He woke to the sun’s rays streaming across him, warming him gently into full wakefulness. A far corner of his mind was screaming at him to get up, that they had already lost good travelling hours from oversleeping, but the rest of his still-drowsy brain happily suggested curling up and staying there until the sun made the blankets unbearably hot.
It was so much like home . . .
Well, it had been, anyway.
He tried to ignore them, hoping they would go away.
“Legolas, wake up! It’s an emergency!”
For the sake of the Valar . . . [What is it?] No, that would not do. This was a hobbit he was talking to. He cleared his throat and tried again, keeping himself tucked under the covers. “What is it?”
Pippin was waving a piece of parchment wildly in front of his face. He could neither read it nor see if anything was written on it at all. “Aragorn can’t read it! You have to!”
He sat up groggily and yawned. “This is an emergency?”
That finished the waking process. He snatched the paper from the hobbit and scanned it. It definitely was an old Elvish dialect, so Aragorn almost certainly would not know it.
I address this to you, for you are certainly the only one who can read it. My wounds prevented me from sleeping completely through the night, so I got up about an hour before sunrise and set out on a short jaunt along your future path to mark orc signs. I assure you that this is not the first time I have done such a thing and I absolutely will not be initiating fights–give me credit for having some semblance of sense–but I am well-armed in any case. Do not worry; I will be heading back a few hours after dawn and we will surely cross paths.
For you and the others I have left a supply of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables in the kitchen. Please take them with you for your journey; they are bumpers from my own crops and being one, I will not be able to make use of them all.
I hope you slept well; a good rest will make you stronger during your travels. And if I do not see you, I pray your arrows fly true and your daggers rust from want of use.
He uncharacteristically let out a string of curses. Turning to Pippin, he ordered, “Get everyone still asleep up. We will be leaving immediately.”
Pippin dashed from the room and he tossed the blankets back and got dressed quickly. He went out to the sitting room, where Aragorn, Gandalf, and a half hungover Boromir sat.
“What did it say?” Aragorn prompted.
“Her wounds would not let her sleep, so she decided to scout the trail for us and mark signs of orcs.”
“That is dangerous.” Gandalf remarked. “Too dangerous even for someone like her.”
“She says she has done it before, as if that means anything, and is equipped for any battle should it occur. So she will be able to hold them off for a time, but they will eventually overwhelm her. We have to bring her back before she gets into real trouble.”
“Crazy female is at it again, is she?”
They all looked to the door, where Sulaine leaned in the frame. The Patron did not appear concerned and it angered him for some reason. “Has she done all that she said she has?”
“She has marked orcs, yes. She is very good at it.”
“What if she gets caught?”
“She will not. She either escapes or dies. She is never `caught’.”
“What can you tell us?”
“About her departure? Nothing. But I heard raised voices and made an educated guess. I have procured mounts for your forest travel; Rilloc’s wings would be of no use in the trees.”
“You are not worried.”
“I feel you are overreacting just a bit, but there is always the possibility. So I summoned your mounts. They will get you to the point where she most likely stopped and you will see for yourselves or prove me wrong.”
It was not long before everyone was up and prepared. The fruits and vegetables Kyshri had given them were packed and Sulaine showed them to their mounts, which were once again stags. The creatures set out at a run, aware of the urgency in their passengers’ thoughts.
Three hours into their dash they came across a lone stag bounding toward them. He recognized it as Kyshri’s mount from the last time he had seen it, the broken prong a distinct reminder. It stopped at the sight of them, then turned and leapt back the way it had come.
It showed them the body protected under a layer of leaves and he checked Kyshri’s neck, then rolled her onto her back. She was deathly limp, but looked to be unhurt . . .
She snorted and woke. [Legolas, hush! Disturb not the tranquility of the forest or I will never catch the orcs.]
[I thought you were dead!]
[Silly male. I was napping.]
[It was very convincing!] he insisted.
[Why would I have been covered with leaves if I had just been killed?]
. . . Good point.
I reached up to pat Damone. [Good to bring them. Thank you. You may go again. And take the others; the end of the forest is near.] He turned obediently and I looked up at Legolas, who still cradled nearly my full weight in his arm. [Your arm is very comfortable.]
He shook his head. [You should go back.]
[To Veikai? Probably.] I sighed and got up, brushing the leaves off my front and rear. [It will be a walk, but it is what I planned. Well wishes on your journey, Legolas.] I started to walk in the direction of home, pausing as Telrak glided overhead and landed on Legolas’ shoulder. The falcon gave me a look and I nodded. [You decide your own path, Telrak.]
Resuming my walk, I stopped once more at a faint little whisper. I looked at Frodo. “May I see the Ring again?”
