Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone – Chapter Fourteen – Decisions
“Angmar!” several voices cried at once, in various stages of incredulity and horror, echoing the disquiet Jaessa felt. She still felt the taint of evil from the earth there. The history of that place was filled with terrible doings, and it was growing stronger again.
“It can’t be,” Tinel said, her hazel eyes wide. “But why? Why Angmar? What is there that our unseen enemy wants?”
“That makes no sense!” Eldacar objected over Tinel, “Angmar has been destroyed, and my grandfather sent many groups of settlers to the North, as that land is part of our dominion.”
Jaessa could understand his shock. It was not something which was easy to stomach. The thought of evil in a place you thought cleansed. She had reacted in a similar manner when she had returned home to discover the charred remains of all she had known. She kept her face carefully shuttered, and she merely shook her head, “I know only what I have been told, and what I have seen,” she said quietly, “I do not know the machinations of the Black Enemy.”
“You know then, the meaning of the name which you spoke earlier?” Elladan asked softly, so that only Jaessa could hear, his gaze fixed upon her face. Jaessa could not help smiling a little, this Elf was very sharp. Very little slipped by him. She doubted anyone else had caught her earlier mention of Morgoth, though they would know soon enough.
“Angmar is silent no more,” Haldir said, responding to Eldacar, “The villages have almost all been razed to the ground,” he paused significantly, “by Orcs.”
“Orcs! That is fell news indeed. Orcs active in the North as well as here. It there nowhere that is safe!?” Eldacar cried bitterly, then continued, “But why should you suppose that the Orcs are in anyway connected with the Haradrim? From what I have heard they did not relish working with the Orcs even at the height of Sauron’s rule.”
“I cannot say that,” Jaessa said softly, “But I know that Zandra is in Gondor, which would imply that she is in the hands of the Haradrim, and the threat that occupies Angmar is behind both her imprisonment, and the Orcs.”
“So Gondor is merely a step in some scheme by a greater evil,” Eldacar said bitterly, “Is that always to be our fate? Standing between evil and the rest of the world?”
Jaessa smiled sadly, “Do not bemoan such a fate,” she said quietly, “It is of much more worth than you seem to realize.” At least it had better be, she added silently. Her entire life, and those of her entire people were dedicated to standing between evil and the innocent people of the universe.
“And in any case, the fate of Gondor is tied with that of the rest of the world,” Haldir said, his voice brisk, “It is necessary now for us to see what we can do to ensure that fate is not cut short.” Jaessa was surprised to see him turn to her. To be sure, he had begun to treat her more as a person than a delicate flower, but it seemed strange for him to be turning to her when she had told him that she did not fight. “You are certain that Angmar must be their goal?”
She spread her hands, “As sure as I can be, I know so little of . . .” she paused and glanced at Eldacar, unsure still whether or not he or the Rivendell Elves should be told that she was not of this world, “. . . the world. This is the first time I have traveled beyond Valinor,” she finished smoothly, careful to keep to the truth. She saw her three companions look at her curiously, but she calmly met their gaze. Hopefully they would realize that she could not spread the knowledge of other worlds about indiscriminately.
“You’re from Valinor?” Tinel said, and Jaessa heard the surprise in her voice, accompanied by a certain wariness that in turn surprised Jaessa.
“I accompanied Haldir, Legolas and Gimli from there,” she replied carefully, though she kept her tone bright, she did not wish to tell any unnecessary falsehoods.
“That’s of no account now,” Legolas cried, obviously much upset by the disclosures recently. “If the Southrons are trying to take Zandra to Angmar we must make certain they don’t succeed!”
“Yes, Morgoth cannot be allowed to get Zandra,” Jaessa said, hiding the disquiet in her own heart. She had not ever told them about Morgoth’s promise that the day she saw Zandra they both would die. “If nothing else, he might be able to figure out a way to use her powers.”
“Morgoth!” Tinel exclaimed in horror, shrinking back to the wall of the cave.
“The Black Enemy?” Elrohir cried, while his brother moved closer to Tinel, and put a comforting arm about her shoulders, a movement that did not escape Jaessa’s notice. It was obvious that the elder of the twins cared deeply for the girl. “But he was imprisoned by Manwe and the other Valar! He is not in Middle Earth now, he can’t be!”
“I do not know can’t,” Jaessa said seriously, “All I know is that he spoke to me, and he is after Zandra.” She ignored the fact that he was also after her. “What must now concern us is how we are going to stop them. From this map it looks as though there is really little between them now and the mountains. And once they reach the mountains there is little to hinder the transfer of Zandra from Gondor to Angmar. All that stands between them now is whatever free standing armies Rohan has gathered. And it is not likely they will attempt long to hold them back in that direction, not when their holds lie to the West.”
“But the Greenwood!” Tinel protested, “They will surely stop them?”
“There is no reason for them to, so far as they know. The Haradrim have no need to enter their realm,” Elrohir pointed out, a strange glow in his eyes. “They just need to reach the mountains, if they are indeed in league with the Orcs.”
