8. Chapter Seven: The Sword of Turin
Melia studied the tracks in the ground, surprised by how clearly they appeared in the dirt around the campsite. She supposed it should not to have been any surprise to her that she should find them so easily since they had seen no other living creature in this realm to disturb the tracks left behind by the worms. Following the attack, the triumvirate had snatched a few hours of uneasy sleep after moving their campsite away from the scene of dead beasts. At first light they rose and prepared their horses for travel, having a purpose now that was more than just reaching the mountains. Melia had never seen a worm in her life but she knew the tracks before her could be nothing else. One simply had to discount what they could not be to know what they were.
"Are you certain about this?" She asked looking over her shoulder at Arwen and Eowyn who were waiting behind her with their horses.
"The worms were sent here by the Enemy. If you can track them, they’ll lead us to the sword," Arwen stated firmly, refusing to believe anything else. She could feel it in her bones and she was certain that once they found where these creatures had come from, they would either find the Enemy or the Sword of Turin. However, she was certain that it was the Sword of Turin for these creatures clearly dominated the land that they had driven the elves out to acquire. Arwen found it too much of a coincidence that the worms had sought them out after so many days of travelling in their realm unhindered, only when they approached the Forests of Brethril. There was purpose to the attack last night that was more than simply protecting their territory from invaders, Arwen was certain.
Melia exchanged a glance with Eowyn who merely shrugged in response. She was no more certain of this course then Melia but she trusted Arwen’s instincts because it had saved their lives on more than one occasion during this journey. She was not about to question it now, not no matter how uneasy she felt about it. She could see Melia wanted her to say something about this to Arwen because the Ranger was uncomfortable about placing so much faith upon the tracks of creatures that she had never seen before last night.
However, while Eowyn felt just as uneasy about this as Melia, hers reasons for trepidation were entirely different from the Ranger’s. She knew that this was the right path to take; that following the worms to their domain would yield the prize they had made this journey to find. But whether or not they could claim it was another thing entirely. Melia had been correct when she pointed out that the worms were young, they had not grown any of the limbs that would distinguish them as drakes. Such fledglings could not have been but a year or more if her understanding of dragon growth was at all accurate. Somewhere at the heart of their lair, Eowyn anticipated they would find the drake that had sired this nest of worms.
And she would not be happy to learn that they had slain a good many of her children last night.
Unfortunately, like Arwen, Eowyn was aware that the time left to them was running short and to find the Enemy required taking a gamble. Melia was still too much the Ranger in service of her queen to place Arwen's life in the path of unnecessary danger and while Eowyn agreed with that thinking to a certain extent, it was not merely Arwen’s life that Eowyn was attempting to keep safe. It was the future King of Gondor and their very existence in Middle Earth if Melkor’s spirit should be allowed to escape the void. As much as she understood Melia’s reasons for caution, Eowyn could not support her wish to rethink their present course.
"Yes track them," Eowyn found herself saying after a long pause. "We do not have much time and if these beasts are guarding the Sword of Turin then we will have to deal with them eventually. I prefer it if it is on our own terms rather than on theirs."
Melia exhaled deeply and chose to abide by the decision of her two companions, even though the notion of following these worms back to their nest was rather a daunting one. However, she had made an oath to protect the queen and she would follow it through, despite her objections. Without saying another word, she turned her attention to the tracks before her and began tracing the path the worms had taken before reaching the campsite. With the tether of Lomelindi in hand, she followed the nondescript marks in the dirt as Arwen and Eowyn mounted their own horses and remained a short distance behind her so that they would not interfere with any of the tracks she was attempting to decipher.
As the day deepened, it was soon made clear that the meandering tracks were leading them straight toward the foothills surrounding the Blue Mountains. Its shadows fell over them and made the air colder, though none of them truly noticed it. What they had seen the night before had chilled them to the bone more than the cold air ever could manage. Melia continued to lead, showing an almost elven skill in tracking but there was no special insight in how she managed to find her way. Her father taught the craft to her and it was a skill she had employed regularly as a Ranger. Arwen and Eowyn considered themselves lucky to have her assistance, though they could tell that she was afraid of where these tracks would lead them.
The trail of the worms took them through the sparse woods that sat beneath the mountain range. From a distance, the mountains had looked enchanting and beautiful but now as they found themselves standing directly at their base, they took on a more sinister appearance that once again reinforced their uneasiness. Jagged peaks stabbed at the sky and the rocks that surrounded it were equally treacherous, threatening to cut them to ribbons if they chose to continue onwards. It was terrain too difficult to navigate with horses for it required the agility of man to move through the protrusions without harm. The Forest of Brethil was said to exist at the foot of the mountain and yet to find it was not as easy. The terrain in which they chose to travel had made the tracks difficult to discern and it was not possible to keep the horses with them as they tried to navigate it.
"We must leave them," Eowyn sighed unhappily.
"I will not take Lomelindi into that," Melia declared firmly as she gazed at the path ahead of them, full of its sharp rocks and equally treacherous briars.
"Then we go on foot," Arwen found herself gazing at the horses. "Can’t we simply leave them here?"
"They will remain for awhile," Eowyn responded. "Eventually they will take the path home."
"The path home is in Lothlorien," Arwen reminded.
"To the nearest human settlement then for that is what they know," Eowyn answered. "Whatever their course, they cannot come with us. We will leave them here and hope that they have sense enough to depart if danger comes."
