Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone – Chapter 5 – Angmar
They reached the foothills on the other side of the mountains near dark. The passage over had been accomplished without incident, and without much conversation. Jaessa was unused to traveling with others, and so was unsure if this was usual, or if she should feel awkward.
It certainly had been awkward at first, as both Haldir and Gimli had been overly solicitous, seeming unable to accept the fact that she could step over rocks and roots all by herself. And the pace they had tried to insist they take! It was ridiculous. After the third rest that they insisted on, she just leaped up and took the lead herself, leaving them to follow her.
She was having enough trouble with Legolas without his blaming her for their slow pace. And in truth it chaffed. After all, Jaessa was known for her woodcraft, at least back home. She acknowledged of course that Haldir and Gimli, and even Legolas could not know this, but it was aggravating. She was tempted to “disappear” for a moment, and let them try to track her, but that would take up too much time merely to make a point. She’d just have to wait until they figured things out.
She gave a little sigh of resignation, which caused Haldir to rush to her side.
“Shall we stop for the night?” he asked in concern.
Jaessa just stopped herself from rolling her eyes. Hopefully they’d figure it out soon.
“No thank you,” she said gently, not wishing to insult his kind intentions. “I think we should travel a bit more, then we can reach those hills tomorrow morning. I would wish to spend as little time as possible on the plain beyond them.” She was not looking forward to that part of their journey. They were far too visible, and she was too unfamiliar with the possible dangers of this world.
She turned to continue on, but was stopped by Legolas’s voice.
“Actually, I think we should stop here, where there is still shelter, and plan our further course of action. We’ll be able to see the lay of the land better, during the day.”
Jaessa protested this, fighting to keep her voice calm and reasonable, and not betray her nervousness over traveling in an area so devoid of cover. “We saw the plain from the mountainside, there is virtually no cover. And I can sense what lays out there better than any sight. If we travel as far as possible tonight, then we need only spend one night out there.”
“Perhaps, but,” he paused, “it is not the plain that worries me.”
“Not the plain, but those who might see us on the plain.” Jaessa said, as this was what she had meant.
“That,” he said slowly, “And the smoke that is rising from the mountains of Angmar.”
Jaessa was confused, but fought not to show it. Smoke was a sign of habitation, and she had told him that there were people over there. This was his world he should know that there were people over there.
“Smoke itself doesn’t usually hurt you,” she said, “So obviously it is more than smoke that is scaring you.”
“Not scaring, but worrying. There shouldn’t be any smoke there. Angmar was destroyed.”
There was a strange reluctance in his voice, as if this were a . . . painful topic. Why would that be? “Obvious . . .” she stopped, and looked into his eyes, and stopped. He wanted to stop for the night so they could discuss this, better they set up for the night to discuss it than they stand around accomplishing little. “I’ll gather some wood for a fire, do you three see about food.”
Legolas was very thankful for her reticence, she was very stubborn for all her gentle demeanor. In truth, her giving in on this point surprised him, she seemed very determined to continue that night. Probably it was more to prove her endurance. Legolas had been very amused by the antics of the normally arrogant Haldir, and the gruff Gimli. He couldn’t really blame Jaessa, she was no doubt as seasoned a traveler as any of them, or more, from what he had seen of Zandra. Jaessa could probably walk them all into the ground. It was strange that she let them coddle her as much as she did.
Maybe he was overestimating her in this instance, comparing her to Zandra. He knew that Zandra would not have stood for it for an instant. In fact, she hadn’t stood for it, she had just stood up and gone when she had nearly died after being struck by that arrow at the breaking of the Fellowship.
Legolas refused to think about the fact that he was beginning to soften in his attitude towards Jaessa. But the expression that crossed her face when Haldir had called for that third rest had been just like his love. Thus he had not been surprised when she had stood after only sitting for a second, and started going, leaving the rest of them to pick up their things, and scramble after her. Well, Gimli and Haldir scrambled, Legolas had elected to take the rear, leisurely walking behind them, until Jaessa forced him to pick up his pace anyway.