“Unless we tell them of our need,” Elladan said quietly, turning to Legolas, “Surely they will come to our aid? When they know what’s at stake?”
“I am not certain,” Legolas said slowly, “Very few of my people have left for the West, as we did not go when first called, so we have the numbers. But they have ceased interest in the actions of Men, striving to be isolated as much as possible.”
“If it is truly Morgoth who threatens,” Tinel said earnestly, “Then it behooves every free people to do what they can to aid us.”
“We can but try,” Legolas said at last.
“Trying may not be enough. We have to do something to be certain that they don’t succeed.” Jaessa’s voice quivered slightly, betraying her worry. Haldir wanted to move closer to her, if she allowed her voice to show her feelings she was very upset. But he did not know if she would yet welcome the attention.
“But Rohan cannot hope to stop them the way they stand!” Elrohir said viciously, “The Greenwood is our only hope.”
“If there is only one hope you must find another,” Jaessa said firmly. “Surely Rohan, if alerted to the danger will shift their focus to keeping the Harardrim from the mountains?”
Eldacar shook his head, “If you are so anxious to keep them from getting to Angmar, the Rohirrim cannot move,” he pointed at the map. “If they go anywhere they will leave the Gap of Rohan open, and they will have a clear line to Angmar. Indeed, this would probably be their preference, since they aren’t fond of mountains.”
Jaessa’s brow furrowed again, she had not thought of that. She must be slipping. Becoming too emotional. She needed her focus. “For the nonce we just have to hold them until winter. A month, two at the most. Surely the Rohirrim are strong enough to block both paths for that long?”
Eldacar shook his head, “The Rohirrim have not such numbers.”
“Before winter?” Tinel asked, curious, “why winter?”
“Because they come from the South, and the snow that will fall near to the mountains will act very much in our favor,” Haldir answered for her, “Though whatever we do we will be between the hammer and the anvil,” he continued turning to look at the girl. “You realize we will have the Haradrim at our front, and possibly Orcs at our back?”
He saw the troubled expression in her eyes, and knew she had thought of this.
“Yes,” she said quietly, “but we must stop them.”
“But as you said earlier,” Eldacar said, “They are spreading themselves too thin, they cannot hope to hold out. I should have seen it sooner, for you are correct. They cannot hold Gondor, not with my people there, and with Rohan in the West, and my army returning from the East, we shall have them easily.”
“As far as war goes, yes they will be contained fairly easily,” Jaessa said slowly, “But not before they reach the mountains, they have progressed too far. And there is no saying that your army in the East can come. If they do you may find yourself beset also by the Easterlings. We must, at all cost, keep them from reaching the mountains.”
Haldir was rather disturbed by the hardness that he read in her silvery eyes. What will the cost be? he wondered worriedly, a strange premonition filling him with dread, What costs have you already paid that you can say that so seriously? The babe in his arms began to cry, as though disturbed by his dark thoughts.
Jaessa was at his side in a moment, scooping Chearra into her arms. “Besides,” she said, tenderly “I need to find someone to take care of Cherry.”
Eldacar was shaken in a way he could not describe by the sight of the dark haired lady scooping up the baby in her arms. She was so calm and collected, so confident, almost to the point of hardness, but then she scooped up this child, this foundling, as tender as though she had indeed given birth to her.
He forced his thoughts away from the charming picture she thus formed, and turned back to contemplation of his best course.
Do not bemoan your fate, Jaessa’s words echoed again in his mind. It was the part of Gondor to stand between evil and the rest of the world. The true danger did not lie with the Haradrim, but with those that guided them. What was the importance of this Zandra? This woman that Legolas loved.
“Why cannot we do both?” he asked at last.
“What was that?” Haldir asked. “Both what?”
“Well,” Eldacar said slowly, “We could both ask for aid from the Elves of the Greenwood, and, if that fails we can ask Rohan to shift their strength to fight as long as they can.”
“There is not enough time to do both,” Gimli said.
“There is if we split up,” Eldacar said reasonably. “Perhaps the ladies could go to the Greenwood, with my lord Elrohir and Elladan, and the rest of us could go to Rohan, and arrange what defense we can there.”
He turned to Jaessa, and found her grey eyes searching his face intently, her expression inscrutable.
“I shall come with you to Rohan,” she said at last, a note of finality in her voice, quite at odds with her pose, rocking the little baby gently.
“There is no need,” he began urgently, but stopped when she held up her hand.
“I think there is. More need in Rohan than in the Greenwood. I can strengthen their fortifications so that they can be defended with only a few men. This would be of little use were I to go to the forest. They will not be defending their fortifications, but attacking the Haradrim front line.” Her soft voice was firm, and strangely no one argued against her, thought Eldacar was tempted. “It is settled then. Tinel, Elrohir and Elladan will go to Legolas’s father in the Greenwood, and the rest of us will go to Rohan. We shall leave first thing in the morning.”
It is strange, Eldacar thought curiously, That we all took her direction without the smallest demure.