Return of the King: Kyshri's Story - The quest to destroy the One Ring told through the eyes of a runaway Elf (part seven of thirteen)
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[Elvish thought or telepathy]
Recap of Tale 6 . . .
I shrank away from them instinctively even though there was a fair distance in height between us and Turkal put his arm around my shoulders, not quite tucking me beneath him protectively. It was not that he and I were particularly close--really, we were just vague acquaintances through Aramel, whom I had come to know only because our mothers were friends--it was more that while all Elves had an inborn hatred and/or fear of Orcs, males were specifically groomed to be fiercely defensive of any Elven female.
Such guarding behavior was second-nature to them and quite an unconscious gesture on their part, so I did not scold Turkal for his conduct. To be honest, I saw it as a comforting sort of gesture. It reassured me that not only had I indeed saved Turkal from imminent Orc-dom, but that he was actually healing just as I had told him he would. Displaying such a clear sign of being an Elf and not an Orc surely meant that he would be all right.
Anyway, as the Orcs searched along the ground for us, larger Orcs--perhaps Uruk-hai, I was not paying much attention--appeared and drove the group into their columns again, beating them to make them move on once more.
Turkal growled quietly after them as they departed. [Pieces of filth . . .]
[Come on, Turkal, we have to keep going,] I prompted. [The Isenmouthe is to the north and northwest of us--we must make it to the Morannon as quickly as possible before hordes of the beasts come rushing back and spot us.]
From there I once more lost track of the days. We skirted to the west of the Isenmouthe, passing between it and Durthang, and kept as close as we could to the crags surrounding Udun.
[Wait, wait.] Turkal lifted his head cautiously and peered around. [I think . . . Yes, I think we can reach Dagorlad from here if we continue straight along this path and come off the mountains.]
[Are you sure?]
[Are you not?]
I shook my head. [The clouds block the stars always--I am quite disoriented.]
[Well you knew which way we had to go before.]
[I have little instinct for simple directions. I can navigate with either stars or, if no stars are to be had, by landmarks. Orodruin and Udun are landmarks, but the miniscule peaks that surround us are not. I would likely become lost if I left Udun's border, however dangerous it is to stay near this foul pit. Yet if you are confident, I will follow you.]
He nodded firmly in answer. [I am more than confident, Kyshri. Allow me to make myself useful for a time.]
So I dropped back for once and let him lead me due north away from Udun. Some time--days? weeks?--later, we came at last to the very edge of the mountains. Dagorlad spread before us and despite how empty the paths leading by were, we did not dare cross without first assessing the surroundings for possible hiding places or points of attack.
After an hour of this, we decided to cross at night. While most of the sky was still blocked by volcanic clouds, we could see in the distance the bright azure of a cloudless day. Curling up among the rock pillars in a small depression, we drifted into the lightest of sleeps for about four hours. Then a distant troll's roar woke us and we set out immediately.
Half way across we were spotted by some incoming Orcs. We bolted and they gave chase; Turkal's left thigh was sliced deeply by an arrow, but I had no idea until we quit running some hours later at the edge of the Dead Marshes and I took note of the huge patch of blood-soaked fabric on his pants.
[It is not poisoned and is of no importance,] he assured me, though he was quite obviously in a great deal of pain, as he looked behind us. [Go on into the marshes. They will not follow us beyond its border.]
I balked. [Into the Dead Marshes? But . . .]
[We have no choice!] he hissed. [Go!]
I entered the marshes obediently but reluctantly and almost instantly my skin began to prickle uncomfortably. I stopped and remained where I stood until Turkal gave me a gentle nudge as he passed me.
[Let us not stay here any longer than we must.]
That sentiment spurred me on and we made our way through the marshes at a jog, our instinctive sure-footedness and general light weight kept either of us from slipping into the stagnant water.
Running behind Turkal, though, my eyes remained locked on his wound as the healer in me winced with each step he took, however unflinchingly. Eventually, I was sure, I would go mad if we went even just one more step with his leg in such a condition and stopped.