Melia gazed upon her mare and knew that Lomelindi would wait if Melia left her behind. She ran her fingers against its nose and hoped that the horse understood that this abandonment was for its own good. She wrapped the bridle around the pommel of the saddle and turned the animal’s head away from her gently, hoping Lomelindi would understand the reason for this action. The horse trotted away to join the other two that had been left at the clearing where there was grass and relatively safe lands for such animals.
"She will find you again," Arwen said sympathetically, her hand touching the Ranger’s shoulder in support when Melia returned to them in order to resume their trek up the mountain. "I am certain it."
"I have no doubt that she will find me," Melia whispered. "I just hope that she does not wait too long if I am dead. She has been my faithful companion for many years, I would not rest easy even in death to know that she was languishing in wait for my return."
As much as Eowyn wanted to say words of similar kindness to Melia, they could not afford to remain in one place too long. Perhaps the drakes preferred to move by night, explaining the lack of sighting throughout the day or perhaps they were being lead into a trap, whatever the explanation, Eowyn did not wish to find out the hard way. The Forest of Brethil awaited them and though the thick, shield of briar seemed daunting, they had to begin making their way through it.
"I’ll take the lead," Eowyn said boldly as she unsheathed her sword and slash at the first thorny branch in their path. "Arwen, stay behind me and close. Melia you take the rear."
"I do not always need your protection Eowyn," Arwen frowned as she fell behind the shield maiden of Rohan. She hated the idea that her friends were placing themselves at such risk for her welfare. She was not herself helpless and was able to defend herself. "I can take the rear."
"You can," Melia said shortly behind her, "but you’re not going to."
"I thought I was the queen here," Arwen gave the Ranger a look.
"You have no argument of that from me," Eowyn retorted as they continued slowly through the briar that covered the path ahead of them. "However, you will stay behind me."
"And before me," Melia added her voice in.
"I am two thousand years older than either of you," Arwen said imperiously, "what makes you think I cannot protect myself?"
"Nothing," Melia smiled, aware from Eowyn’s tone that the Lady of Ithilien was humoring her friend and she was more than happy to join in. "The race of men is taught to honor their elders, that is why you travel in between us. As the oldest among us, we are duty bound to honor you by ensuring your safety."
The remark drew a little laugh from Eowyn and a dark expression from Arwen. "I suppose you think that is very funny."
"Actually yes," Eowyn chuckled. "Melia’s reply was far more diplomatic than what I would have elected to say."
"Which is?" Arwen raised a brow at her best friend.
"That the future King of Gondor is already plagued by too many threats to have to endure the stubbornness of his mother," she glanced over her shoulder and gave Arwen a look of pure sarcasm. "In other words, stop being a pain, Arwen."
Melia bit her lip in an effort not to laugh especially when she saw the grin that crossed Eowyn’s face after her statement to Arwen.
"With friends like you," Arwen grumbled. "I do not need enemies."
"That is true," Eowyn replied casually taking no offense at her remark since this whole conversation was being carried tongue in cheek. "You are fortunate indeed."
"How does Faramir put up with you?" The queen retorted.
"Oh probably in the same manner as Aragorn does with you," Eowyn gave her a wink of mischief.
Melia rolled her eyes and commented softly, "I am starting to feel very sorry for both these men."
The Forest of Brethil may have once been a place with trees and plush meadows but in the dawn of the Fourth Age, it had become nothing more than an enormous field of briars and sharp rocks. It took Eowyn some time to realize that the briars were all that was left of the once great wood and that many of the sharp rocks were the petrified stumps of trees that had been destroyed by whatever menace held sway of the mountains. So far they had seen nothing of the worms that had attacked the night before. Since there was no way of tracking them now, the trio could not even be certain if they were travelling in the right direction.
With dark coming soon, their progress was unacceptably slow with the thorns hooking into their skins and tearing at their flesh even though they had kept themselves well covered. Eowyn felt the exhaustion in her bones as she continued to hack her way through the sharp; hooky branches and knew that she could not give into the weariness she felt. She forced herself to continue, laying waste to the almost impassable barrier underneath the force of her blade, until those who followed her were trudging over the fragmented remains of shattered splinters. She ignored the sweat that stung her eyes or the multitude of cuts to her skin from branches she had been unable to avoid and knew that her suffering was not endured alone for the others were enduring the same torture, though under slightly less strain.
Eowyn looked up at the sky and saw the night descending, they would have to find some place to camp soon although she did not look forward to it. Those worms originated from this very mountain and she was certain that they would emerge when the sun had dropped out of sight completely. Having no idea of the numbers they faced when that emergence took place, Eowyn knew that she would be unable to close her eyes and let herself sleep. She doubted if any of them could. Swinging her blade against the curling twist of sharp branches before her, she prepared to dispatch it the way she had dispatched all others when her blade slice through it easily. The force of her strike made it crumble in mid air and it disintegrated before her feet like ash.
"Everyone be still!" She hissed as she swept her gaze across the terrain. The barrier was dwindling but Eowyn suspected it would not take them long to clear it. Taking another step forward, she gently tapped her sword against the briar before her and saw it crumble in the same fashion. Like brittle glass, something had heaved its icy breath upon the briar obstacle before her. It would be an easy enough task to escape the patch but what lay beyond it was another question all together. The land ahead was a steep incline upwards, framed with rocks and crevasses overgrown with rocks. She knew where they were even if she did not see them.
"We are in danger," Arwen replied though it did not require her elven senses to make that statement for Eowyn and Melia were well aware of it.
"We’re in their nest aren’t we?" Melia guessed accurately.
