Chapter 6: Decisions
Recap: Ariya lived in Ridden for five years as a potter. After the fifth year, a neighboring people group known as the Northern Tribes invaded Ridden and the city’s residents fled to a nearby forest. Lein was killed during the invasion.
It was nighttime. As other refugees started small fires and cooked what little food they could find, Ariya went about the forest campsite tending to the injured. She was by no means an expert healer, but there were many wounded, and she could at least tend to the less severe injuries. She went about her duties still in shock from Lein’s death, barely realizing what she was doing.
“Ariya.” She looked up from the child whose wounded leg she was bandaging to see Duran standing nearby. “King Renya is going to hold a council for all who can come, to decide what course of action we should take. You should join us.”
Ariya nodded, and silently followed Duran to a clearing in the woods where many refugees were gathered. Most were men, but there were some women there as well. Many were talking quietly, a few were crying, and a few were nervously laughing, trying to hide their pain. All were anxious to hear what would become of them now they had lost their homes.
Ariya quietly sat down toward the back of the crowd and watched Duran walk up to King Renya, who was standing in front of the people. A few torches lit the king’s face, but the rest of the crowd was illuminated only by the full moon’s light. Denya, the king’s only child, stood next to his father. Denya was about twenty years old, and the fire in his eyes revealed his anger at the Northern Tribes.
Finally the king began to speak, and as Ariya listened to him, she felt herself slowly return to the world around her. Her senses became more acute, and soon she could hear the murmurings of people seated nearby. She heard the king say that he thought the refugees should travel to the city-kingdom of Dunneth. He knew the king of Dunneth and was confident that he would welcome the Ridden refugees. Renya also explained that he had sent negotiators after the Northern Tribes’ attack on Eomas, but the tribesmen refused to listen. Thus he felt that they would not negotiate now and that retreating to Dunneth would be the best course of action. The king then asked for any suggestions or questions from the crowd.
Ariya listened to the conversations about her intently. Nearly everyone was in favor of traveling to Dunneth. She could not believe how naïve the people were. She knew that they would be no safer in Dunneth than in Ridden, yet no one spoke against traveling to Dunneth. She began to see images of the Northern Tribes raiding city after city, and she could almost hear the cries of the people and smell the smoke as their homes burned to the ground. Finally, she rose, and in a loud voice she said, “My king, may I be permitted to speak?”
“Of course,” King Renya replied. Still slightly unsure of what course of action to take, he wanted to hear everyone’s opinion.
Ariya waited a moment for the crowd to quiet. Taking care to keep her emotions hidden, she spoke:
“My king, people of Ridden: I understand your desire to retreat to the safety of another city. But what makes you think that we will be any safer in Dunneth than in Ridden? Since the Northern Tribes refuse to negotiate, they have no reason to stop their attacks; indeed, they will continue to attack the nearby cities until they are either defeated or occupy all the land north of the East Road. It will not be long before they arrive at Dunneth, and I fear that the walls of Dunneth will prove no stronger than our own.”
The murmur in the crowd grew louder, and one man shouted, “What would you have us do, fight the Northern Tribes? We could not defeat them within the walls of our own city; we will certainly not be able to defeat them now!”
“If we do not fight, they will not halt their advances!” Ariya replied hotly. “I realize that we can not defeat them alone,” she continued, quickly calming. “I suggest that we ask the other city-kingdoms to form an alliance with us; together we may be able to defeat the tribes.”
“Why would the other cities want to ally themselves with us?” someone asked.
“We will be fighting to win back our homes; they will be fighting to keep theirs,” Ariya replied.
That declaration caused the crowd to become even louder. The king tried to quiet them, but to no avail. Finally one woman yelled out, “How can you say we will fight for our homes? Ridden was not your home! We have lost nearly everything, and we will not sacrifice the family we have left!”
Ariya struggled in vain to keep her composure. “I have lost just as much as you have,” she proclaimed. “No, I have not lived here my entire life, but I still consider Ridden my home. Today I lost my only brother; the brother I did not know existed until six years ago; the brother whom I had hoped to spend the rest of my life getting to know.”
