By the time Eodred and the two brothers came to the fords, Eadil was already halfway across, leading her white mount and splashing recklessly. Eodred dismounted, dropping Aful’s reins and charging in after her. He was vaguely aware of Avar shadowing him.
By the time he reached midstream, the water was tugging at his thighs and he had slowed, but Eadil had just scrambled up the opposite bank. “Wait!” he called out, over the current. “Eadil!” She didn’t turn.
Suddenly Anormene, standing on the bank behind him, half-yelled, half-screamed. Eodred whirled as best he could. The Elf was pointing across the river, a look of fear mixed with hatred on his face. Eodred stared in shock for a moment. An instand later Anormene’s bow was in his hand, and arrow nocked. “Eadil–yrch!” he called, and the arrow whirrred. Eodred looked back in time to see an orc fall with a splash into the river. The opposite bank was swarming with them now, too many to count. Eadil was backed up against a tree, her bow raised, an arrow to the string.
Why doesn’t she shoot? he thought desperately. Then he realized she already had spent all the arrows in her quiver, and almost a dozen orcs were down. The arrow in her hand was her last.
There was another whir as one of Anormene’s arrows found its mark. The orcs hissed and gabbled ot each other in some harsh tongue. There was a thick circle of them about Eadil, each unwilling ot be the one to fall to her arrow, but she was hemmed in against the tree. Others were clustering along the riverbank. Some raised bows.
The first arrows skipped into the water around him, sending sprays of river water upward. Eodred hastily unslung his shield, glad that he had not left it hanging on Aful’s saddle. Avar was sheltering behind him, his bow singing as arrow after arrow sped away. The orcs on the riverbank howled in anger. More arrows flew in answer, skipping about the Man and Elf stranded in the river. One hit Eodred’s shield with a thunk and stuck there, quivering. A few bolder orcs leapt down into the shallow water, brandishing short, curved blades and knives. Avar brought two down and Eodred drew his sword, eyeing the remaining three.
Before they reached him Anormene called out again and there was a roar from the woods. Amidst the milling confusion of orcs a dozen taller figures stood. Uruk-hai, Eodred thought in fear. Avar sent a shaft winging toward them, but one took it on his broad, heavy shield. The uruk next to him roared some command, and the three orcs in the river leapt towards Eodred.
He ducked under one wild slash, hacking down on the crudely fashioned helm as the orc went squealing underwater. A cut from the second he caught on his blade, but the third crashed headlong into his shield before he could recover.
The water closed over his head. It was an icy shock, and murky besides. The orc was on top of him, but he couldn’t drop sword or shield to grapple with it. The shield was slow and unwieldy underwater, pinning his left arm, but he managed to maneuver his sword around and stab upwards. The orc suddenly let go. Somehow his feet hit bottom and he managed to right himself, shaking his head as he emerged, instinctively raising his shield against arrows.
Avar grabbed him and jerked him fully upright. The Elf’s blade was black from the third orc, but he didn’t waste time cleaning it, only shoved it into his belt and loosed another arrow at one of the uruks. This time one of them fell.
Eodred dashed recklessly toward the opposite bank as best he could, weighted down by the water streaming off his armor. The circle around Eadil was tightening, and–emboldened by the presence of the uruk-hai–one orc dashed forward. He fell with Eadil’s arrow in his throat, but the others charged in, one after the other. Eodred yelled as Eadil was cut off from his sight by the swarming creatures. Behind him the bows of the brothers sang furiously, but the orcs did not retreat. I have to reach her!
“Eadil!” Eodred called, surging free of the river at last. “Eadil!” He slashed wildly at the orcs before him, again and again, knowing it was hopeless, not caring. They were raining blows upon shield and sword but he pressed through them, hacking, hacking, somehow moving forward, somehow unhurt. “Eadil!”
Dead silence. The orcs backed away, puzzled. He stopped.
The orcs, silent now, shied away from the woods to his left, oblivious of him, who had been Death, offered and dealt. He turned as one with them. “Eadil?” he whispered, wondering. In one long, clear blast, the forest answered.
Hoom! The cry echoed through the trees. Hoom!
Five tall figures, more than thrice his height, moved slowly but deliberately toward them.