Eowyn nodded slowly, not daring to answer. She continued forward, aware that they had to escape the confinement around them if they were going to survive this place. She moved through the briar with renewed strength, shattering them easily with her blade because of their frostbitten state. Eowyn worked tirelessly, aware that behind her, both Arwen and Melia were grasping their weapons tight, in readiness for attack should it come before they crossed the barrier. Above the blanket of twilight had descended and Eowyn knew from the tension in Arwen’s face that the creatures were coming. She simply could not bring herself to say it.
"Take my shield," Eowyn declared once they were free of the barrier and she handed Arwen the shield she had not employed much during this journey. However, last night’s encounter with the cold drakes had changed all that. Before setting their horses free, she had taken the shield, a gift from her brother Eomer to use for this very purpose.
"You will need it," Arwen muttered as Eowyn thrust the object into her arms.
"Not as much as you," Eowyn retorted and turned her eyes to the crevasses that seemed for all purposes benign but she knew to be filled with dark terrors that were soon coming for them. "Use it Arwen," Eowyn said firmly. "Use it to protect yourself. You carry all our futures within your body, you must protect the child even at cost to us."
"Do not ask that of me!" Arwen returned. "I would do anything for my child even give up my life but I won’t allow you to die for me!"
"That choice is not yours to make," Eowyn stated firmly, needing Arwen to understand that whatever feelings she had towards her friends, they were a necessary sacrifice if the greater good was to be accomplished. "Please, if I am to die, I want to know it was for the good of all."
"Can this wait?" Melia shouted and called their attention to the fact that the same slithering sound that had signaled the approach of the worms the night before was returning.
She had no sooner snapped her warning when the first worm emerged out of the crevasse, its cold breath in her face as it lunged towards her, displaying amazing agility for a creature that bore no arms or legs. She dove towards the ground to avoid being frostbitten to death, feeling the jagged rocks on the ground scraping painfully against her elbows and then the front of her body. Somehow she had managed to keep a hold of the crossbow throughout that painful maneuver and though she was certain she had lost some skin in the process, rolled onto her knee and took aim. The bolt from her crossbow struck the creature’s belly and it bellowed with pain.
Its roar brought the rest of its kindred from their hiding places and the triumvirate soon found themselves surrounded by five of the dreaded beasts. Melia fired another bolt at the worm that had attacked her and it slithered forward in a charge of outrage. She jumped to her feet as it came upon her, performing some minor feat of acrobatics when she leapt over its head and landed behind the beast. Turning her weapon upon it, she fired another series of bolts into the worm’s spine, finally stopping it for good. However, the others of its kind did not look upon her efforts kindly and they closed in on her.
"Melia!" Eowyn called out and was already running to the Ranger’s defense. A worm came at her in her effort and she avoid its lashing tail by jumping up once and ensuring she landed on its lengths when she came down again. The creature hissed at her, its jaws snapping at her.
"Eowyn! Drop!" Arwen shouted and Eowyn obeyed immediately, dropping to her knees in time to see Arwen fling her shield towards the creature. The circular plate of steel sliced through the air before meeting the flesh and bone of the worm. The creature screamed in agony and Eowyn found herself scrambling away trying to avoid the spray of blood that came from its grisly end. She stood up shakily and saw Arwen breathing a sigh of relief at her continued existence. However, the queen of Gondor had little time to savor Eowyn’s survival because Melia was valiantly fighting off two worms that were converging upon her.
Arwen came up from behind the two creatures and swung her blade in a wide arch over her shoulder, bringing the sword down upon the midsection of the worm. She put all her strength into it and drove the blade through its flesh until it came to a halt upon the ground. The worm tensed in agony, its scream tearing through her ears as she split it in half. Suddenly a blast of cold enveloped her body and Arwen felt her senses overload with the biting sensation of ice. She tried to turn around but only heard the fog of Eowyn’s scream and as she fell to the ground, she saw Eowyn slashing away at the worm that attacked her from behind. The creature was attempting to evade the flaying frenzy of the shield maiden’s blade but fury had made Eowyn a deadly enemy.
"Arwen!" She felt Melia’s hand around her arm, trying to help her to her feet.
Thanks to her aid, the Ranger had managed to fight off the remaining worm with her own sword, deciding that a more direct approach was necessary to vanquish the beast once and for all. However because Arwen had come to her assistance, the queen had left herself open for attack. Though the worm that had come up behind her had not managed to bathe her in the full vent of its icy breath, what it had done was enough to incapacitate the queen enough to stop her in her tracks.
"I am unhurt," Arwen managed to say through her chattering teeth. The cold was unpleasant and her body was racked with shivers but it was not permanent. Even now, she could feel the warmth returning to her limbs as Melia rubbed her arms hard, attempting to generate enough friction to produce heat. Arwen felt the blood flowing through her body as the biting sting against her skin faded away thanks to Melia’s ministration.
"Did I not tell you that you should have kept the shield?" Eowyn said with a little smile as she retrieved the shield embedded in a worm’s neck. Arwen was accustomed to her using levity to hide her worry and this moment was no exception.
Around them, lay the scattered remains of dead worms and Arwen wondered if they were truly that fortunate to survive another meeting with the dreadful creatures or was a higher power providing them with protection. Whatever the force keeping them alive still, Arwen was not about to question it. She was grateful to be alive.
"If I had not used it, you would not be here to be so smug," Arwen retorted with an equal expression of mischief in her voice.