He struggled to recall what Zandra had said of this sister. There hadn’t been much, as there were few times when she could sit and tell him of what she had remembered, and there hadn’t been much that she had remembered anyway. Gentle. That’s what Zandra had called her, gentle and calm.
Haldir elected to see if he could catch a hare, and Gimli was scavenging for edible roots, or plants. Legolas found himself somewhat at loose ends, he walked to the edge of the trees, looking out across the plain. A faint glow could be seen, outlining the crest of one of the mountains, far in the distance. Angmar was supposed to be destroyed, but if it were inhabited again . . . it was quite possible that Zandra had come across it. She had said she was going North when she left him, sure that she had come from that direction when she had met Dyryn, the . . . Legolas could not make himself finish the thought. It still pained him that she had been betrayed in that way, that her tender heart had been so callously broken. In any case, if she had come across Angmar, it was quite possible that she was still there. His throat tightened up, and he swallowed convulsively. Zandra, locked up again in darkness, suffering who knew what anguishes.
A rustling in the trees above him startled him out of his unpleasant preoccupation, he crouched down below the curve of one of the lower branches, eyes directed above, searching out the source of the noise. A figure was slowly descending from the upper boughs, face directed away from him, it seemed to pose no menace as it drew closer.
“There’s no need to draw those knives,” Jaessa’s coolly possessed voice said, causing Legolas to relax. “I’m sorry for startling you, I tried to alert you earlier that I was here, but you were rather absorbed in your thoughts.”
Legolas straightened, and put back his knives, as Jaessa leaped gracefully to the ground, from ten feet up.
“Care to share?” she sounded hesitant, though her face was as serene as ever.
“Just considering what we should do.” He nodded towards the faint red glow, “That is not a good sign. The origins of Angmar are not good ones. The leader of Angmar, before it was destroyed, was called the . . .” he had to force the words out, “the Witch-king of Angmar, and for good reason, a more evil Man it would be difficult to imagine.”
“I’m sure I could name a few,” Jaessa said quietly, “You think that this the fact that this Angmar is being reawakened has something to do with why we’re here?”
“I’m sure of it,” but Legolas could not tell her why, not yet, instead he asked, “Why were you up in that tree?”
Even in the dark he could see the light that flashed in her eyes, “For this.” She held up a handful of some stringy mossy plant that Legolas did not recognize.
“What is it?” he asked dutifully, though he was rather curious, new plants did not often come his way, and all Elves loved things that grew.
“It is called by my people iticto, and is used in a myriad of ways, if brewed properly it creates a strong sleeping draught, and could even be used on darts or arrows to put people to sleep. Then it also makes a wonderful seasoning for any type of meat.” She reached into one of the pouches of her pack, and pulled out several other plants, “I also found all of these. It is incredible how many plants this world has in common with my home.” She held up a spray of leaves that Legolas recognized as athelas. “This is the best find of all,” her voice started excited, but grew sad as she continued, “my store of this was growing small, and I hadn’t found anywhere that it grows.”
Legolas was confused and said so, “If you haven’t found anywhere it grows how did you get some?”
She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, “oh, I meant anywhere else. It grew in my home world, . . .” she stopped, and Legolas could tell that she was having difficulty continuing. It was rather novel for her to be so close to losing her composure. Legolas thought that perhaps it would be a good thing if she did so he asked his next question.
“Why can’t you get anymore there?”
He watched her struggle within herself for a moment, and he began to feel sorry that he asked when she answered, “Because it doesn’t exist anymore,” her voice was completely devoid of emotion again, “Dehak destroyed it.”
She turned and began to walk back to camp. Legolas stared after her in horrified silence, not making any move to follow. Destroyed? Zandra’s home had been destroyed? How would he feel if Middle Earth were destroyed? Since it had been a possibility, he knew what it was like to face it, indeed, it might be a possibility again. A terrible thought crossed his mind, was that why it had taken so long for anyone to come for Zandra? Was he being completely unreasonable in judging their long silence? The thought made him slightly sick to his stomach. He was an Elf, and they were supposed to be wiser than humans, but here he had made a completely unfounded judgement on the Dae Kular people, and worst of all, on Zandra’s family.
