3. Chapter Two: Neutrality
When Legolas and Gimli reached Lebethron, little had occurred to alter Nunaur’s description of tragedy at what had befallen the village.
Indeed, Nunaur’s description of the terrible destruction wrought upon Lebethron seemed to pale in comparison with the reality that they were forced to witness as they rode into the town. Even as they neared the outskirts of the Lebethron, party of travellers could smell the stench of bodies that covered the land like uncovered graves. Once they entered Lebethron, the stench of bodies had given way to the overwhelming silence whose potency was almost as acute as the former. It was not to say that there was no sound at all, for they could still hear the noises of the forest from which Lebethron had relied upon for much of its commerce. Birds and insects chirped in complete obliviousness to the dark events through the rustling leaves of trees that would not know another harvest for many years.
The horses as they took the path into the village reared their heads in protest as the scent of the dead made them instinctually wary of venturing further. The elves soothed their steeds’ anxiety but could do little to suppress their own horror as they saw for themselves the extent of the destruction. Nunaur’s description of butchery was not exaggerated. The elves, which had lived long and had seen much of ugliness in both human and other races, were moved to shock at what they were confronted with as they entered the village.
Gimli had travelled to Lebethron once before and he remembered the village as being a warm place, peopled with folk that were hard working, honest and kind. They had been so proud that the lumber for which they were so noted would be used in the fortifications for the White City. Gimli remembered sharing draught with one of the village elders, a carpenter named Selywn, an agreeable man whom Gimli had looked forward to meeting again. As his eyes swept over the dead bodies, some trampled beyond recognition, Gimli knew that it was highly likely that one of them belonged to Selwyn. Gimli forced the thought away because he knew it would only unleash the full vent of his sorrow and he had no wish to appear so vulnerable in the company of elves, even if one was a trusted friend.
Still, it was difficult to remain untouched by what they were seeing before them. There was no way that they could compare what they were seeing with any previous acts of aggression by the enemy. During the War of the Ring, the Southrons and the Easterlings had attacked Gondor with a vengeance, spurred on by Sauron’s powers and the promise that Isildur’s Bane would make them invincible. Villages were attacked with savagery but none had been subjected to the brutality that was inflicted upon Lebethron on this occasion. Women and children were left alive, brutalised no doubt, but not murdered in wholesale slaughter. The Easterlings had wanted their enemies to fear them and such fear was best conveyed in the frightened tales of survivors. However, such was not the case here.
Buildings that were once homes, community gathering places such as inns and meeting halls, lay on the ground, mounds of broken wood crushed underfoot by the fearsome mumakils ridden by the enemy. It was as if the whole of Lebethron was flattened under the weight of a giant hand, smashing them into the dirt. Fences of stone and wood added themselves to the piles of debris scattered throughout the village. Gardens were trampled into mud, shrubs and bushes crushed into the earth. Flower petals sprayed across the destroyed gardens and anything of beauty that might have captured the eye was ruined for the purpose of the lesson the enemy was attempting to teach them.
Yet none of this was as disturbing as the bodies.
Legolas and Gimli who had travelled through Moria and seen the death of Moria’s dwarf population, tried not to be affected by the carnage but it was impossible. Among the dead were children, their throats cut open in a clean, slash across their necks. Their clothes were soiled with blood and despite the violence of their ending, their faces looked innocent,as innocent as the face of a murdered child could be. It did not matter that some were infants or barely able to walk, their lives were taken just the same. Once finished with, they were left to die, their blood soaking into the dusty ground.
The women were killed in similar fashion, the ones who were not raped first. Legolas’ jaw tightened when he saw that many of the women were unclothed and the terrible marks on their body left no doubt as to their fates. A surge of fury rose up within him because to an elf, there was no greater crime than this brutal violation of the body. If such things could be measured, the crime was held in worse regard than even that of murder. Elves did not look kindly upon those who engaged such barbaric acts and even more so if it were one of their own that committed it.
The men were killed outright. If there was any consolation to be had, they were spared the ordeal of their women. However, in death, their bodies had been no less violated. Nunaur was right; some of the bodies were strung up in a stomach turning display of savagery. Like meat hanging in a butcher’s shop, a dozen or so men were suspended from a large tree in the centre of the village. Carrion birds were beginning to feed upon them and scene was so grisly that Legolas was certain he heard someone in their party, retch in disgust. It was clear that they had been killed before they were hung in such a manner and once again, Legolas was struck by the memory that this was a warning to him, not to allow the elves to become involved in the conflict that would soon plunge Middle earth into war.