He stopped as well and turned to me. [What?]
[I am about to tear my hair from my head if you do not let me at least bind that wound!]
He looked down at his left leg, which was now almost twice as blood-soaked as before, and shrugged. [If you must.]
I narrowed my eyes as I approached him. Males were so blasted superior about a wound that it made me ill. [Sit over there so I can work.]
He obeyed and I knelt by his injured leg, examining the injury as best I could through the gloom and masses of dried blood. [What are you looking for?]
[Traces of your brain,] I snapped automatically. [I think it drained out of here when you were first shot.]
He blinked. [. . . Why?]
[Because your insistence on running like this could have done a great deal of damage to the muscles in your leg!]
I put my hand over the wound and closed my eyes, searching for the well of power I had tried to access to save Haldir. It had been empty that time because of the energy required to call the Element Keepers and now it was only a quarter full. I was unsure why it was so void, as even considering all I had been through in Barad-dur it should not have been enough to drain it so much.
For the sake of Turkal's leg I used all of the strength left in that well. Even so it was not enough to completely heal the wound, but it was enough that I felt quite all right with wrapping the gash and letting him run again.
[We should stay here and rest,] Turkal decided. [That thicket should provide decent cover from aerial searches.]
Agreeing absently, I crawled beneath the scraggly brush and stared blankly at the ground. It was then that I noticed that the dry grasses had been bent and twisted as though someone had scrambled in or out from under there in a big hurry. I was curious as to what it could have been, because nothing on foot enters the boundaries of the Dead Marshes if it can be helped.
[. . . Kyshri . . .]
I looked out from the brush at Turkal, who was staring down at the earth. He stooped to pick something up and carefully straightened it. My eyes went wide as he held it out toward me.
A mallorn leaf.
[What is this doing here?] Turkal asked. [I know these leaves are able to catch the lightest of breezes, but this is ridiculous.]
[No, it is not,] I contradicted. [Bring it here.]
He did so, scooting into the thicket with me. [So?]
I examined it, folded it faintly to match the creases already there, then sniffed the inside. [See these? They are binding marks to tie the leaf closed. And the inside smells like lembas. It is a weak scent--maybe seven or eight days old, but it is there all the same.]
[You mean Elves have been this way?]
[No no. You know our kind would never discard these leaves just anywhere. I think . . . I think this belonged to the Ringbearer.]
[The Ringbearer? Why would he come through here?]
[To get to the Morannon, of course. He must be inside Mordor already.]
With that equally comforting and disconcerting thought to consider now, for anything could happen to Frodo and Sam on this final--and most important--leg of their journey, I drifted to sleep holding the leaf in my hands. My dreams were filled with images of Frodo and Sam staggering through Emyn Muil and then sitting by the thicket eating the last of the lembas the leaf held.
A large blank space came after that and abruptly changed to an image of the two hobbits trapped in a well-lit cave, bound and watched by a single guard. I did not recognize the guard's attire, but when a young man entered who looked rather like Boromir, I caught sight of the White Tree of Gondor on his leather breastplate. This was not particularly reassuring, but at least I had some idea of where Frodo and Sam were now. I resolved to catch up to them once I had seen Turkal safely in the direction of Lorien beyond the marshes.
Turkal woke me some time later and we continued on our way. I could now plainly see the tracks of Frodo and Sam and another seemingly hobbit-like being who was, apparently, accompanying them. Gollum crossed my mind momentarily, but I shook my head. It was unlikely that the creature, who had eyes only for the One Ring, would bother to aid Frodo and Sam in their quest. He had probably been following them and waiting for a time in which he could snatch the Ring back and run with it to a place where he could stroke and mutter to it in peace.
Worse yet, if Gollum was indeed following them as closely as I feared then it was very possible that the Ring could be lost to him at any time. I had never seen the little beast in my dreams, but I could hear his softly hissing breaths in the back of my mind always, murmuring about his precious and cursing the hobbits for not allowing him to see it.