With that statement the crowd finally quieted a little. Ariya sat down and put her head in her hands, trying to hide the tears that were flowing down her face. She had tried to be strong for the people for she truly did care for them. Even though it would bring more death, she knew that fighting was the only thing that could stop the Northern Tribes from attacking them and the other cities. Why could the people not see it?
Ariya did not see the king and Duran whispering to each other. Finally, the king spoke: “Ariya Alayah is correct. We could retreat to Dunneth, but it would not be long until the Northern Tribes attacked us there. The women, children, and injured shall leave for Dunneth tomorrow, but all those willing to fight will remain here. Tomorrow morning I will send out messengers to the other city-kingdoms. If we ban together, we may be able to stop the Northern Tribes before they invade another city.”
Ariya looked up in surprise, wiping the tears from her face. Had she just convinced the king to go to war? Glancing around the crowd, she saw that some were obviously opposed to going to battle, but others seemed excited to fight for their homes. She hoped that the kings of the other cities would agree to help them; if they did not, then Ridden would be fighting in vain.
The next morning the refugees prepared what little food they had for breakfast. Fortunately it was summertime, and they could always hunt or gather berries and fruit for future meals. Everyone then began to say their goodbyes: husbands and wives, parents and children were separated as those able to fight remained and the others left for Dunneth. It was a slow process, and after Ariya said her farewells to a few women she knew, she retreated to the edge of the crowd and watched.
As the women, children, and injured finally began to leave, Duran noticed Ariya standing alone away from the crowd, leaning against a tree. He walked up to her but she ignored him, staring intently ahead.
“You have no intention of leaving with the refugees.” It was a statement, not a question, for Duran could read the thoughts in her eyes.
“No,” she replied, finally turning and looking at him. “I can fight as well as any man here; indeed, there are very few bowmen and we will be needed in battle. Besides, I am already dressed for it,” she said with a weak smile. She was still wearing the pants and tunic she wore for her morning training exercises, and was armed with her bow, sword, and knife.
Duran could see that he could not stop her from fighting, and he admitted to himself that he did not want to. He had seen her practice with Lein and knew that she was very skilled with her weapons. While she had little experience in actual battle, the other people of Ridden had no more. He also sensed that her desire to take action was a way of dealing with the grief of her brother’s death. He worried for her, for he had his brother to turn to in his grief, but it seemed as if Ariya would turn to no one. Suddenly, he had an idea:
“Ariya,” said he, “I have seen your skills with the bow and I agree that they are much needed. If our numbers remain small, we will not be able to fight the tribesmen hand-to-hand; archers will be necessary. It will be a few days before we can gather our allies and attack. Would you like to begin training some of the men with the bow until then?”
With that statement, Duran saw a light in her eyes that he had not seen since the invasion. “Yes,” she replied. “I would be honored.”
“I shall ask the king then,” Duran replied and walked away.
Ariya sat down and pondered this new turn of events. She was relieved that Duran had not made her leave with the refugees, and was very surprised at his offer to train the other men. She wondered whether the king would agree to his suggestion; while Renya did not know her well, she knew that the king trusted Duran as if he were his own son.
Duran soon returned and told her that the king had agreed. Ariya quickly stood up, and Duran added, “However, the king will not assign any man to train under you. We will spread the word that you are willing to teach the skills of the bow, and you may train any man who comes to you voluntarily.” Ariya recognized that as a wise choice on the part of the king–or was it Duran’s idea?–for it would avoid the conflicts caused by men who refused to take orders from a woman.
By the end of the day, five men had approached Ariya asking to be trained with the bow. The next morning they began training as soon as the sun was up, and she made them practice until their arms were so sore they could barely lift an arrow. They also took a few short breaks to practice knife-fighting, since few of the men owned a sword.
Over the next several days, kings from three other city-kingdoms began to send men and supplies to Ridden’s aid. Ariya’s predictions were correct, and many men of Ridden were amazed at the support the other cities provided. The refugees from Eomas also heard the news of the resistance Ridden was forming and soon joined them. By the end of the week, there were hundreds of men camped out in the forest, and Ariya’s troop of archers had grown to twenty. A second group of archers a little larger than her own was formed and led by a man named Kalen from Dunneth. Some of the men in the camp already had some basic skills with the bow and joined one of the archery troops; however, few of the others felt that they could learn those skills in such a short time. Thus, many of those not training with the archers practiced fighting with knives or swords, while others spent their days gathering food or making weapons. Ariya and Duran hardly saw each other during this time, and each wondered how the other was fairing.