Legolas started back, then remembered that Jaessa had not had any wood, so he gathered all he could carry on his way.
Haldir looked up from the fire he was starting as Jaessa walked into the clearing. Her face was hard, and he could tell that it was quite a struggle for her to keep it so. What had happened? She sat down, without saying a word, and stared off into the night. Haldir looked over to exchange a glance with Gimli, who was working on covering the hare Haldir had caught with layers of leaves and roots that he had found and sliced. Gimli had also noted Jaessa’s strange attitude. Then Legolas walked up, his arms loaded with wood. Haldir noticed with interest that he had come from the same direction that Jaessa had. His expression was not exactly joyful either. Obviously they had another falling out. At least, as much as Jaessa ever would.
Haldir sighed, Legolas’s animosity towards Jaessa was making things awkward, not that Haldir really minded, the Prince of Mirkwood was too well known for his charm with ladies, in Haldir’s opinion nothing could be better than that the charming Legolas acted surly for a change. The elder Elf had always been slightly envious of the Princes ease of manner. Haldir just had difficulty when it came to the ladies. However, Jaessa’s calm demeanor and gentle air somehow was different. Haldir always felt at ease with her. Perhaps her vulnerability on the ship had a little to do with it, but there had been a definite attraction before then.
“Here’s the wood,” Legolas said, then he sat down on the opposite side of the fire from Jaessa, which Haldir duly noted.
“Well, since we’re all back, perhaps we’d better discuss the implications of Angmar being active again,” Haldir said into the silence that fell.
“First, I think I had better hear the history of this land, so that I can understand why it’s being repopulated would be so terrible,” Jaessa said quietly, her eyes on Legolas, much to Haldir’s puzzlement. If they were at outs why was she looking at him so intently?
“The king of Angmar, in the Second Age, was named Dyryn. He received one of the Nine magic Rings from Sauron the Deceiver, and became one of the Nine Nazgul, or Ringwraiths.” Legolas began, his voice oddly stilted.
“So, this Ringwraith is back? This is why it is so bad that Angmar is active?” Jaessa asked.
“No, Zandra and some others killed him.” Legolas said, “Though it nearly killed all three of them at the same time.”
“So you’re saying that it might not be any danger at all.”
Haldir was surprised at this thought. It really could be just a group of people deciding to live in that part of the world, having no connection whatever to their mission.
“It might even be a bunch of refugees from Gondor,” Jaessa pressed.
“What are you hinting at?” Haldir said, curious as to her aim.
“Well, I was just thinking we should perhaps scout it out before we head boldly across the open plain.”
“And how are you proposing we do that?” Legolas asked dryly. Haldir glared at him. Obviously Jaessa had a plan or she wouldn’t have brought up the possibility.
“Well, I would have suggested this earlier, but with three of you it wouldn’t work, but I could cross the plain quite easily tonight on my own, scout it out tomorrow, and return once it gets dark to let you know what’s over there. You could travel to the hills tomorrow, and meet me there.”
“How can you cross tonight?” Haldir asked.
“Well, . . .” Jaessa began.
“You can change shape too?” Legolas asked quickly, interrupting her. She nodded. “So you could fly me over?”
“Well, I was thinking rather of running, but why should you come?”
“You don’t know enough about this world yet, you won’t be able to tell us everything we should know.”
Haldir could see Jaessa about to protest this, and broke in, “I could go with you instead.”
“It’s not that, . . .” Jaessa began, but was again cut off by Legolas.
“You don’t know as much about Angmar,” Legolas said, “At least not as it relates to Zandra.”
Haldir began to protest this, but this time it was Jaessa who interrupted.
“What does Angmar have to do with Zandra? You said she killed the Witch-king, but your tone implies that there is more.”
“There is more.” Legolas said hesitantly, his pose stiff, “Dyryn was the one who captured Zandra and imprisoned her in Dol Guldur.”
Haldir looked swiftly over to Jaessa, did she know about Dol Guldur? They hadn’t talked about it yet, and so she might be unaware. She made a move to speak, but then stopped herself, her gaze fixed upon Legolas.
“I’ll carry you across the plain,” she said.