"Cut them down," Legolas said to no one in particular when he finally turned away, unable to look any more.
Nunaur who had insisted on returning with his lord once he had rested, stepped forward grimly, glad that he was finally able to do what he had wished to when they had first come upon Lebethron. He had wanted to give the poor unfortunates a proper burial but without any knowledge of whether or not the enemy would return and with the discovery of the child, the march warden had felt it best that they depart immediately, leaving Lebethron’s folk in the manner he had discovered them. This has preyed heavily upon the mind of Eden Ardhon’s march warden and though Legolas had asked him to remain home, the elf had beseeched his lord to allow him to accompany Legolas on this journey.
"They deserve death for this!" Gimli exploded, unable to rein in his fury much longer.
"They deserve that and more," Legolas nodded in agreement. He was glad that Melia had chosen to remain for he did not know how she would take seeing the full extent of her people’s savagery. It was one thing to hear of it but to see it in such gruesome detail was something else entirely and he wished her spared of the ordeal.
"What do you plan to do?" Gimli asked as Nunaur and those under his command undertook the task Legolas had set them.
"I do not know," Legolas answered truthfully. The question Gimli was asking was one he had been debating with since they had set out from Eden Ardhon. He wished Aragorn were here because he needed the counsel of the king before he could make this decision. Prior to leaving Eden Ardhon, he had sent word to Ithilien, aware that Aragorn would already have left Gondor bound for Ithilien. They had mistakenly believed that the first attack upon the lands of the Westernesse would take place at Ithilien. Certainly, Lebethron had never even crossed their minds as a possible target of the Easterlings first strike.
"They did this to warn you!" Gimli retorted, his fury spurring him to speak with heated emotions. "You cannot simply do nothing!"
Legolas turned around sharply and stared at Gimli, "do you think I wish to remain behind while my friends go to war? I would ride by Aragorn, Faramir and Eomer into fire if I were given the choice, but Aragorn himself told me this was a matter for men, not elves! He believes that I would imperil Eden Ardhon unnecessarily if the elves were to cast our lot with men. Already, there are many tribes of Easterling and Southrons gathered against the Reunified Kingdom but some linger, unwilling to engage in another war. If those nations, for one moment, thought the elves would fight for Gondor, there is no telling how they would react to such news. Those who may not wish to fight might be incited to by their hatred of us!"
"They would not dare attack you!" Gimli returned just as sharply.
"Why would they not?" Legolas countered. "Our presence in Middle earth is nowhere what it used to be. Even though Eryn Lasgalen, Imladris and East Lorien are still occupied, it is no secret that our numbers are dwindling. If we were to involve ourselves in this conflict, it might worsen the situation."
"Or it might end it decisively," the dwarf retaliated with just as much passion. "Aragorn worries that Eden Ardhon lies too far beyond Gondor and Ithilien’s reach to protect your city should you become embroiled in the war but while you fear that the Easterlings may gain more support for their campaign by the involvement of the elves, has it not occurred to you that they might also be deterred by it?"
"It is not that simple," Legolas took a deep breath and released it as he gazed upon the dwarf. No one this earth could vex him as much as the son of Gloin. Legolas was certain that half the reason he loved Melia so much was because her gruff, practical manner reminded her a little of the dwarf, certainly they both delighted in driving him mad.
"My father has no wish to embroil himself in the affairs of men," Legolas confessed. "He would not help even if he were asked."
At their last meeting, Thranduil had spoken most empathically on how he felt about the notion of war and involving himself in Gondor’s politics. Prior to the treaty ceremony that should have sealed the alliance of the Reunified Kingdom and the Easterling Confederacy, Legolas had invited Thranduil to come to Minas Tirith to participate. The King of Mirkwood had said quite firmly that he had no desire to deal with the politics of men and wished only to be left alone. While Celeborn had not been quite so lacking in diplomacy, the lord of East Lorien had echoed the same sentiments and while Legolas had no doubt that Elladan and Elrohir would pledge Imladris’ support behind Aragorn if required, Imladris was a long way from the front lines.
"He is your father," Gimli pointed out. "If you were in danger, there is no doubt in my mind he would aid you."