Unfortunately, musing about Frodo and Sam's whereabouts could not keep my attention long enough to get me out of the Dead Marshes without mishap. It was a faint knowledge in a distant corner of my awareness, I suppose, that told me I was not going to leave the marshes unscathed.
Indeed, I was musing so deeply to myself that I missed the slight turn Turkal made ahead of me and plowed on, coming to a stop only when my mind registered that I was running out of solid pathway. I let out a startled cry and stared down at what appeared to be depthless water. Its murkiness was disgusting and for a time I stood and stared into it blankly.
The smell of decay was particularly overwhelming here and I reeled, gagging and retching even though there was nothing in my stomach worth returning. I took a few staggering steps backward and my heel caught on a tuft of grass, sending me into one of the marsh pools.
Water tasting distinctly the way blood and rotting flesh smelled rushed into my nose and mouth and collected in my lungs. I was bombarded with images from the end of the Second Age--Elves and Men battling hordes of Orcs and goblins, all viciously slaying and being slain, and the terrifying visage of Sauron at the height of his power--and would have screamed if I had been that sort of person.
Instead I began flailing, trying to find the surface in my disorientation. It was then that I came face-to-face with a long-dead Elf clad in the armor style used in the Second Age, his body bloated from millennia in the putrid waters of the marsh. His white eyes were wide and unseeing, turning my blood to ice.
I really did scream then, with all the air I had left. I thrashed wildly, throwing myself onto solid ground like a crazed fish, gasping and choking and coughing out the marsh water as I clawed my way farther onto the safety of dry earth.
Hands pulled at my waist and Turkal shouted at me. When I had exhausted the burst of strength granted me by my panic I shivered, though from the cold of the surrounding air or what I had seen I did not know. My teeth chattered and though I was constantly licking and spitting, the foul taste of the water would not leave my mouth even a bit.
Turkal dropped beside me. [By the Valar, Kyshri . . .]
I struggled to my feet. [We have to keep moving.]
[What? It is nearly night, we have already been running for three days, and you are soaked! We would do better to rest.]
I whirled on him. [I refuse to be in this squalid place any longer! If you wish to stay here, you may, but I will not sit around! Besides, I will be far warmer if I am moving.]
He sighed and rose, observing me thoughtfully. [Very well. Let us move on, in that case.]
Another two hours saw us at the edge of the marshes. Despite myself, I came to a slow stop and turned to look back, watching faint globes of brightness float back and forth in the mists hovering over the expanse of fen. A shudder of revulsion and fear shot down my spine.
[Kyshri, come along.]
I turned and followed Turkal in the direction of Lorien. A short time later we came upon a camp. Turkal stopped abruptly and I barely had time to do the same without colliding with him.
[. . . You go ahead,] Turkal instructed, voice soft and unsure.
I examined the set-up of the camp--it was Elven--and sighed. [As you wish.] I stepped forward and opened my mouth to speak to those around the fire when a resounding hoot came from above and to my left. I yelped and whirled, meeting the beak of a greater owl. [. . . Pikmon?]
One of the Elves at the fire rose. [Kyshri?]
I turned, relieved. [Rumil!] He rushed forward, but I held up my hand. [Wait. Come no closer. I reek of the Dead Marshes.]
He gawked as the other Elves approached. [You . . . were in there?!]
[It was the only way. We were being chased by Orcs.]
I nodded. [I found Turkal in Barad-dur, but . . . he has been tortured and is not as he was.]
Rumil nodded in reply. [Lady Galadriel told Aramel so. She said he would be all right if he returned to Lothlorien and rested.]
I sighed. [Oh, good . . .]
I stretched my arm out and caught Aramel's wrist, her momentum swinging her around to face me. [Aramel, he is . . . different.]
[I care not!] she cried. [He is my husband! Release me at once!]