He cautiously withdrew it from his shirt and I knelt, reaching out my hand to touch it. As before, I saw the eye of flame, but this time I was neither surprised nor frightened. I grasped the Ring as the whispers grew stronger, holding up my free hand to ward off the others as they converged on me. “Still your blades. I am only curious.” I paused. “Actually, perhaps you should draw them . . . just in case.”
The Ring itself was a simple gold band, but I knew that ancient Elvish inscriptions had been hidden on it. Inscriptions that only fire would reveal. The soft whispers of my name strengthened and I yawned. “Oh, pardon me, young Frodo. I have not had much sleep.”
He relaxed quite a bit, perhaps thinking that a possessed person would not yawn. “It is all right.”
I narrowed my eyes at the evil Ring. [Silence, death jewel. Keep your words for the weak of mind.] I then smiled at Frodo as I stood, releasing the Ring with ease, and put my hand on his head. “Let not the Ring’s power destroy your hope and do not lose heart. I see success in the far future. Farewell.”
I gave them a short `wave’ of good-bye–only Aragorn and Legolas knew that that was what it was and were able to return it–and leapt into a tree to hop home. I met up with no trouble on the way, but what I found was what I had prayed I would never see.
The city was devastated. Houses and shops had been burned. Animal, dwarf, man, and elf bodies littered the streets. I ran first to the clinic, for that was where everyone would go, right?
Thankfully, it was still intact. Inside it was extremely cramped; so many had been injured that dozens less injured were standing, waiting to be treated. I weaved through the maze of beings in search of someone who could give me the full details in a calm manner.
I found the exact person lying on a bed in a corner, looking silently up at the ceiling. A huge spot of red on the bandages covering his stomach as well as the . . . cataracts? . . . explained why he was there. I sat on the edge of the bed. [Istaq, what happened?]
[Hush, boy,] I said gently. [I am not deaf.]
[I am so glad you were not found,] he babbled. [We were so afraid you had been killed—]
[Istaq, tell me what happened.]
He shook his head. [They came out of the south, the way you had gone, after your guests left. Orcs from Isengard. They wanted the halflings and the Ring. We would tell them nothing . . . Lady Kyshri, there were so many of them. Hundreds! And we were unprepared! So many have died!]
I stroked his chest with my fingers calmingly. [What happened to you? Are you truly blind?]
[I can no longer see colors. My world is merely the shades of black and white and grey.]
[How . . .?]
[I had gone into a burning house to get a child left behind. I had just gotten hold of her when the ceiling gave some. I looked up and was slashed across the eyes by flame.]
I leaned over and hugged his head. [Forgive me for not being here.]
[I am only glad that you are safe, Lady Kyshri. You are now needed more than ever before. Everyone left alive is frightened, wondering if we will be besieged once more on their return to Isengard.]
[Where is Sulaine? Have you seen him?]
[I have not. Not since I fell before the second wave.]
[You were at the front?]
He smiled wryly. [I had to repay my debt.]
I touched the center of his chest with my fingertips. [You are redeemed. Now you must heal. Rest.] I placed my hand over his eyes and closed my own, concentrating my thoughts.
Rising, I made a further search for Sulaine. I found him in a separate room between two occupied beds, his knees drawn up to his chest and his face hidden in his forearms. His hands were heavily bandaged. I moved cautiously closer and knelt in front of him. [. . . Sulaine?]
He lifted his head. His cheekbones were bandaged and so was his right ear. A long bandage ran across his bared collarbone. His eyes were glassy with tears he had not yet shed. [Kyshri . . .]
I opened my arms and embraced him, letting him sob like a child. He shook violently, but still spoke. [Tirash and Ceripe are alive, but barely. Their wounds are so deep . . .]
I looked at the two in the beds. [Gunrey and Josuin?]
[Alive. In far better condition. They will surely live.]
So the Patrons were down to four in this crisis . . . [What about you?]
[The best of the five. Why?]
[I need your help.]
[You know I am not a good public speaker. I need your support.]
He smiled wanly. [You have always had it.]
[That is not what I mean. I need you to—]
[Lord? Lady?] interrupted a quiet voice. We turned to the healer, who bowed his head. [Lord Ceripe and Lord Tirash . . . are dead.]
That was the final straw. I rose and went for the door.
Sulaine followed. [I know that look. Where are you going?]
I ran a checklist of what I would need through my mind. [I need you to take care of Veikai for me.]
[Where are you going?]
I whirled on him furiously. [I am going to hunt down and destroy every last orc. And once they are extinct, I will find their creator and make him pay for each innocent death. There will be no retribution. No mercy.]
I collected what I needed from my barely intact home and left my ruined city with one thought to guide me.
One thought, one intention.