"I know that as well," Legolas retorted, having already thought of this argument long before Gimli had made mention it. "So do I ignore the words of Aragorn and force Eden Ardhon’s support upon the king, possibly inciting the neutral Easterling tribes into action, placing Eden Ardhon into peril and thus giving no choice but to force the other elven nations to end their neutrality or do I follow Aragorn’s advice and let them sort it out for themselves, as they should?"
Gimli frowned unhappily, seeing why Legolas was so conflicted and not envying the decision the elf was required to make. "I see your point."
"Thank you," Legolas replied even though he knew that doubts remained still in Gimli’s mind for it certainly remained in his own. "While we wait for Aragorn to arrive, we will do the only thing that is left to be done for Lebethron and that is to give its folk a proper burial."
Gimli could not disagree with Legolas’ suggestion despite his wish to exact a more telling course of action, particularly upon the Easterlings who had undertaken this cruel revenge upon the people of Lebethron. Gimli thought of Selwyn, his family and the community that the carpenter had lived all his life and knew that for him, neutrality was a foul word. If he could inspire his brethren to rise up against the Easterlings, he would do so gladly but he knew dwarfs even better than elves. Gimli could venture a guess at their answer if he should attempt anything as ill advised as putting forward a request for the dwarfs to assist the men of Gondor in their battles. How could he rebuke the elves for choosing to remain unaligned in this matter when the dwarf community was no better?
"It is a good thing that your lady chose to remain at Eden Ardhon," Gimli replied, deciding that the best course of action was to change the subject.
"Yes," Legolas nodded with complete agreement. "I think she feels rather responsible because she is an Easterling herself."
"A foolish notion," Gimli muttered as he and Legolas moved deeper into the ruined village. "She has not been an Easterling for many years."
"It does not change the fact that many will still see her as one. She was no better received when we first arrived at East Lorien together. Being my wife does not change the fact that she is from a race Middle earth now consider an enemy."
Legolas was actually rather grateful that Melia had chosen to remain at home to tend to the young child who was the only survivor of this massacre. He did not wish to tell her that her presence might create further complications if they were to encounter the Easterlings who carried out this atrocity. Sauron had bred the races under his command with a natural disdain for the elves, Legolas could not even begin to imagine what they would think of a woman of their own blood, who had not only rejected their ways but had also taken an Eldar as husband. The outrage of it, especially to an Easterling, would be extreme and Legolas was relieved that Melia was at home, beyond harm’s reach.
"I think you underestimate your reputation," Gimli retorted. "You are beloved even among men, I doubt that anyone would see Melia as less when you have chosen her as your wife."
"As much as I regard them, the hearts of men are easily swayed by fear and this are fearful times. I believe the safest place for Melia is at home," Legolas answered.
"Perhaps you are right," Gimli could not disagree with the elf’s desire for his lady’s safety. Gimli himself was rather grateful that his own wife, Lorin, preferred to remain at their home in Aglarond far away from the business of war. "However, it is my experience that the lady does not need protecting. If anything, she is quite capable of looking after herself."
Legolas turned to Gimli and remarked, "in my experience, no one is completely invulnerable, particularly those who think they can look after themselves."
Gimli did not know how to answer and decided that perhaps silence was best for now. With the grisly work ahead of them, it was rather appropriate.
When the news reached him from Eden Ardhon, Aragorn did not know if he was more furious at the Easterlings or himself for not being able to guess where they would strike first in this war. All this time, they had been certain that Ithilien would be the first place the enemy would chose to launch their campaign against the Reunified Kingdom, Lebethron was never ever considered. Why should it? The King of Gondor asked himself as he and Faramir rode to Lebethron soon after Legolas’ message had been delivered.
Lebethron had no value as a military target. They had anticipated the Easterling army would take the Harad Road with the Mountains of Shadow flanking their journey northward. It was for this reason that Aragorn had asked for Legolas’ neutrality in the conflict. The king knew that Eden Ardhon would be within reach of any Easterling army choosing to journey this path towards the territories of the Reunified Kingdom and if Legolas threw his support behind Gondor, there was no reason why the enemy would not strike in retaliation. While the enemy would prefer to avoid an elven interest in what was largely a human war, Aragorn could not be certain that their spite would be restrained by reason.
Despite the destruction of Lebethron, there was a much larger issue that had raised considerable concern throughout the ranks of the Gondorian and Ithilien army and that was the realisation that the enemy was not where they thought they would be. It appeared that the Confederacy had not travelled up the Harad Road and since they could not possibly have a fleet large enough to mount a naval invasion after Pelargir, Aragorn concluded that they only way they could advance was through the mountains of Ephel Dúath. The thought that they might use the mountains as their crossing left Aragorn deeply unsettled for there were too many places where the enemy might enter the territory of the Reunified Kingdom unseen.