Eowyn was about to answer when suddenly the ground shook with a tremor that silenced the words in her throat. Small grains of dirt lodged in place around them in the landscape was shaken loose as something that felt like thunder began to approach. Arwen felt her heart pound and if she suffered any ill effects of the worm, they were more or less shunted aside because she sensed what was coming.
"Run!" Arwen cried out.
"Run?" Eowyn declared. "Where?"
There was no place to run unless they return to the briar and there was no telling that what Arwen was sensing and caused such terror in the elf’s eyes would not follow them. Arwen did not answer because her eyes were fixed upon the drake that emerged from one of the crevasses. This was no worm, small and insignificant, this was a cold drake, a thing of claws and teeth. Its red eyes swept across the terrain, taking in the sight of all its dead children before turning her serpentine head towards those who had slaughtered them.
For an instant, none of them could do anything but stare at the massive beast with their mouths open in frozen horror. Only when it took a step towards them, were they forced into motion. Melia raised her crossbow and began firing at the creature. The first bolt that flew through the air struck the creature in its side had little effect. Even a formidable piece of steel was not going to penetrate a drake’s scales. The cold drake shrugged of the bolt as if it was rainwater on its back and Melia watched with growing fear as the metal bolt clattered impotently to the ground.
"Aim for its belly!" Eowyn shouted and wished she had a bow and arrow for those were weapons useful for an enemy such as this.
Melia nodded mutely and resumed her efforts. The creature was closing in on them and the trio found that they had no way to turn except back into the briar that only succeed in trapping them more than offering them an escape. Melia took careful aim with one of the few bolts she had left and let it fly at the drake. The projectile flew through the air and this time, could not be as easily discarded. The bolt struck its belly and though it was not enough to bring down the beast, it was successful in provoking the drake’s fury and it opened its mouth, preparing to vent the full torrent of its rage.
"GET BEHIND ME!" Eowyn ordered them all as she held up the shield between them and the drake. Eowyn had no idea if it would hold. The shield was made of mithrail, the hardest known substance after drake scales. Whether or not it would survive the drake’s cold breath was a mystery she wished she did not have to find out this way. Arwen scrambled behind her while Melia leapt behind a rock as the blast of ice came forth from the creature’s widened jaws.
Eowyn felt the steel of the shield become so cold it was almost difficult to maintain her hold but fortunately, it had not disintegrated and had managed to protect them from doing so. She peered from underneath the shield and heard Arwen scream to see the drake’s enormous head coming towards her; its jaws wide open. Eowyn pushed Arwen out of the way and swung the shield wide, slamming the steel covering into the side of the drake’s head. She did not expect it to hurt the creature but it did cause the drake to recoil a little, giving her time to escape.
"We need to spear it!" Arwen cried out when Eowyn reached her place of safety behind the rocks. The drake was breathing its cold breath against it relentlessly, causing some of the smaller boulders to shatter. Eventually it would make it cold enough for even their brief refuge to crumble.
"I would appreciate any suggestions you might have on how we’re going to manage that little feat!" Eowyn cried out as the drake smashed its tail against the rocks, trying to force them out.
"We need a distraction!" Arwen cried out as she felt more cold waves around her. "Melia! Can you hear us!"
"I hear you!" Melia cried out as she worked feverishly to retrieve the bolts she had used on the worms. The drake’s attention was still fixated on Arwen and Eowyn and allowed her to continue with little hindrance. Without them, she was powerless to be of any help to her friends.
"We need you to face it head on!" Arwen called out.
"What?" Melia stopped short and stared in their direction past the enormous bulk of the creature, with disbelief etched upon her face.
"We need it distracted so we can strike!" Arwen returned over the drake’s roar. The creature turned towards Melia upon hearing them speak, suddenly remembering the Ranger’s presence. Melia grasped what Arwen intended and knew that the tactic was dangerous to say the least. All three of them could be killed in one foul swoop if they erred in its execution. Unfortunately, it was also their only chance. However, for it to work, Melia had to move now. Taking a deep breath, she raced forward, avoiding a deadly swipe by the drake’s claws when it attempted to strike her in transit. Upon missing, it used it tail instead, attempting to swat her away like an insect. Melia managed to elude it, leaping onto the boulder that Arwen and Eowyn were hidden behind
"I hope you are right about this!" Melia cried out before swallowing thickly when she saw the drake coming towards her.
She stood her ground and perhaps it was her defiance, daring to face it in the open with her crossbow aimed boldly that stayed the creature’s desire to turn her to ice. The drake wanted to feed upon her bones, to taste her marrow upon its tongue. It rumbled forward as Melia began shooting bolts at it, taking precise aim so as to strike its soft underbelly. The drake roared in outrage and rose up to its full height when its skin was broken, preparing to avenge the pain by snapping its jaws around her skull. Melia’s fingers trembled as she continued to shoot; her fear threatening to override her senses. But she forced it away as best she could because it was imperative that she held her ground. In a matter of seconds, she emptied all the bolts she had into the beast’s belly and heard its deafening roar in her ears. In its fury, it chose to abandon the desire to feed upon her, deciding instead the quicker path of simply freezing her.
Melia saw the drake’s mouth widen and knew what was coming. She jumped as the cold blast came at her, landing badly on the shoulder that popped loudly when she hit the ground. The pain was beyond belief, like white heat searing through her body. It forced a cry of pain from her lips and for a few seconds she could not move. She was almost prepared to let the drake have her when suddenly, Arwen and Eowyn made a running leap onto the rock, and their swords were brandished high above their heads as they jumped towards the drake. The creature was caught by surprise at the sudden emergence of the other two women and had little time to react as they came lunging towards it.
