Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 3. THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
A/N: In case you missed it!
Chapter One: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18584.html
Chapter Two: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18601.html
THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
Miriel rode hard all through the night. The poor baby in the blanket was disconsolate and wailed hungrily. There was nothing Miriel could do to comfort him or soothe his pain. Miriel felt a deep pang of sorrow for the small bundle in her lap and wondered if he would ever see his mother again. Feeling sorry for someone besides herself helped Miriel attain a certain calm. As long as she had the baby to protect, there was a reason to go on.
After an eternity a red dawn appeared in the eastern skies, and the light of it showed no sign of the Orcs, or anyone else, either. Kaspir was tired and had long since ceased galloping. The great black stallion's foam-flecked head hung low, and he plodded along at a weary walk.
Miriel tried to get her bearings. She didn't know where she was or where she was going. She let Kaspir choose his own path, as long as it didn't lead back into the west, where a great smoke plume was still visible in the distance. Kaspir laboriously climbed to the summit of a tall mountain, which took the better part of two hours, and Miriel stopped him to look around. She could see unhindered in every direction for miles.
Orcs still blackened the land to the west, marching straight through the heart of Rohan uncontested, wreaking havoc and cutting a broad swath of death and destruction. Her village was not the only one left untouched during the night. Everywhere small towns lay in ruins, abandoned and burning. Miriel turned away seething with a fiery hatred pierced by an excruciating sorrow that throbbed unbearably, painfully, in her. She bent over Kaspir's withers, choked by her unspilled tears and a constricted throat.
At that moment, the baby in her arms began to cry. Miriel clutched at him, glancing nervously behind her as she held him against her chest to still his crying and comfort him with her warmth. The Orcs were far too close for comfort, and poor Kaspir was too exhausted to outrun them in a pinch. Miriel impatiently brushed the tears from her eyes and cheeks. She would have to save her weeping for later; right now she had get the three of them to safety, if there was any safety left anywhere in the burning land.
Miriel looked up and searched the hills for the defense force of Rohirrim that should be riding out to challenge them, but there was none. Her brow furrowed with worry. Surely the news would have reached Edoras by now; the entire army should have emptied long ago. But they were not, and Miriel knew that was a bad sign.
There was nothing to the north, and the eastward way was clear except for the gathering black clouds in the direction of Mordor that seemed to forebode a terrible menace, or a great storm about to burst upon Middle-earth. But to the south, Miriel spotted movement at last. She strained her eyes until she made out a line of refugees slowly threading their way from the city of Edoras, where the King of Rohan dwelt, to the direction of Helm's Deep, a protected fortress nestled in the side of the mountains.
A desperate ray of hope filled Miriel's torn heart. Perhaps, by some miracle, her parents and brothers had managed to make it! Maybe they were walking among the other homeless people even now! It was a long shot, but it was the last thing that Miriel could hold on to. She clutched at the grim hope with both hands.
Miriel whipped Kaspir into a trot, and the tired black horse doggedly trudged across the barren land of the Riddermark. They were unhampered by any difficulties presented by the hosts of Mordor, fortunately, but hunger and thirst were beginning to take its toll on the baby, Miriel, and her horse. By early afternoon she was within sight of her goal, and she urged Kaspir on. Miriel had never been happier to see other folks in her life.
A single rider broke from the group and galloped toward her on a bay horse. Miriel saw a green cloak fluttering out behind him, and a shining silver helm crested by a gray horsetail, and she knew at once that he was one of the King's men. The guard halted not far from her. His fair face became distressed as he beheld her, and he looked upon her with pity.
"Welcome, lady," he soberly addressed her in a quiet voice. "Join our company. You will be well protected among our ranks."
Miriel nodded wordlessly and Kaspir shuffled forward, his proud head hanging low to the ground. The King's rider escorted her. He trotted at her side and asked her a few tactful questions about the night before. Miriel answered in clipped sentences, for her grief was heavy upon her and exhaustion weighed her down. But she felt greatly relieved that she was no longer on her own. She felt less vulnerable, and she was glad to have armed soldiers providing a measure of safety.