Upon learning of the attack upon Lebethron, Aragorn had sent word to all his Rangers to keep watch for the mountains because if the Easterlings were capable of wreaking such destruction upon the village without anyone suspecting their arrival, then no one was safe. Aragorn was deeply concerned that their intelligence was unable to determine exactly which path the enemy was taking to reach the western lands. The king suspected that the army he had amassed at Ithilien was now awaiting a battle that would take elsewhere and that concerned the king greatly.
With the exception of Eden Ardhon and Emyn Arnen at Ithilien, there were no great cities flanking the mountains of Ephel Dúath, which lead to the conclusion that the Easterlings may be intending to attack villages in a bid for territory and supplies, as it had done to Lebethron. The thought of the enemy besieging folk who had know ability to wage war against an army of that measure of brutality, filled the king with anger and made him more determined to find the enemy at all costs.
"You think I should have remained in Ithilien," Aragorn remarked as he and Faramir journeyed to Lebethron.
"I do," Faramir glanced briefly at his king before his eyes faced the road once again. "However, I understand your desire to go."
Faramir had wanted Aragorn to remain in Ithilien because the news of Lebethron’s destruction indicated that they were at a disadvantage at not knowing the whereabouts of the Easterling army. It would be unwise for the king to be unprotected at such a time. However, nothing that Faramir could say would deter the king from his intended course. In the end, the Prince of Ithilien had to be satisfied with Aragorn making the journey dressed in the fashion he had when he was still the Dunedain. In fact, both men discarded their clothes for the garb they had worn when they were both still Rangers. The effect once they were ready, was more than capable of promoting the illusion that they were simple travellers and not the two most important men in the Reunified Kingdom.
Despite his disagreement with Aragorn making the journey, he could appreciate why the king would want to go personally to Lebethron. Faramir felt the same outrage and the Prince could not begin to imagine what was in the king’s mind as they took the road to their rendezvous with Legolas and Gimli.
"I must see Legolas," Aragorn declared surprising Faramir with his answer a little.
"Why?" Faramir stared at him.
"I know him," Aragorn frowned as he thought of the message he had received from the Lord of Eden Ardhon. "What happened at Lebethron will only enflame his desire to put the weight of Eden Ardhon behind our cause. Legolas is not one to succumb to coercion and though the Easterlings may be foolish enough to assume that the massacre at Lebethron would serve to deter Eden Ardhon’s involvement, I can tell you now that it will not. If anything, it would provoke Legolas’ self righteous fury into doing the exact opposite of what they intend."
He was right, Faramir realised. Although he did not know Legolas as long as Aragorn, he had come to know the elf well since the War of the Ring and their subsequent establishment as masters of Ithilien. After Legolas had began building his colony in Eden Ardhon, Faramir had often visited the fledgling community to see how the elves fared in the southern provinces of Ithilien and counted the elf as one of his dearest friends. Faramir often thought that he and Legolas were a great deal alike in their disposition, bound by loyalty and friendship to the king, perfectly willing to ride at his side into any calamity but also willing to take charge when the situation required.
Faramir was perfectly aware of the stubborn streak possessed by the elf after numerous adventures together. Legolas would not take too kindly to coercion and Faramir began to understand that Aragorn’s fierce desire to reach Lebethron was not because he wanted to see for himself the carnage that had taken place, but to ensure that Legolas did not do anything that would irrevocably commit his people to war.
"He does not know where they are," Faramir remarked, trying to assuage Aragorn’s anxiety.
Unfortunately the king would hear none of it and retorted promptly, "let me tell you something about elves, Faramir. If you should ever become the obsession of one, there is no place on this earth you could hide where he would not find you. For Legolas, this is equally so. He has spent that the last three millennia hunting and killing every dark thing that lived in Mirkwood as a pastime. When I first met him, he was hunting spiders for the lack of anything better to do, Trust me, if he sets his mind to finding the Easterlings who committed the massacre of Lebethron, I do not doubt he will find them."