The drake let out a loud wail of agony as their swords slid deep into the creature’s sternum. With their grip upon the weapons tight and the weight of their bodies pulling them downwards, the blades through the drake’s soft underbelly, ripping open its stomach in two bloody trails. It writhed in excruciating pain and flayed its head from side to side as it screamed a bloodcurdling cry that seemed to fill the world with its pain. The drake’s entire body quaked as the weapons did their worst, tearing out its insides and spilling blood and innards through the fissure of torn tissue.
As it struggled to shake of its attackers, Arwen and Eowyn were both flung away from its body like rag dolls. They landed in the dirt just in time to see the drake staggered away. The beast was heaving and straining against the agony of movement. Its spilled organs were dragging across the dirt in a gruesome display before it rolled heavily onto its side, its breath ragged and thready. Arwen picked herself up; glad to have suffered only scrapes and bruises but her gaze still fixed upon the wounded animal whose life’s blood had turned the ground into a crimson pool of blood. She saw her sword still protruding from its belly and knew by its terrible wounds that the creature was not long for the world.
A part of her felt sorrow for killing these beasts for they were rare and would soon be a thing of legend, however it was still one of the Enemy’s agents who would have spared no compassion if it were them in its place. With that in mind, Arwen’s heart hardened to its plight. The drake’s breathing soon shallowed and when the glow of its red eyes dimmed forever, it moved no more.
Only after she was certain of its demise was Arwen able to release the breath caught in her throat. It did not take long before she remembered the friends who had survived this crisis with her and immediately searched the blood-drenched arena of battle. She saw Eowyn standing up wearily, an angry gash across the side of her face. Blood stained Eowyn’s cheek and matted the gold of her hair, but other then that small injury, she appeared unhurt. Melia however had not moved from where she had fallen and that alarmed Arwen and Eowyn jointly. Both women hurried to the Ranger who was lying on her back, her face contorted in a grimace of pain. Arwen who was the experienced healer knelt down next to Eowyn.
"Melia, are you all right?" Arwen asked and then realized what a foolish question it was because if she were well she would be on her feet.
"I think I have dislocated my shoulder," the Ranger grunted in pain as Arwen helped her to a sitting position.
"You saved us," Eowyn declared as she knelt down next to Melia as well. "Thank you."
"You saved yourself," Melia replied through her teeth as Arwen made an exploratory examination of her injury. "I merely furnished the opportunity."
"I did not think that would work," Arwen answered honestly. "If you had not tricked the beast into the position she was when we attacked, it would not have."
"I did what I could," she replied as Arwen tended to her. "I’m glad that it worked, for all our sakes."
"I hope that is the last of them," Eowyn confessed as she sat down on the dirt, refusing to move at least for an hour or so. She had been fighting off exhaustion all day but now what reserves there were left of her strength was dwindling. "At least for while."
"I have to agree with you," Melia grunted as Arwen placed her hands on the Ranger’s shoulder and prepared to pop the bone into place. Eowyn offered her hand and Melia took it, unashamed to admit that what Arwen had to do would hurt.
"Brace yourself," the elven queen warned and Melia nodded, closing her eyes.
Arwen’s movement was swift in order to lessen the length of the pain but she could not eradicate it. The sharp, bone-jarring sensation rose up in Melia’s throat and escaped her mouth in an agonized cry as the bone was put back in place. Her hand clenched spasmodically around Eowyn’s and for a few seconds, it appeared as if she might pass out from the pain. Admirably, she remained conscious though her experience showed by the tears that had welled in her eyes.
"I am sorry," Arwen apologized for causing her pain but there was no way around it if the shoulder was to recover.
"Its alright," Melia whispered. "It had to be done."
"Arwen, you tend to Melia," Eowyn instructed, seeing Arwen had everything in hand. "I am going to ensure that there are no more surprises awaiting us."
"Are you sure that is wise?" The elf looked at her with concern. "You should not wander about alone."
"I will not go far," Eowyn assured her and made her way towards the drake’s lair.
Retrieving her sword from the beast had been a grisly business and Eowyn was still wiping the blood from the blade when she left Arwen and Melia to enter the lair of the drake they had just slain. Eowyn still had difficulty coming to grips with the realisation that they had slain a drake. When she was a child and had dreamed of being a great warrior who fought equally great battles, she had also dreamed of fighting dragons and other fantastic creatures. At the Battle of Pelennor, she had fulfilled one childhood dream and found that the art of war was neither as glorious or grand as she had envisioned. War was an ugly thing and until one saw its destruction first hand, there was no explaining how terrible it could be to the novice. At Pelennor and later at Angmar, she had learnt these things.
Fighting the drake had been that sort of experience. True, she was glad to be the one standing after it was all said and done. However, she shared Arwen’s feelings in seeing the death of the drake. For all its dark purpose, it was still a magnificent creature in life. Entering its lair, she kept her hand tight on her sword in readiness if anything were to emerge from the darkness. Inside it should have been pitch black but there was a small glow in the far end. She walked through the uneven surface of the cave, carefully making her way across the rocks and gravel, trying to ignore the fact that some of what she was stepping could be bones. Attracted to the light like a moth to the flame, Eowyn proceeded towards the radiating glow, trying to discern what could produce such unearthly light in this darkness.
Then she saw it.