The guard confirmed Miriel's guess that the people of Rohan were making for Helm's Deep, and he told her that many refugees from all over the land had arrived the day before and all during the night. At this Miriel woke up and sat straighter on Kaspir's back. When they reached the endless trail of people, Miriel did not rest until she had ridden up and down through everyone, searching the blank, shaken faces for the instantly recognizable ones of her family.
It was then that Miriel first beheld King Theoden, whom she had only known previously through her mother's stories.
He did not notice her staring at him; the King had much on his mind and his advisors were occupying his full attention as they discussed matters of concern even as they rode at the head of the migration. Miriel dared not intrude any further and allowed Kaspir to hang back while she subjected him to her intense scrutiny.
He was not surrounded with any pretentious entourage or pompous ceremony that Miriel might have expected to accompany a King. Contrary to Miriel's colorful expectations, the green-clad King Theoden looked more like a common soldier of Rohan than a King, and she only knew him because of his ornate silver crown and the vague description Miriel carried with her, imparted by her mother. Miriel surmised this incognito procession was due to the emergency status of their exodus and she also saw the wisdom of purposefully failing to advertise who the King was, as he would be the enemy's primary target.
Miriel was naturally curious about the monarch of the Riddermark because of her blood-ties to the palace of Edoras, and she had never before seen him. But he was almost as Miriel had imagined him, with minor differences. His brow was creased deeply with age, though no hint of gray touched his bright golden hair. His eyes were fell and determined. His features were chisled and hard-set, and there was an air of pride about him, and yet there was a softness to his expression that denoted a kind and noble heart. Miriel could not help admiring him, and she could not blame her mother for being honored to serve such a king as he and to have raised his son.
Suddenly a woman dashed up to Miriel and clutched at her leg. Miriel started at the familiar gesture, her intriguing evaluation of King Theoden thus interrupted, and looked down.
"Do you have my baby?" the woman cried, gazing desperately into Miriel's eyes. Her wild glance fell upon the rolled blanket resting quietly on Miriel's lap.
"My baby! My baby!" the mother wailed, reaching for her child. "Is he all right?"
Miriel nodded wordlessly and lifted the bundle to the woman's waiting arms.
The distraught lines of worry vanished miraculously as the woman held her baby, and she gasped with joy when the little one wriggled and gave a thin, weak cry complaining of his hunger and exhaustion. A sudden smile lit her face.
"Oh, my baby!" murmured the mother softly. She was almost in awe as she looked down lovingly and cradled the infant. She turned to Miriel with tears in her eyes.
"Thank you," whispered the woman gratefully, and Miriel nodded again. Tears were brimming in Miriel's eyes and threatening to spill over. Miriel's throat was too tight to speak as she watched the tender parent soothing her child. She couldn't help thinking of her own mother and wondering if her parents were still alive.
Miriel stared as the mother walked away, gently clasping the blanket-covered child. A spot of warmth touched Miriel's broken heart.
That was one baby the Orcs didn't get, Miriel thought fiercely to herself as she turned Kaspir and continued calling to her family members.
It seemed that her village had fared very poorly, and precious few of the inhabitants had escaped to safety. She recognized a small number of folks, less than a score of fellow villagers that she did not know well beyond their faces, but she did not find her brothers.
Miriel was devastated. Resignedly she pulled Kaspir into line and joined the steady migration. Her spirit failed within her. Her mind told her that since they were not here, there was little chance that they had survived the night. But her heart stubbornly refused to give up hope, or to even consider the possibility that they might all be dead, because it was the last thing Miriel had to hold on to. Now and again her searching gaze would stray to the distant horizons.
All afternoon Miriel and Kaspir filed slowly among the other travelers, who were seemingly not weary enough to keep from gossiping. Miriel had nothing to do but sit listlessly on the back of her horse and listen, and she learned many things on that lonely road.