Finally, King Renya, who was leading the resistance, called his newly appointed captains to a meeting. Ariya was one of them, having been chosen to lead her band of archers into battle when the time came. They gathered around a fire while the king spoke:
“We will attack the Northern Tribes at Ridden tomorrow at dawn. I fear that they have already heard news of our gathering, and if we are to make the first strike we must do it soon. We will march straight to the city and attack quickly before the Northern Tribes have time to react. We can enter through the eastern wall that was demolished during the invasion.”
As the king continued to describe the battle plan, Ariya began to grow very uneasy. She knew they would be defeated, and recognized the feeling as her elven foresight. Her foresight had never failed her before, and she could not let the resistance fail in the first battle.
“My lord,” she said after the king finished describing the plan. “I am afraid that plan will not work.” The other captains stared at her, shocked that she would speak against the king. She could especially feel the hatred in Denya’s eyes. Who is this woman who dares to oppose my father? she read in his thoughts.
King Renya was taken aback. “Why do you think we will fail?” he asked calmly but sternly.
“We simply do not have enough skilled men and weapons to successfully carry out a full-scale march. We will need to have an element of surprise if we are to succeed. If we march straight toward the city, they will see us across the plains and will be prepared to meet us in battle when we arrive at the city walls. In addition,” she said, glancing around the circle and meeting the eyes of several captains, “I have foreseen that such an attack will fail. My elven foresight has never failed me in the past, and I know it will not fail me–or us–now.”
That created quite a stir among the captains. Several tried to speak at once, but the king quickly silenced them. “What do you propose we do instead? After all, you were the one who insisted that we fight,” Renya said. Ariya could feel the challenge in his voice.
She took a deep breath and began. “There is a forest on the south side of Ridden, uphill of the city and very near the walls,” she said for the benefit of the men who had not lived in Ridden. The camp was located on the opposite side, north of Ridden. Between the forest camp and the city were low plains, which wrapped around the city to the eastern side. To the west and south of Ridden were low hills and forests. “We should send men to the forest tonight; they will have plenty of time to walk far around the city, unnoticed by the tribesmen if they are careful, and hide in the forest. The rest of the men can march on Ridden from the east as you suggested, my king. When the Northern Tribes try to stop the march, the men hidden in the trees can attack from behind. Even if the tribesmen attempt to take the forest, our men would have already secured their position and will be more able to defend themselves. The Northern Tribes will be hard-pressed to defend two fronts.”
The king and Duran exchanged a few whispered words. Ariya waited in anticipation for the king to speak, hoping he would take her advice and fearing what would happen if he did not. Finally, he said, “We shall try your plan, Ariya Alayah.” She breathed a sigh of relief as he added, “Both bands of archers shall travel to the forest tonight. When the attack begins tomorrow, the archers will be able to fire down into the city and drive the tribesman toward the men to the east. I will also send some other soldiers with the archers, and they can run into the city and attack from the south.” Looking at Ariya and Kalen, he added, “It is imperative that you not be discovered. If you must, stay farther from the city and move into range as the attack begins. If the tribesmen are already focused on attacking the rest of us, few should come to fight your men.”
As the king continued to explain the details of the new battle plan, Ariya felt more confident that the plan would work. She was glad that Renya decided to send the archers to the forest; an unanticipated barrage of arrows could certainly help change the course of the battle. She watched the other men’s reaction to the king’s decision–most seemed to agree with the new battle plans, but the entire time she could feel the glaring eyes of Denya upon her.
When Ariya stood up to leave after the meeting, Duran caught her eye. He said nothing, but the look in his eye told her that he was both proud of her and was concerned for her safety as she prepared to go into battle. She suddenly realized that he cared for her as much as Lein did, and fighting back a tear she quickly turned and left with Kalen to gather their men.
List of Names and Places through Chapter 6
- 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.
- Cul-Rômen: “Golden-Red Sunrise”; the name of Ariya’s sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran’s brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya’s only son; heir to the 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.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lómion: “Descendant of Dark”; maker of Ambilë’s ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: “Kind Maiden”; Ariya’s elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Peramac “Perry” Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.