It was lying against the far wall and the glow that had brought her to it was not coming from the object itself but rather from a small passageway through the rock filled with water. The shimmer from its surface had created the effect of radiance and caught the gleam of metal from the weapon she was now staring at it with wonder and awe. The weapon which was a sword.
The sword of Turin to be precise.
Eowyn closed the distance between herself and the legendary weapon of Turin Turambar, who had been the Edain of Dorlomin and was a renowned dragon slayer of the First Age. Supposedly forged from metal that came from the stars, she could very well believe it as Eowyn wrapped her hand around the hilt of the weapon that had not known human touch in almost two thousand years. It was encrusted with a jewel on each side of its hilt with the fine engraving of Turin’s seal in the center of it above the handle. Though it was supposed to be able to slay dragons with great ease, it felt light in her hand.
This was the weapon that had fought Morgoth in the first age and had slain the dragon Glaurung. Eowyn could not believe that it still existed but then why should it not survive any better than Sauron’s One Ring which was thought to have been lost for so many ages? Eowyn could not help but marvel at Arwen’s insight that the worms and the drake had indeed been protecting the Sword of Turin. Now as she moved towards the pool of water that ran down a small tunnel deeper into the rock, Eowyn was certain that at the end of this passage, they would find the Enemy and finish the threat of him once and for all.
With the Sword of Turin now in their possession, Eowyn knew they would succeed.
In deference to Melia’s injuries, Arwen and Eowyn chose not to leave immediately. Taking refuge within the cavern where Eowyn had found Turin’s sword, they rested for a few hours with Arwen taking first watch as Eowyn and Melia slept. They had lit something of a fire and Eowyn’s worst fears were realised when they saw the floor the drake’s lair littered with bones. Some were of animals that had dwelt in this lands before the drake and her offspring had slain them or driven them away. As much as it chilled them to the bone to remain inside the cavern, it was still the safest place they knew. As a habit, worms were not likely to trespass the cavern of a drake and so they could be ensured of relief from that particular fear.
Using her elvish skills, Arwen was able to do a good deal for Melia’s shoulder. Although it would still ache from its dislocation, at least she would have more or less full use of it in the immediate future though there would be pain. Eowyn had reclaimed their weapons from the slain drake, as well retrieving Melia’s bolts for her crossbow. With no idea of what was ahead, recovering their weapons was a vital task before they continued. The passage seemed to lead deeper into the mountains although Arwen suspected it might take them even further then that. She sensed great evil emanating from the tunnel and though it would have been wise to turn away, the Enemy lay at the end of their journey and they had no choice but to meet it.
After they had adequate rest, the triumvirate climbed into the pool and began their passage through its water. The water’s height remained at a constant between their waist and armpits and the bottom though covered with silt was almost certainly rock. With only one small torch to light the way, which was no easy thing to handle when one was immersed in water, the three women walked for hours down the passage that seemed to be leading gradually downward. The air became thin and there were many debates in trying to decide whether or not it was entirely wise to keep their torch burning when the air was so scarce. However, Eowyn was not prepared to risk travelling in complete darkness when they knew so little of where they were.
In the end, it was decided that the torch should remain lit and though none of them voiced it, each was grateful for the fact because the walls of stone around them were terribly intimidating and there was still feeling of being buried alive. There was no sound of anything as they continued toward the passage’s end, ignoring the ache to their limbs as the exhaustion of moving fully clothed through water set in as well as its slowly decreasing temperature. Without the sun or moon over their heads, they lost all sense of time and knew not how long they walked only that their journey seemed to go on forever.
Finally after what seemed like days and could well have been because there was still nothing to give them any sense of how long their journey through the tunnel had taken, they entered an enormous cavern with high ceilings, laden with limestone stalactites. They could not see all its boundaries save one, a shore or rock that had a path of its own in the distance. Eager to escape the water and because there seemed no other way to travel, Eowyn immediately led her companions towards its. Arwen had said little during their trek here but Eowyn suspected her silence had to do with her fear of indescribable evil that needed no elven senses to detect because it permeated the walls of this dark place with its stink.
"Thank the Gods," Melia commented as they climbed onto the hard shelf of rock. She was certain that her skin had wrinkled like a thousand year old man in rapid state of decay at the itch she felt in her skin after being immersed so long. "I do not think I could have endured that any longer."
"At least in the water we knew what we faced," Arwen remarked, glancing about anxiously in search of any new danger. "We have no idea what lies ahead."
"And on that happy thought," Eowyn frowned, "we shall continue. I do not want to remain here too long."
"I wonder what this place is?" Melia remarked as they left the edge of the shelf and followed the path of dry land wherever it went. "Beyond the Blue Mountains, there is only the sea." She pointed out.
"That is true," Arwen agreed as they entered more caves that seemed to lead even deeper into the earth than they had already journeyed. "But only since the Second Age. Before that, where we are would have been the Iron Mountains and Beleriand."
"The lands that were sunken when Sauron convinced the peoples of Numenor to war against the Valar," Melia realised, remembering the tales told in her youth.
"Yes," Eowyn sighed shaking her head. Her people were direct descendents of the Black Numenoreans who were all that was left of that great but unfortunately prideful race. "The folly of men who can be convinced of all kinds of foolishness when enough lather has been placed upon their egos."
"Harshly put," Arwen shrugged. "But not entirely untrue."
"My people are no better," Melia sighed. "I am Easterling descended and our proximity to Mordor and the lands of darkness allowed many of our tribes to fall under the sway of Sauron. My father’s tribe who are descendents of the great hero Bor, moved further south, to parts of the world no men, elf or dwarfs had ever been. That is why I am saying that I am from Far Harad as opposed to merely Harad. The others chose to fight for Sauron during the War of the Ring, which fortunately my people chose to stay out of. Still, the peoples of Harad have spent untold years battling because of this difference."