It seemed that four strange visitors had arrived recently in Edoras, and that one of them was a wizard called Gandalf who freed King Theoden from a spell that had rendered him nearly incapable of ruling Rohan. Soon afterwards Gandalf left Edoras in a great hurry, and his departure brought mixed reactions from the townsfolk. Some were glad to see him go, regarding the wizard as a bringer of evil and his coming as a bad omen, while others felt he was watching out for the good of Rohan and defended him verbally. But the latter was the minority.
Another popular topic of conversation, one that Miriel liked less since it struck so close to home, was the invasion of the Orcs. They were not Orcs from Mordor, as Miriel had thought. When Miriel heard the truth, she gasped in shock and clutched at Kaspir's mane to steady herself. The Orcs were marching on orders directly from Isengard!
Miriel's blood turned to ice in her veins as she listened intently to the story. The great wizard Saruman, who had long been their friend and ally, had fallen to evil and had joined forces with the dark lord from Mordor, Sauron. The tower of Orthanc, which Miriel had for so long considered a symbol of safety and security, was now under Sauron's dominion and cast a long, threatening shadow over the lands of Rohan. Rohan and Gondor both were now caught in the middle of two great evils bent on destroying the race of Men.
It was Gandalf who had brought these tidings to the King, for Saruman had been the head of the wizard order and the White Council, and Gandalf knew him well.
Gandalf's three companions remained behind with the refugees and accompanied them to Helm's Deep. People had many opinions about the newcomers. There was a Man, a Dwarf and an Elf all traveling together, and from where they had come and what their purpose was in Rohan seemed shrouded in mystery. But the people had plenty of ideas, and Miriel had trouble separating truth from rumor.
The man was called Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who was a great warrior and a Ranger who had wandered in the lonely wilds for many years. It was whispered that he might even be a great lord, for he seemed to hold a hidden power and he had a stately bearing. The folk were generally in awe of him.
The Dwarf was called Gimli, an outspoken, feisty fellow that amused everyone who had chanced to meet him. The fact that a Dwarf and an Elf were together in the first place raised eyebrows, for everyone knew that there was bad blood between the two races. Elves and Dwarves had long been at war and did not get along, but for some reason, this odd pair did.
No one seemed to know hardly anything about the Elf. The common folk were far more concerned about other affairs to bother much with him, but Miriel felt a shiver of excitement amid her grief. She had been right. The Elves really did exist, and perhaps later on, if her luck held, she might even get to meet one!
His name was Legolas. They said he was as Elven fair as the tales tell, and that he was from the woodland realm of Mirkwood, but beyond that nothing else was certain.
Miriel grew weary of the talk and the endless journey; she remembered thinking once that she could never tire of the beauty of the endless hills of the Riddermark, but she certainly had her fill of them for the time being. Her eyes glazed over as Kaspir plodded steadily beneath her, for her eyelids were heavy with sorrow and lack of rest. Miriel nodded off and slumped over her horse's dark neck, and her aching arms hung limply from either side of her horse while she buried her face deep in the thick mane. She fell into a dead sleep, but she had not been out long when she was rudely interrupted.
"Wargs! Wargs are coming!"
Suddenly a wave of terror rippled down the line of refugees as the cry rang out. Miriel shot upright, but she was groggy and searched the world uncomprehendingly while she spat strands of black horse hair from her mouth. Someone scraped against her leg, yelling something unintelligible. Miriel interpreted the words through a sleep-deprived fog. But the terror was unmistakable, and it jolted Miriel from her stupor. Instantly Miriel snapped wide awake and looked around wildly, her gray eyes wide and frightened. People were running beside her, and screams and shouts rent the air. Kaspir shied violently, snorting, and Miriel struggled to calm him.
"Kaspir, no!" shrieked Miriel, pulling at the reins as the frightened stallion whinnied and tried to bolt.
But Miriel was more horrified than her horse. Wargs were hideous beasts that the Orcs chose to ride upon, and they were just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as their Orc counterparts. Miriel wanted to give Kaspir his head and gallop away, but she stilled the impulse to flee blindly. Common sense told her that safety lay in numbers, even though the long train of women, children, carts and pack animals considerably slowed them.
