in the North, they are bound to be in the Misty Mountains as well," Gimli objected.
"As long as we don't try to sleep on their doorstep," Legolas teased Gimli, referring to the dwarf's father's adventures in the Goblin mines of those mountains, but smiling to take away the sting. "It is true it is risky to brave the mountains, but we can't go further south than that. Yavanna said that Rohan was about to fall. It may have fallen by now. I think we must visit our people to seek their aid in facing this threat, there is no other option."
"What if they have fallen as well," Haldir said, giving voice to the thought that none of them had permitted themselves to consider.
"If that is so, we will face it when we get there," Jaessa said.
The three men turned to see Jaessa sit up, her grey eyes sparkling in the setting sun. Wisps of dark hair had escaped from her braid and the wind stirred them to caress her cheeks.
"I do not think that is the case with Rohan, or with your peoples. We would not have been sent if there was no hope," she continued.
"But we were told that the invaders were not the true threat," Gimli objected, "We are supposed to discover the true threat."
"I think there can be no doubt that this enemy in Angmar is indeed the true threat, and it is obvious that he is behind the invasion of Gondor and the southern kingdoms," Jaessa said calmly. "We cannot ignore it. If we focus entirely on the threat of the Orcs and their master then we may find that the "lesser threat" in Gondor has become the greater. It would be a hollow victory indeed if we were to defeat whoever is behind the Orcs only to return to find your lands desolate and destroyed."
"So what do you feel we should do?" Legolas asked, much to Haldir's amazement. He was asking Jaessa's advice?
Jaessa merely shrugged her shoulders. "I know not. We truly cannot decide until we discover the situation in Rohan and in your lands. Zandra is in Gondor, so somehow we must find a way to reach her and free her. Whether that is to form an army with your peoples, or to enter secretly and win through in that way, I know not. Though, I hope that we may discover that the situation with Rohan is not so desperate as you fear, for I . . ." She paused, a look of distress crossed her face and was gone before Haldir was certain he had seen it. "Unfortunately the nature of this . . . threat . . . both of them . . . is such that we cannot hope to avoid fighting. I . . ." She paused again, and took a deep breath, and Haldir sensed that she was having difficulty maintaining her composure. "I will not be much help when it comes to that. I cannot fight."
"Cannot?" Haldir asked in surprise. This disclosure was one he had not expected. Legolas and Gimli were obviously equally surprised.
"Yes cannot . . . perhaps I will find a quarter staff, and will be able to defend myself, but no more than that is possible," she said emotionlessly.
"But Dae Kular means warrior!" Legolas said in confusion and some exasperation. "How can you be called a warrior if you cannot fight?"
"I never said I was Dae Kular, and I am not." Haldir could see tears forming in her eyes, and cut off Legolas before he could question her more. Obviously this topic was distressing to her, and Haldir would not have it.
"Well, that is neither here nor there. We will deal with that when we come to it." He said, glaring at Legolas.
"You need not worry my Lady," Gimli said gruffly, "We will see that no harm comes upon you. You will have no need to fight whilst in our company."
"Thank you, and I am sorry that I am not as you wished. I left word that a Dae Kular must be sent as soon as possible, but there are so many claims on their time . . . it may be that I am all you will get." She paused, "If we free Zandra soon, then she will be the warrior that you need, and should have gotten."
"Nonsense!" Haldir exclaimed, "You are exactly what we need, or you would not have been sent. Yavanna or Manwë certainly would not have allowed you to come had they not thought you could do the job."
"But did they know that I am not Dae Kular?" Jaessa whispered, so softly that Haldir barely heard her, and he was certain that Gimli didn't, nor Legolas who was standing further away. "Well, we still must decide where to go." She said more loudly.
"What are you if not Dae Kular?" Legolas said, and Haldir glared at him again.
"I am Dae Selador, or Chosen of Dae. All my people are Dae Selador, and some choose to become Dae Kular. Tinania, Zandra, and both our parents are Dae Kular, but my inability to fight precluded my becoming so." She had herself back under control, much to Haldir's relief. He did not like to see her upset.
"Back to our destination," Gimli said, "South, or East?"
"Do we know what land it is that has invaded Gondor?" Jaessa asked. "Since the Orcs aren't involved yet, or weren't when we were in Valinor, it most likely did not come from the North."