"The Easterlings have now made peace with the Reunified Kingdom," Arwen stated. "Perhaps, now there can be a lasting peace for your people as well."
"Perhaps," Melia replied, not at all sounding optimistic. "However, the world is a large place and there will always be darkness as well as those who will exploit it to their own ends."
"I must agree with Melia on this," Eowyn replied. "I thought we were done fighting but now it seems that the lesser enemies who had remained hidden during Sauron’s reign have chosen his demise to appear. I fear that we have a long way to go before there is truly peace in…"
"Be still!" Arwen ordered suddenly and silenced her companion’s chatter instantly.
They had been passing through an enormous cavern with columns of limestone and stalagmite clusters scattered liberally about. These had the ability to cloud the mind into disarming its guard against shadows and indeed none of the trio had paid much attention as they made their way through it. Arwen had been sensing such a prevailing feeling of danger since entering this underworld that she had not noticed the subtle shift to something that was not all around them but concentrated.
For a few seconds Arwen did not speak but her sword was drawn and that provoked the others into doing the same. The shadows did not move and the path ahead was dark with no signs of any life. Minutes passed and only their breathing could be heard. Eowyn began to get impatient with the anticipation and though her heart told her to trust Arwen’s senses, her mind that was more reliant on things she could see, began to falter.
"What is it?" Eowyn asked finally.
"I can hear them," Arwen whispered softly.
"Hear who?" Melia asked, her own patience dwindling as well.
"I don’t know," Arwen replied, wishing that there was an answer she could give them. She could only sense that something was near. Their proximity was so close that she could feel their breath upon her skin but she could not see them. She knew they were there, she could feel them!
"Let’s move out of here then," Eowyn prompted, not wishing to discount Arwen’s senses but not at all eager to remain if there was danger close by.
"I don’t know if that’s wise Eowyn," Arwen stared at her.
"We should not remain to be targets," Melia added her voice. "If they are here and we cannot see them, we will be far more difficult to overcome if we are moving."
"Melia is right," Eowyn replied and held her torch ahead. "Look there," she pointed. There was another cavern ahead and it seemed larger and more accommodating to them if an attack was forthcoming. "If they are there, they will follow us if we will enter that next cave."
Arwen was unhappy at this course but had to concede that Eowyn was right. With her eyes fixed on the darkness around them, she followed Eowyn into the next with Melia behind her. Nothing stirred in the blackness and yet Arwen could sense the danger clearly. It had not gone away but was looming closer. It was maddening knowing this danger and yet being unable to see it. She heard a stumble behind her and almost jumped out of her skin. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Melia brushing herself off and the Ranger signaled her well being with a simple gesture for Arwen to continue ahead.
Arwen nodded and saw Eowyn passing into the next cavern. She hastened her pace to keep the Lady of Ithilien in her sights when suddenly, a fist appeared out of nowhere, striking Eowyn’s cheek with such force, it sent Eowyn flying through the air before slamming hard on the ground.
"Eowyn!" Arwen screamed and went for her weapon when she felt arms around her that kept her from doing so. Looking over her shoulder, her eyes widened as she saw her attacker to be none other than Melia.
"Melia!" She cried out in shock, unable to believe that the Ranger had betrayed her.
"Let go of me!" Arwen heard an indignant cry and realised that it was Melia’s voice and it was not coming from the person who had such an iron grip on her.
Melia and a man emerged out of the shadows behind them. The Ranger was struggling valiantly as the man or was it a man? Arwen could not be sure as she saw him clinging to the Easterling, having little difficulty restraining the hellion who was trying to break free of him. Although he appeared a man, his face was surprisingly nondescript. Almost bland actually. It was as if someone had tried to fashion a man that could blend easily into a large group. He stared at her with vacant eyes, registering her existence but little more than that.
"Who are you?" Arwen demanded of her captor who said nothing for a second. Melia’s features dissolved and what she found herself facing made her scream.
It was not a man but something that resembled a lizard. There were scales on his body and through his half opened mouth, she could see the fine serration of reptilian teeth. Blood red eyes stared at her and his grip on her tightened, she recoiled when she felt his hand lower to her abdomen. Struggling harder at the invasion, Arwen shuddered when his palm made contact with her stomach. For a few second, he did nothing but hold his hand in that one place before he looked at the others, including the one who was retrieving Eowyn from where she had fallen.
"This is the one," he replied, his voice little more than a hiss. "I feel the future master quickening inside her. This is the Evenstar. "
"Let her go you bastard!" Melia kicked even harder at their identification of the queen, aware now that these things were here specifically for Arwen. Her efforts to break free were cut short when the creature holding her slammed her face first into a column and the Ranger struggled no more, slumping unconsciously in his grip.
"Melia!" Arwen cried out in horror. Eowyn was in a similar state, a terrible bruise forming on the left side of her face where the creature that ambushed them first had struck her.
"Please," she managed to crane enough to look at the captor who was holding her. "I will go with you but let them go. They are of no use to you or your master." She begged, tears running down her cheeks as she made her impassioned plea.
"They are for the Uruk Hai," the creature said plainly. He was not smiling but his teeth bared were almost a grin.
Arwen’s eyes widened, as she understood. "NO!"
Unfortunately, as she was dragged kicking and screaming away from Eowyn and Melia, it appeared that there was very little she could do to stop them or save herself.