For a long moment, Faramir did not speak as they rode through the wooded track towards Lebethron. The sun had disappeared past the mountains of Ephel Dúath and the blanket of night made them seem sinister instead of benign. When Sauron still ruled, the mountains felt like an extension of the dark lord’s evil that seemed to creep towards Gondor and the other kingdoms of Middle earth. Even now, long after Sauron’s presence was driven from the world completely, they still appeared like dark behemoths, inching closer to stake a claim on what their master was unable to conquer.
"Perhaps we should let Legolas find them Aragorn," Faramir spoke finally, unleashing the thoughts that had been building up inside his head during the long pause.
"What do you mean?" Aragorn stared at the Prince.
"If the destruction of Lebethron is as terribly as we fear, with every man, woman and child brutally murdered, why should we kerb Legolas’ outrage? My own is no less than his and I share his disgust at what has happened. Those people deserve justice," Faramir retorted. "If Legolas is capable of tracking those who were responsible for the murder of those innocents, should we stop him?"
Aragorn drew in a deep breath and turned his gaze away from Faramir as he sought the words to answer. It was a good minute before he was able to respond.
"Faramir, I am no less angry at what has happened to Lebethron then you or Legolas," Aragorn declared meeting Faramir’s gaze as he began speaking, "you are right, the folk whose lives were taken so unjustly should be avenged and if it were my choice, I would hunt them down by Legolas side and make every last one of them pay for each life that was taken but I cannot. I cannot make such a choice because I am king and as king, my thoughts cannot simply be about vengeance or justice, it must be about the kingdom."
"I know," Faramir replied, having heard the argument before, though not as passionately stated.
However, Aragorn was far from finished with his declaration and continued to speak, his voice showing how deeply he was affected by what had happened and how difficult it was to do nothing when so many had lost their lives.
"As much as I would have Legolas as my ally in this war, Eden Ardhon sits too far away from Gondor or Ithilien to be defended with any kind of effectiveness. It is vulnerable to attack by the Haradrim and from any number of Easterling tribes. He is my friend and I love him dearly but he is not Elrond who was capable of protecting Imladris from Sauron using the power of the Ford of Bruinen. Everything we fear about the elves would only take place if Eden Ardhon were destroyed and I cherish Legolas and his colony too much to gamble with its existence in such a manner."
It was true, Faramir admitted begrudgingly. The elves would either become involved in the war or be incited into leaving Middle earth forever if Eden Ardhon were destroyed. With the enemy keeping its movements through their territory a secret, it was difficult to deploy their own armies with any certainty and until that changed, Faramir could understand Aragorn’s need for caution.
"You are right of course," Faramir shrugged in reluctant agreement. "However, I for one would like to see them pay for what they did."
"They will," Aragorn returned with a voice so cold that it send shudders through Faramir’s skin. "They will pay for it when we meet in battle. I thought to make peace with them but the destruction of Lebethron has hardened my heart. If it is war they want, it is war they will have."
For Melia, the destruction of Lebethron was embodied in its entirety in the face of the young child she had taken into her home.
The child had become Melia’s responsibility since her arrival in Eden Ardhon and the former Ranger took on the role of surrogate mother like a she-wolf protecting her young cub. It was difficult not to feel disposed in such a manner towards the child when Melia had only to look upon the despairing face of the little girl to feel this relentless need to protect her. As it was, the lady of Eden Ardhon was wholly outraged by Lebethron’s fate and worse yet, by what the child must have surely witnessed. There was no doubt in Melia’s mind that the girl had seen the attack in all its savagery. There could be no other explanation as to why she had retreated so completely into a well of grief.
For the first day, the child would do nothing but cling to her. Even when she set the child down from her arms, the girl gripped her hand and followed her almost everywhere. However, what was most disconcerting was her silence. She did not speak and had no wish to despite Melia’s best efforts to coax a name from her. In the end, the Ranger decided that the child would speak when she was ready and she was clearly not ready as of yet.
The elves however, were fascinated by the child and showed her kindness but the girl was still too afraid to know what to make of them. They understood that she had suffered a terrible ordeal and thus kept their distance though for many of them, seeing a child was a rare experience. There were no children at Eden Ardhon mostly because elves preferred to parent early on in their lives and most had already done so prior to arriving at the colony. Melia and Legolas had never truly spoken about children even though Melia knew she wanted to be a mother some day. The girl’s presence in her life seemed to convince Melia that she would be a good mother. She knew elves could control when they conceived a child and was rather comforted by the fact that a child born to Legolas and her could make the choice of living a mortal or an immortal life.
