Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 17. Battle By Night
There wasn't just one trail across the High Pass but several crossing and recrossing each other as they wound their way between the mountains. Alerted to their danger the Rangers led their companions off the track they'd been following onto one that climbed steeply up to a narrow col, dusted with snow, in the notch between two peaks.
A shallow cave had been cut into the mountainside beneath a pointed overhang. The smooth floor, hearth built into the back wall and cache of firewood indicated it had been made by Men not nature. It was also an eminently defensible position commanding the steep, narrow trail with good solid stone to guard their backs.
As the sun vanished behind the western peaks and a cold wind smelling of snow began to blow from the east Ereinion laid and lit a fire in the hearth providing a welcome warmth and light.
The Lady Beruthiel stationed herself at the front of the shelter setting her long steel hafted arrows in neat rows point downward in the earthen floor. Her head lifted as a wolf's howl warbled across the mountains. "Summoning reinforcements."
Elladan, standing beside her, nodded grimly. "I fear we will be facing an attack in force.
"We have definitely been recognized." Ellenion observed coolly as answering howls floated over the col.
"And Wargs would not attack a party of Rangers with Mother at its head of their own free will." Ereinion pointed out coming to stand beside his twin.
"Some one has constrained them to do so." Elrohir agreed. "Not their Orcish allies, some other they fear more than they fear Beruthiel."
"Khamul at Dol Guldur perhaps?" suggested the Lady.
"I can think of no one else." said Elladan. "And that worries me. If he has guessed what the Rangers truly are, or worse yet who leads them -"
"As your father is always telling us, we cannot hide forever." Beruthiel answered calmly still lining up her arrows. "But it seems to me more likely Khamul is snatching at an opportunity to rid himself of those infamous Orc killing sons of Elrond Half-Elven."
"Let us hope so." said Elrohir.
The party, including Cemendur and Rumil, had without orders or consultation formed themselves into a wedge beneath the spear shaped overhang with Beruthiel at point, the Elven twins to her right and her sons and the Gondor Men guarding the longer left flank. Both sets of twins were armed with the short black Ranger bows, less powerful then the Lady's seven foot great bow but still effective. The howls were closer now, warbling calls and responses.
"Working up their courage." Beruthiel said, with another of her steely smiles.
"Wish I'd thought to bring some wolf spears." Rumil murmured to Cemendur.
Ereinion shook his head. "To heavy and unwieldy for travel," flashed a sudden smile, "why do you think we Rangers don't carry them?" "Not that a few wouldn't come in handy now." Ellenion said ruefully
Dusk deepened into true night. The stars came out, flickering fitfully between wisps of the mist that gave the mountains their name. The wofish chorus continued, fearsome and menacing. Their intended prey, battle veterans all and well hardened against horrors, listened calmly. The horses huddled together at the back of the shelter were somewhat less stoic, the Ranger's steeds seemed to be trying to comfort the trembling Gondor horses with soft wickers and gentle nuzzling.
Cemendur caught Rumil throwing unhappy glances over his shoulder, clearly longing to go and reassure his frightened charges. "Not now, Rumil."
"Yes, m'Lord." the Man answered. the brief exchange causing both to miss the first seconds of the Warg's charge.
The great bow sang and the lead animal fell with a steel shaft through its brain. the Lady's second arrow ripped through the throat of the next Warg to transfix the heart of a third. The smaller bows born by the Men showered the oncoming beasts with short black arrows piercing throats and eyes. Cemendur didn't see a single shaft miss its target and no Warg got within a dozen feet of the defenders.
"It can't be this easy."
"Oh it won't be." Ereinion assured him wryly. "Wargs are too bright for that, but what they've got in mind -"
At that moment a horse sized grey beast with red eyes and slavering jaws dropped from the stone overhang above their heads directly in front of the Lady. Beruthiel drove the arrow in her hand through its eye and into the brain. Then wielding her steel bow like a quarterstaff fended off two more.
Cemendur thrust his own blade into the gaping jaws of yet another Warg giving Ereinion time to cast aside his bow and draw his sword. After that all was a whirl of bright steel, dripping red maws and and burning eyes.
Driven backwards by a nearly black Warg Cemendur's right foot landed in a pool of blood and slid from under him. He fell hard, knocking the breath out of his body, saw the Warg loom above him then a wild neigh sounded in his ears and the great wolfish face was mashed to bloody ruin by the steel shod hooves of a rearing warhorse.
Rumil pulled him clear. "It's Culuros, m'Lord!" he shouted, "Good boy! Brave boy!"
Looking rather dazedly around Cemendur saw all seven horses had joined in the battle. The two grey Elven horses were trampling three Wargs underfoot tearing at them with their teeth as their masters peppered the oncoming beasts with arrows. His own chesnut Culuros had positioned himself in front of him rearing up and striking at a snarling Warg, keeping it at bay. Suddenly Rumil pushed Cemendur behind him, swinging his blade to half decapitate a second Warg trying to pull down Culuros from the side. And Rumil's own white gelding charged forward to guard the chesnut warhorse's other side. The three Ranger horses, like the Elven mounts, were defending their masters and mistress with teeth and hooves, allowing them the space they needed to use their bows.
Yet even with the animals' help Cemendur's experienced commander's eye saw they were indeed in dire straits, and likely to be overcome by sheer numbers. Then a flicker of movement above the heaving sea of brindled grey pelts caught his eye as something large and winged dropped from the sky to tear at the screaming Wargs.
Other winged forms joined it and the Wargs scattered howling. Within moments the trampled red-dyed snow of the col was empty of living enemies. Cemendur heard Rumil swallow hard beside him. "M'Lord those - those are -"
"Griffons. And hippogriffs and wyverns." the Councillor finished for him, staring wonderingly at the beasts facing the seven Dunedain over heaps of Warg carcases. He had seen such creatures carved in stone or cast in metal decorating street and court in Minas Tirith and more recently the halls and chambers of Cristhoron. He had always assumed they were no more than a sculpter's fantasy. Yet again he'd been proven wrong.
All the half dozen or so beasts had the head and powerful wings of Eagles but some had catlike bodies with lashing tails and great padded paws. Others were horselike in form but with the delicate cloven hooves of mountain goats. And there were two with the scaled sides and clawed feet and long serpentine tails of dragons.
The largest of the griffons picked its way with catlike delicacy over the dead Wargs to dip its head in a sort of bow before the Lady Beruthiel. She bowed back. "Elen sila lumenn omentielvo." she said, adding to the formal greeting also in Quenya, "You have our thanks, Children of Manwe, for your most timely aid."
And the creature replied, but between its harsh voice and antique dialect Cemendur was quite unable to make out its meaning.
The Lady also seemed somewhat uncertain. "Elladan, I think he just offered to show us a safe path over the pass."
"That's how I interpret it." the Half-Elf agreed.
The griffon backed several steps away, half turned and looked questioningly at the Lady.
"Clearly he wants us to follow him." said Ellenion.
"Let us do so by all means." his mother decided. "If we cannot trust the Children of the Lord of the Skies then no one can be trusted." to the creature in Quenya: "Lead on, my friend, we follow."
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