A great feeling of dread had overcome Legolas when he and the Fellowship cleared the path through the briar patch. At Hobbiton, Gandalf decided that they would not reach their destination in time if measures were not taken to hasten their journey. Thus when they set out the day after stopping to rest at Bag End, the wizard had summoned to him one of their greatest allies during the War of the Ring, the Eagles. Gwaihir, his brother Landroval and companion Meneldor had been instrumental to their victory during the war and also to the safety of the Ringbearers when it bore them past the Black Gates of Mordor.
The Eagles were more than happy to aid the Fellowship in reaching the Blue Mountains in time much faster then it would take them by horse back. Gwaihir, descendant of the great eagle Thorondor who had fought Morgoth forces in the First Age, was more than eager to aid in any quest that would prevent the rise of the ancient evil. Gwaihir had promised to wait until the Fellowship emerged in order to carry them safely back to the Grey Havens when their quest was done.
Legolas could sense the evil emanating from the mountain, even before they took the hewn path created by Eowyn to the lair of the worms and the drake. The elf had no doubt that whomever the Enemy was; they would find him in the bowels of the mountain or perhaps even deeper then that. Who knows what terrible things had lingered in the depths of the world since the lands beyond had sunk into the sea following the wrath of Manwe and the Valar?
"We must hurry," Gandalf spoke up, his eyes misting over as if he knew something that they all did not.
"Why?" Aragorn asked first. "What has happened?"
"I am not sure," Gandalf replied, lying. He knew precisely what had taken place; he could sense it even from this distance. Telling Aragorn would serve no purpose other than to send panic through the heart of the King and the Lord of Ithilien and for them to reach the ladies in time, they needed to be focussed. "We must hasten our pace."
"I agree," Legolas commented and broke into a jog to make his point. He could see the edge of the patch but what lay beyond the thorny barrier caused his mouth to fall open from shock.
"By Valar!" He exclaimed.
All these surprises were starting to bother Aragorn greatly and his anxiety was increasing by the minute. "What is it now?" He demanded, not knowing how much more of these cryptic exclamations he was going to take.
"Look!" Legolas pointed out as they stepped into what could only be described as a field of slaughter. Dead worms laid strewn about the bloody field, bodies cleaved in half, speared and slashed. It was a grisly scene of death and if that was not shocking enough to the senses, the drake that lay in the middle of a drying pool of blood was. The creature was buzzing with flies and other insects, its entrails exposed from its split belly. The smell produced made someone gag, Aragorn thought it might have been Merry.
"It’s a drake!" Gimli exclaimed. "I did not think that there were any left! I thought Smaug was the last of them!"
"So did I," Gandalf replied with a slight nod, since he was in the company who saw the end of that particular fire breather. "It appears that there might still have been a few left."
"My wife was definitely here then," Faramir studied the slaughter around him and did not know whether or not he ought to be proud of her efforts or furious that she had been placed in such terrible danger. "I recognise her handiwork."
"Arwen had many talents," Aragorn frowned as he examined the beast and was grateful to say that it was definitely dead. Now on top of all the other reasons that he wanted to find her safe and sound, Aragorn wanted to hear all about how she had managed to slay a drake of this considerable size. He was proud of her while at the same time terrified as well. "I had no idea dragon slaying was one of them."
"It seems they are more resourceful then we gave them credit for," Gimli replied rethinking his views on the lady’s ability to defend herself.
"The queen has always been that way," Frodo answered with no small hint of admiration. He remembered how Arwen had protected him from the Ringwraiths and knew that courage was something the Evenstar had in abundance.
"The tracks are confusing to read," Legolas remarked as he turned his attention to the ground that was not smeared in blood. "However, all three survived the encounter. There are prints leading to that cave." The elf walked on ahead and started climbing the rocks into the cavern.
"I believe your wife and her friends have acquired the Sword of Turin," Gandalf explained as he climbed into the cavern behind Legolas. The jewel poised on the edge of his staff began to glow and light filled the cavern to show the sight that had greeted the three women who had taken their rest within its walls.
"It was here?" Pippin looked about the place with clear revulsion after seeing the bones of the animals and men who had met their end as the meal of the drake who had inhabited this cave.
"For almost two millenia," Gandalf answered casually as Aragorn and Legolas went to the far end, where they found further signs of their loved ones.
"They rested here for awhile," Legolas explained, his fingers gauging time by the cooling embers of the campfire.
"Well killing a whole bunch of worms and dragons can do that," Sam found himself saying to no one in particular and though they were dead, could not help admit he was rather excited by having seen a real drake in his lifetime.
"Someone was hurt," the elf picked up the crushed remains of vegetation and took a breath of it.
"Athelas," Aragorn stated as he took some from Legolas and breathed in its unique sense. "It is used for minor ailments."
"That’s good to know," Faramir declared, breathing easier after the elf’s initial announcement of someone being hurt.
"So they found the Sword of Turin and kept going?" Pippin asked. "Where?"
"Into the water," Legolas answered gesturing to the pool of water that down the passageway.
"Water?" Sam swallowed, not liking the sound of that at all.
"Don’t worry," Aragorn smiled, remembering the hobbit’s aversion to water and more particularly, drowning. "We will not abandon you to fend for yourself."
"You know Sam, you really ought to learn how to swim," Frodo joked and earned a little punch on the shoulder from his best friend.
"Very funny," Sam grumbled and wondered if there was ever going to be a quest where he would not require getting wet.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.