Author’s notes: The previous chapter can be found here.
Disclaimer: All the characters and places, the entire world, (well, besides Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn) belong to JRRT.
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The East-West Road stretched before the Elves as they rode along it, not pushing their horses too much but still making good time. The first day they made camp on the southern side of the Road with the bridge over Mitheithel still some miles away. A small stream provided water for horses and riders. Although the land was bleak, there was enough grass to feed the animals. Aurelin collected dry wood and twigs and helped to build the campfire. Then she lead Alagos to the stream and watered him. The horse taken care of, she unpacked her bedroll from her supply bags and laid it close to the fire.
There wasn’t much talk, the Elves were all in serious mood, troubled by the Orc-raid. Gilgaer was discussing plans for the confrontation with two dark-haired and grey-eyed Elves. Aurelin spoke little during the meal of journey rations. She checked her bow to be sure everything was all right and then lay down on her bedroll. The fire’s glow was lessening and soon most of her thirty companions had settled down as well. Only the three Elves were still murmuring about attack plans some distance to the left of the fire.
They broke camp with sunrise and rode on, crossed the bridge and continued riding along the road, looking for signs of the Orcs’ passage.
Aurelin gazed to the left and right, her mood deteriorating. The land was still as it had been the day before – thickets of bushes and stunted trees alternated by open spaces. She had been riding in open lands covered with nothing more than grass near Imladris for centuries but then the land hadn’t seemed so sad and twisted as it did here. The further from Rivendell they had gone, the more unhappy the landscape.
When the Elves reached a point on the road about halfway between Mitheithel and the Weather Hills, they found signs of Orcs – broken branches discarded on the road, ugly footprints everywhere. It was clear that the Orcs had travelled the road till this point and then turned away from it, heading north towards the Ettenmoors. The sun was setting and Gilgaer called a halt.
“From the tracks it appears that the Orc band is about half a day ahead of us. They are not in a hurry and don’t move during the day much if they move at all. Let the horses rest for about three hours and then we’ll ride through the night and should catch them tomorrow evening!”
His order was obeyed and another small stream they were able to find provided water. When the stars started to shine brightly in the now dark sky, they set out again. The northern side of the road was more open than the southern side but occasional clumps of twisted ashes and beeches dotted the landscape. Night turned into day and found the Elves still following the tracks of the Orc band. At about midday Laswing fell behind to ride beside Aurelin. She looked at him questioningly and waited for him to speak.
“I just wanted to remind you to stay close to me when we get to the Orcs. It was Elrond’s condition for letting you come.”
Giving her a reassuring look he added,
“You’ll do fine!” and before Aurelin could open her mouth, he was urging Elthoron to the front of the riding column, a purposeful and concentrated look burning in his eyes.
The Ettenmoors loomed on the horizon, coming closer and closer. When evening came, the tracks were really fresh, less than a day old. Light was starting to fade, the day to turn into night, when the trampled path ended in a copse of trees. The Elves drew their bows and were ready to charge. The deathly silent riders heard the uncouth growling of Orcs – they had found the band. The plan was to surround the copse and a few of them were to ride into the camp in the trees’ shade, killing as many Orcs as they could but mainly in order to get the Orcs to break cover. Aurelin was with Laswing on the western side, the sun low and shining behind their backs. She fitted an arrow to her bow and waited for the enemies to come running out of the trees. A total of five Elves spurred their horses and went crashing over the low bushes. Sounds of bows singing, horses’ hooves and screams of Orcs bloomed in the fading evening.
The plan had succeeded: Orcs started to burst from under the trees on all sides like ants from a kicked anthill. Aurelin drew her bow and loosed, an Orc with a twisted nose fell, her arrow in his throat. She whirled her horse to the right, to get a better aim at another Orc. In one motion she had fitted another arrow to her bow, drawn and let the arrow fly.
There were more Orcs in the band than anyone had thought, more and more kept coming. Half of the Elves had dismounted, swinging swords against the crude blades of the roaring Orcs.
Aurelin was still on her horse and took down another Goblin who had just been about to behead an Elf in green from behind. Gilgaer Laswing was just as busy. He kept a look out for Aurelin so he had to be doubtly alert. A one-eyed Orc was heading to her, too close for her to use her bow. He grabbed Gilring, his sword, and laying low on the horse’s back, he cut around Aurelin’s front, got to her left side and killed the blade-whirling Orc before it had a chance to use his scimitar on Alagos. Completing the full circle he rode again to her right.
Close to the treeline, there was a deadly combat between one big Orc in rotten animal furs and a grey-clad, black-haired Elf. The sword was still in Gilgaer’s hand and he spurred Elthoron in that direction, jumped from its back but was too late. The Orc had already killed his advesary and was about to hack the Elf’s arms off. Laswing came upon him with a roar, forcing the Orc away from the body. Time streched while they were locked in the swordfight. Finally his opponent started to relent, to defend more than attack. Because of his quick step to the right, the Orc’s full blow missed contact with his sword and while it was trying to get its blade up again, Laswing got the opening he had needed. He raised his sword and took the Orc’s head off with a great swing.