Melia made up her mind to speak to Legolas about this when he returned home from Lebethron. While she remained cloistered away with duties of her own as the Lady of Eden Ardhon, Melia could not deny wishing that she were able to join him. More and more, she felt the threat of war pulling at the part of her that was once a Ranger and the need to do something more than being the good wife at home seemed sometimes overwhelming.
During the War of the Ring, she had aided in some of the battles that had been wrought throughout Middle earth, particularly in Angmar where she had aided the Dunedain and the local militia in driving out Sauron’s forces. While not in the thick of the greater battles of the war, Melia had nonetheless been blooded. It was her service during the war that had led to her becoming one of the new Rangers that Aragorn wished to roam the wilds as he one had, gathering intelligence on the state of his kingdom and the lands surrounding it.
She was a Ranger and it appeared now more than ever, Rangers were desperately needed. The irony of it was that she was the most qualified to infiltrate the Easterling ranks because she could easily pass for one of them. In her travelling clothes, it was easy to become mistaken for a man since no male of the Haradrim or the Easterling Confederacy would ever think it possibly that a woman was capable of passing herself as a man without their noticing it. Unfortunately, she would never know for certain because her duties as wife of the Lord of Eden Ardhon required her to wage a different kind of battle. Despite Legolas’ decision to heed Aragorn’s plea for Eden Ardhon to maintain its neutrality, Melia felt her loyalties divided. She did not wish any harm to befall her husband’s race but she also felt compelled to defend the people whom she considered her own against the ones who actually were.
How could she feel any differently when she was confronted with what had happened to the little girl whose life was suddenly her responsibility?
Melia pondered these things as she sat in the parlour of the home she and Legolas were building for themselves since their marriage. It was by no means palatial as was befitting a former Prince of Mirkwood but rather comfortable in Melia’s opinion. Eden Ardhon was built beneath the canopy of trees in the great forests of South Ithilien and the elves had established their colony so that it would be a part of the wood not intruders upon it. In keeping with this tradition, the homes built within Eden Ardhon were built with the needs of its individual resident.
The home that Melia and Legolas occupied was the largest in Eden Ardhon mostly because he was its lord. When completed, it would be large enough to entertain royal guests however it would not be so grand that any of the wood would be sacrificed for its construction. Legolas was after all, a woodland elf. He cherished the forests and would do no harm to it. His desire was to build a place not unlike that of Lothlorien. Melia had never seen the city of the Golden Wood but she had heard the stories of the realm occupied once by lord Celeborn and the legendary Lady Galadriel. She knew that if Eden Ardhon could achieve even the least bit of resemblance to Lothlorien then it would be a blessing indeed.
Melia sat at the table with her crossbow, her hands moving deftly over the smooth wood end to ensure the weapon was in good working order. She kept a vigil in maintaining it even though she did not use it as often as she would like. During her time as a Ranger of Angmar, the weapon had been her constant ally as was her horse Lomelindi. The mare spent most of her time grazing these days although Melia rode it often enough, she sometimes craved for the wilds that had been her home for so many years. Melia made herself a promise to ask of the King and Lord Faramir, how they dealt with such feelings. After all, they were once Rangers themselves. If any being could feel empathy with her situation, it was those two men.
Melia was so deep in thought that upon looking up, she saw the girl staring at her with wide-eyed terror. In particular, the crossbow that Melia was tending to with such reverence. Her gaze shifted swiftly from the weapon to Melia in a heartbeat and the expression of horror on her face melted into disbelief and betrayal. Melia could not fathom the loathing in her eyes and stood up abruptly to approach the child. However, the only survivor of Lebethron had no intention of allowing Melia to touch her and upon seeing the lady’s approach, promptly bolted away like a frightened animal.
For an instant, Melia was at a loss to explain her behaviour until she came to the realisation that what she was been holding in her hand was an Easterling weapon, a weapon the child would no doubt have seen slaughter the inhabitants of her village and possibly her parents as well. Melia cursed under her breath at her own foolishness and immediately gave chase. As she hurried down the hall, Melia heard the distant sound of door slamming hard. She followed the fading noise until she arrived at the main door and descended the steps into the walkway beyond the house.
Melia’s eyes scanned the trees and saw no sign of the child. The little girl was small and capable of hiding very well it seemed. The only people Melia could see where the elves going about their daily business with the building of the colony. Miriel and Vienne, two elven ladies from East Lorien were walking towards the river and paused when they caught sight of Melia. Since becoming wife to their lord, Melia had come to know many of the women who resided in Eden Ardhon. While some still regarded her with strained tolerance since she had never been forgiven for the audacity of being human and ensnaring the heart of their prince, they were others like Miriel and Vienne who were willing to accept her because Legolas loved her.