Haldir had not considered this since they had been told that the invaders weren't the true threat. He had no idea as he had not concerned himself much with the affairs of men.
"I'd imagine that it is either the Haradrim or the Easterlings. They have been enemies of Gondor since Númenor fell." Legolas said. The Elves of the Greenwood had many more dealings of men than did the Elves of Lothlorien.
"Just of Gondor?" Jaessa asked. And Haldir saw the surprise and confusion on the faces of both Legolas and Gimli.
"Yes, I suppose so," Legolas said slowly, "They were enemies because the Haradrim were descended from Numenor, and their king felt he had a claim to the throne."
"Did he?" Jaessa probed more. Haldir wondered where she was going with these questions.
"I don't know, slight if any. I discussed it a little with Elessar while living in Ithilien, but I don't know. Why?" Legolas queried.
"Just that a claim to the throne, no matter how slight is easily distorted by those who wish power. But go on about the Haradrim, what other conflicts have there been?"
"They've been enemies since the founding of Gondor by Elendil at the end of the Second Age. There have been numerous wars just between them, but the most recent is when the Haradrim and Easterlings aided Sauron in the War of the Ring."
"And Sauron was the servant of Melkor, and the master of the Witch-king of Angmar." Jaessa said slowly, her eyes narrowed in thought. "What of the other countries? Do they have dealings with the Haradrim?"
"No. Rohan and Gondor have been allies since Rohan was founded, and my people are too far to the North to be bothered by the Southrons." Legolas said.
"The Easterlings on the other hand have been known to trouble my people in the Iron Hills," Gimli said now. "Nothing serious, or that we couldn't handle, but they have attempted raids now and again."
"What are you thinking?" Haldir asked Jaessa.
"Hmm? Oh, I'm just trying to get a picture of what is going on. The more I know the more I can help." She sighed again. "Unfortunately the long standing treaty between Gondor and Rohan makes it unlikely that the Haradrim will treat now. But we'll see. Where is the nearest gathering place of the Elves?"
"That would be Rivendell, though I know not how many still dwell there. Most of the folk of Imladris left for Valinor before I did. Though Elladan and Elrohir I had heard had determined to stay." Haldir said, turning to Legolas, "What do you know of them?"
"I know that Elladan and Elrohir had decided to stay at least until Arwen died," replied Legolas, "I do not know if they left after that or not. I took ship from Belfalas, and did not go by way of the Havens."
"If they remain there is a chance that they have a group with them that would be willing to help us," Haldir began, but was cut off by Legolas.
"But if they were here surely they would have gone to fight already if they will at all," Legolas said. "It may be that they have sworn off of the affairs of Men."
"It is not only Men that are threatened," Jaessa said, standing, "I believe that we ought to go to this Imladris and ask their aid. At the very least they will have a more clear picture of what is about than we do now."
"To Rivendell then," said Gimli, rubbing his hands together. "At last we have a destination. All this chattering was beginning to drive me daft."
So the four travelers set out to the Southeast, the setting sun red at their backs. The land looked lonely and lifeless. Jaessa scanned the earth for any sign of danger, but sensed none. In fact, she sensed little life in any direction for miles. It was very strange to her. The earth here was fertile, and very smooth, perfect for most types of farming, yet there was nothing save the remains of a few villages and cities in the hills.
The nearest settlement was a fairly large town more South than Southeast. Perhaps she would see if they could aim for that.
"What is that village to the South, just beyond those hills?" she said to Gimli who was walking just in front of her.
"Eh? That would be Fornost, just South of the North Downs," he replied.
"Legolas, we should make for Fornost. If we can get horses, or even just one it would greatly speed our journey," she called ahead to him.
"Fornost? Is that the village on the North end of the Bree Road?"
"Yes, that's the one," Gimli said.
"Is that within the Shire?" he asked hesitantly. Jaessa was confused, why would he be hesitant about entering a land with as gentle a name as the Shire?
"I don't think so, last I heard there were Men living there as well as Hobbits," Gimli said, "So it would not be influenced by Elessar's decree."
"What are hobbits?" Jaessa asked with interest.
"Now that is not an easy question to answer," Gimli said, moving to walk beside her. "Gandalf would say that you have let yourself in for it now. Indeed, I think he said it best, `You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and after a hundred years they will still surprise you.' . . ."