Only now did he realise that he had left Aurelin’s side. He couldn’t have let the Orc mutilate the Elf’s body but now he had done what he had cautioned her against. He whirled around to make sure she was all right. From the distance it was more clear that he had done a good job with her. She was just drawing her bow once more – straight on her big black stallion, aiming at an Orc who was trying to escape. In a smooth motion the arrow was loosed and found it’s target. He had taught her well. All her movements spoke of concentration and confidence in herself.
Aurelin took a moment to look at the scene before her. She guessed that the battle would end soon as the ground was littered with Orc corpses and only a few of the ugly creatures were trying to break out from the ring of Elves.
Suddenly there was a woosh sound and she was hit by a wave of pain, blackness as deep as night blocked her eyes for a second. The force of the impact made her loose balance and although she grabbed at Alagos’ mane, she felt her fingers slipping and as in slow motion she fell from her stallion’s back. She was in deep pain, her left side was as if on fire. The impact with the hard ground drove the breath out of her and she felt the darkness decend again. In desperation she could press only “Oh, Alagos! Help me!” from lips already compressed from agony. She was drowned by the darkness and lay still.
Laswing’s wonder at Aurelin’s competence turned to dread when he saw the arrow come out of the trees and lodge in her left shoulder. He began to run towards her before he started thinking again. It seemed that this was truly the last stand of the Orcs – the remaining ones burst out of the bushes and tried to run away. All Gilgaer saw was Aurelin falling to the ground and the unfortunate Orcs who happened to be in his way. He slashed not even bothering to see if he killed or wounded them. An Orc had noticed the laying Elf-maiden and crept closer to finish her off. Laswing’s sprint was not quick enough, he cursed every Goblin that proved an obstacle between him and Aurelin. He understood that he will not get to her in time.
But she was not left undefended. Her warhorse-bred stallion stood over her and as the Orc was raising its dagger, the horse stood up on his hindlegs and kicked the Orc in the head with one powerful hoofbeat. The Orc fell with his skull broken. Alagos regained his four feet and continued to look from side to side for danger to his mistress, standing over her.
Finally Gilgaer got to Aurelin but her black horse was maddened by the battle around him and the need to defend its rider. He started to rear up again to get rid of what he percieved as an enemy. Laswing stepped causiously next to the horse and laying a hand on its neck, calmed him whispering before the horse could do him any harm. Alagos had a nasty temper with everyone except Aurelin. In time he had gotten used to Laswing though and showed his temper at him only very frequently.
The battle was dieing, all the Orcs had been destroyed and the Elves began to gather.
Laswing knelt at Aurelin’s side and saw that the arrow was lower than he had thought at first. She was still breathing, that told him that the arrow had missed her heart but it couldn’t be by much. The girl was in a serious peril. The thought that by the healing of Elrond could she maybe be saved rattled in his head. He began to lift her and caught her eyes just as she opened them. There was pain and fear in the green depths. A single tear fell from her eyes onto her cheek. Gilgaer felt his own eyes begin to sting but he supressed it and tried to reassure her,
“You will be alright. Just lay still and I’ll get you to Elrond!”
“Laswing?” she whispered very softly.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“I have to say something to you, in case I…”
“NO! Don’t speak. You are not going to die!”
“I have to,” she didn’t relent. She made a feeble attempt to raise but fell back into his arms almost instantly. Tears were falling from her eyes.
“I wanted to say it sooner. I lo…” But she fainted before finishing the sentence.
Gilgaer stood and began to give orders distractedly to the two dark-haired Elves he had discussed the plans with,
“Eregvor, Malloth, you two are in charge here. Dispose of the Orcs and carry Mothgil’s body to Rivendell. I’ll take both mine and Aurelin’s horse and go ahead. She’ll die if I don’t get her to Elrond in time. With two horses I can switch them and get there faster.”
Because of the arrow’s closeness to her heart he didn’t dare to draw it out, afraid he might do more harm. So he ripped a piece of cloth from his cloak to stop the bleeding. He spoke to Alagos, asking the horse to follow him, jumped on Elthoron’s back and took the wounded Elf-maiden Malloth was lifting up to him. His gaze fell onto a dead Orc, sprawled near the trees, holding an ugly bow and a quiver with the same big arrows, the like of which protruded from Aurelin’s shoulder. He settled her before him and commanded his horse to fly.
His “Noro lim, Elthoron!” echoing in the air, they took off into the dusk- the silver horse carrying two Elves, the black steed easily matching its speed.