Miriel and Melia had struck something of a friendship during Melia’s first visit to Lorien with Legolas. Though she looked Melia’s age, Miriel was almost two thousand years old and had been one of Galadriel’s attendants. During the brief interlude when the Fellowship had entered Lothlorien following the death of Gandalf the Grey, Miriel had assisted Galadriel in the ceremony where Legolas and the fellowship had been presented with the gifts for their journey. Vienne was a woodland elf. She had lived in the court of Thranduil for most of her life, which was to say, at least a number of centuries. Vienne, who had long red hair like a wave of russet, had journey to Eden Ardhon so that she could remain at the side of her beloved Nunuar.
"My lady, are you looking for the little one?" Miriel asked, venturing a guess that the concern on Melia’s face was due to the scene she and Vienne had witnessed but a moment ago.
"Yes!" Melia nodded, "have you seen her?"
"She was running towards the river," Vienne replied quickly, sensing Melia’s agitation. "What has happened?"
"I am a fool!" Melia exclaimed without hesitation. "I was tending to my crossbow when she saw me."
"That is hardly a grievous sin my lady," Miriel stared at her in puzzlement.
"It is an Easterling weapon," Melia said hurrying towards the river with Miriel and Vienne keeping pace with her. "I cannot imagine what the child must be thinking after seeing her entire village decimated by Easterlings who no doubt carried a weapon very much like my crossbow. She looked at me with such betrayal, as if I had some part in Lebethron’s destruction."
"I am certain that is untrue," Miriel said gently. "She was just startled, that is all."
"I should have known better," Melia declared not about to exonerate her actions. "What was I thinking acting so foolishly?"
"Melia, it is not your fault," Vienne spoke with just as much compassion. "You could not know how she would react."
However, Melia could not be convinced that she had not acted foolishly. They arrive at the waters of the River Porous and swept their gaze over the breathtaking vista. Melia searched the trees and hoped that the child had not done anything so foolish like trying to cross the river. She was so little that the thought of her making such an attempt struck cold fear into Melia’s heart. Fortunately, her elvish companions had far greater senses that she could ever imagine and she felt Miriel tap her on the shoulder and gesture to a large piece of log lying near the banks of the river.
Melia glanced at it in question before catching sight of a sliver of colour from fabric lodged in the hollow of the fallen tree. She gave Miriel a grateful smile and bade the elven ladies to remain where they were as she approached the young girl’s hiding place. Melia considered what she would say to the child and knew that the girl probably felt that Melia had betrayed her trust somewhat. There was only one way that Melia could think of regaining it and that was using the only weapon that could destroy deception in any form, the truth.
"I know you are there," Melia announced herself as she approached the log stealthily and saw that the child was indeed hidden inside its hollows.
The girl did not respond except as to press herself more deeply into her hiding place.
Melia swallowed deeply but knew she had to keep trying to reach her.
"I am an Easterling," Melia confessed first and foremost in her ordeal of truth, "I was born in the same place as the people who hurt your family and your home. I make no excuse for it except to say that I am not like them. I would never hurt innocents the way you and your family were harmed. I came here a long time ago from the east because I wanted another life, one where I could be what I was without having to fear. I know you think that because I carry the same weapon as they do, I am one of them. I do not blame you for being frightened. You have right to be angry and afraid for what they did to you but I am not them and I don’t want to hurt you. I only want to help you."
The child did not speak and Melia’s felt a knife slicing her heart with the silence that followed her impassioned plea. She did not wish to be despised by the little waif she had come to care for since Aloin had folded back his cloak and revealed her to Melia. However, if the child was this afraid of her because of her Easterling origins, Melia would not force the girl to remain with her. If she cared for the child, Melia would have to let her go.
"You do not have to stay with me any more, I understand if you want to be somewhere else. There are any number of elves in Eden Ardhon that would love to have you in their company. This place is like that, we care about each other and if it makes you feel better to be somewhere else, I will see that it happens little one."
"Anna." A soft voice escaped the log into the air.
Melia blinked. "Is that your name?"
The child rose from her hiding place before staring at Melia, eyes filled with tears as she nodded slowly, "papa said he named me after Yavanna, the lady who planted the seed so it could grow into the sun but everyone calls me Anna."