Miriel could see the King and his company of men riding away from the group, dashing out bravely to meet the enemy head-on with their swords drawn. Miriel's heart was in her throat as she watched them go, for they faced a formidable opponent and she knew it was likely that they would not return.
But Miriel had little time to brood on the fate of the riders. Kaspir was roaring in terror and plunging beneath her and becoming increasingly hard to control. But the lines of people were moving forward, and Kaspir went along with them, for he was too tired to fight back. The King's niece, Princess Eowyn, had taken command in the King's absence and was shouting orders. Miriel found Lady Eowyn's strong voice a calming influence in the midst of her panic.
As she and Kaspir rushed toward Helm's Deep with strangers from every part of Rohan, she could hear the terrible sounds of the battle not far behind them. The snarling of the Wargs, the roaring of the Orcs, and the harsh ring of metal clashed with the desperate shouts of the defenders. The awful noise faded into the distance as they fled.
Miriel wondered if she would ever see those King's guards again, and she was worried that no one, soldier or ordinary citizen, would survive very long with such an enemy as Saruman relentlessly pursuing them, for it seemed as if the evil wizard's one goal was to wipe humanity off the face of Middle-earth forever.
All afternoon they ran hard and swift until Miriel thought she would die from the severe hunger, parching thirst and overwhelming exhaustion. She concentrated all her strength on remaining seated firmly on Kaspir's back. By the time the great fortress of Helm's Deep came into sight at last, Miriel had nearly fainted.
The people burst into the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, which lay protected by the fortress at Helm's Deep, and flung themselves to the floor. Other refugees had made it ahead of them, and Miriel perked up long enough to once again search among the crowds seeking her brothers and her parents. But they were nowhere to be found, and after going through the throngs a second time to be certain she had not missed them, Miriel's heart sank deep into darkness. Finally she gave up in despair and sat down.
After a time some of the King's men returned. The attack had greatly reduced the number of surviving warriors. One of the fallen was the visitor Aragorn. Great lord and renowned fighter though he was, it had not been enough to save him from plunging over a cliff and into a deep river, were he was swept away by the swift current. The Lady Eowyn was especially distraught, although she bravely held her head high as she roved among the common folk helping where she could.
But Miriel felt strangely removed from the concerns of anyone else, even the loss of Aragorn. Miriel had plenty of her own sorrows to occupy her mind. She stabled Kaspir and made sure the weary horse had plenty to eat and drink before she left him. Then she stumbled down the dimly lit passages of the caves and numbly threw herself down in a dark corner. The last of her strength ebbed away.
Miriel did not move as the afternoon slipped away under evening shadows. She did not eat or drink anything, and sleep would not come to her. She lay listlessly on the hard ground, staring unseeing at the gray rock walls. Slow, silent tears fell from her empty eyes and splashed upon her pale cheeks. Miriel kept seeing Alastar teasing her while they were happily swordfighting, and his gay laughter echoed with a hollow ring in her mind. It seemed as if that moment was but a distant memory from years long past and buried by sorrow.
Her brothers, her mother, her father, her friends and neighbors - every person she loved dearly in this world was gone. Her village was pillaged and burned to the ground. She was homeless and an orphan. After her ordeal at Helm's Deep was over, she would have nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help.
Miriel's hope faded. Her will to live was dying away. She felt darkness creeping upon her and did not have the strength to resist, and she did not care.
Miriel did not care even when Aragorn came riding in, bent over the neck of his horse, still somehow miraculously alive and bringing news to the King. She took no notice when the announcement was given that a huge army of Orcs was marching toward Helm's Deep and would be arriving by nightfall. She hardly stirred as the panic-stricken refugees rushed in and filled the caves for protection during the battle. She did not start in terror when people whispered together in fear and said they would neither win the fight, nor live to see the light of day.
A voice broke into the dark shroud of Miriel's mind.
"Have you eaten anything?"
Miriel turned and looked at the fair lady with long golden tresses bending over her. Despite her drab brown attire, Miriel instantly recognized her as the Princess Eowyn. Miriel knew this because Eowyn had been pointed out to her earlier, but even without the benefit of knowing thanks to the insight of a native peasant of Edoras who dwelt near Meduseld, Princess Eowyn had the same carved, proud features of her uncle. Miriel sensed a cold hardness around her that set her apart from the other women. Eowyn was high-hearted and beautiful, but somehow Miriel knew that this princess was filled with the same bravery and reckless courage as a number of the mensoldiers. Judging by the confident way she handled herself and the graceful strength that suffused her movements, Miriel easily guessed that Eowyn had the skills of a warrior to back up her outward appearance and her bold spirit.
Miriel tried to answer, but no words came to her dry throat, so she simply shook her head.
"You must keep up your strength," Eowyn told her with firm gentleness. She gave Miriel part of a hard loaf of bread and made her drink some water from a skin. Miriel took a few painful swallows and felt somewhat revived. Miriel was grateful for Eowyn's care, but no food or drink could mend Miriel's broken heart.
Eowyn noticed the deep Orc-scratches on Miriel's calf and gently dressed it with what meager supplies she had. Then Eowyn stayed by and ordered Miriel to take a few mouthfuls of bread and a little more water. Miriel reluctantly obeyed and found her spirits returning.
"Thank you," Miriel croaked.
Eowyn bravely gave Miriel a tight smile as she moved away.
Hours passed and darkness fell. Miriel remained where she was as the tension grew. Death meant nothing to her, except to nearly become a welcome friend, for taking that mist-shrouded path was the only way she could see her beloved family again. Miriel sat alone, silent and despondent. All the fight had gone out of her. It was as if she were almost content to quietly accept her inevitable fate.
There are some cliffhanger chapters coming up, and if you don't want to wait for me to get around to posting it all, then go to www.talesofmiddleearth.com and download the free ebook: Miriel: Princess of Rohan.
ANSWERS TO REVIEWERS: My deepest thanks and appreciation for all of you who have taken the time to post such kind reviews! I am delighted that you all like this story so much. For those of you who are planning on waiting to download the book, I warn you: There are thirty chapters, and you'll miss the really cool cover that belongs with this tale! :-) Again, my thanks, and I hope you enjoy the rest more than these first three chapters. It gets better and better as time goes on. Tuima:
My deepest thanks and appreciation for all of you who have taken the time to post such kind reviews! I am delighted that you all like this story so much. For those of you who are planning on waiting to download the book, I warn you: There are thirty chapters, and you'll miss the really cool cover that belongs with this tale! :-) Again, my thanks, and I hope you enjoy the rest more than these first three chapters. It gets better and better as time goes on.
Tuima:Thank you for being my first reviewer and posting TWICE! I hope you enjoy the rest more than you like the first part. When we meet up with the four members of the Fellowship, more than arrows will fly.
Glorwen: Thank you! I apologize in advance for being slow about posting it, because I know I am. I'm in the middle of writing twenty books in a separate series similar to LOTR which should be available on my website soon.
LadyLongCleeve: Thank you for TWO reviews! I like this story too. You guys at TolkienOnline are amazing; you all have a marvelous sense of the dramatic and suspense. But I fear that as we dig deeper, it gets much worse, and you may not be able to resist the offer of a PDF then! ;-)
GoldRider: I love your screen name. Don't fall off the edge of your seat! Wow, don't cry. If you almost cried in this chapter, wait til you see what's coming up...
Geek_Chick: The funny thing is, I never considered that before. It was just second nature to write in that Kaspir knocked down a few villagers in his crazed plunging. It is nice of Hollywood not to portray these sorts of things on a regular basis and that stampedes are always fairly clean and with minimal loss of "extra" lives. :-) Interesting that you described being "caught up" in this tale, because I was quite caught up in it myself as I wrote. It was like a movie to me, and my job was to capture it and give it tangible form outside my imagination. It's a delight to share it.