"Anna," Melia smiled warmly, relief swelling her heart at Anna’s first words. "It is a pretty name. My mother named me after a lady as well, only her name was Melian. I guess both our names are borrowed a little."
"I hid when they came," she said dropping her gaze to the dirt at Melia’s feet. "I heard them making the ground shake and I got scared so I hid."
"It probably saved your life," Melia commented, coming closer towards her.
"No," she shook her head. "Papa and mama couldn’t find me. They were looking for me instead of running away. They should have run away!"
Melia swept the girl into her arms as Anna began to weep.
"Hush," she cooed softly in the child’s ear, not needing to hear anymore because it was clear what had taken place without Anna needing to explain. Her parents were probably killed in front of her because they were frantically searching for their missing daughter, thinking nothing of their own safety when their child’s was in doubt. It was what any parent would do and for that, they were killed mercilessly in front of the daughter they had been trying to save.
"You are safe here Anna," Melia whispered softly as she cradled the girl in her embrace. "I promise you, I will let nothing harm you here. In Eden Ardhon, we are safe from the men who hurt your parents. You are safe."
However even as Melia said it, she knew that it was a dangerous promise to make.
He did not know how much longer he could maintain his strength.
The man had been on foot for several days now, moving swiftly over the terrain at such speed that he knew it was more than dangerous. He was no fledgling lost in the wood but a Ranger who patrolled the lands of Lebenin. A chance journey down the River Sirith had led to an unexpected encounter and now he had to reach Eden Ardhon at all costs. He would have made his way towards Minas Tirith but that path was barred to him and to escape with what he knew, he was forced to take another route. He prayed that he had maintained his anonymity, that they had not seen him bear witness to what they intended.
His best hope was to reach the elven colony of Eden Ardhon and enlist the aid of its lord in sending a message to Emyn Arnen, informing the Steward of what he had discovered. The elves had horses and were capable of closing the distance between themselves and Emyn Arnen in enough time to issue the grave intelligence he had unwittingly acquired on the banks of the Sirith River. Even now, he had trouble believing what he had seen even though the truth of it froze his heart within his chest. The Rangers had been anticipating trouble since the declaration of war by the Easterling Confederacy had been made but not even they had realised how swiftly the enemy was capable of mobilizing or how much they truly hated the people of the Reunified Kingdom.
At first, he was uncertain of what he had seen. A flotilla of strange ships bearing no resemblance to anything he had seen before made its way down the Sirith in the dead of night. The Sirith was nowhere as wide or deep as the Anduin so a fleet as the one that had attempted to besiege Pelargir was incapable of journeying its waters. However, the vessels he spied were not ocean going vessels nor where they comprised of numerous decks that would require a deep harbour. If he were forced to describe them, he would call them raft like, using sails and many oarsmen to navigate the waters.
He followed them for most of the night and learnt that they were moving swiftly up river, towards the White Mountains. He was puzzled at their destination for the fiefdoms of Lebenin were small and unimportant and these men did not look like traders. However, when they broke their journey in the light of day and hid themselves until the twilight hours, the Ranger realised that the travellers were Haradrim and there were enough vessels to facilitate an army.
He fled before discovery, armed with intelligence that upon further reflection, told him just how grave the situation was. True, the shield of the White Mountains protected the White City from attack. However, the fiefdom of Lossarnach was plum ripe for the picking. He knew that the attack upon the Reunified Kingdom was anticipated from the eastern shore and that other Rangers were watching the Harad Road. However, the reasoning behind the journey along the Sirith proved that the enemy were also aware of this fact.
Entering the Sirith, the fleet of ships had avoided detection at Pelargir as they continued their journey northward during the twilight hours, careful to remain unseen as they made their way up river. With the attention of Gondor’s forces and its allies fixed upon the Harad Road and the mountains of Ephel Dúath, there was no reason for the enemy to be detected until they reached Lossarnach.
Lossarnach was one of the oldest fiefdoms of Gondor, a land of flowery vale ruled by good King Forlong who had died at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Forlong had left no heirs and since the king had fallen in defence of White City, a steward had been appointed to rule the land in the wake of his death. Lossarnach was a place often visited by the nobles of Gondor as a summer place because of its inherent beauty and had very little in the way of military might. During the War of the Ring, they had only been able to spare two hundred men and when these were lost, had none to replace them. Since many of fiefdoms now looked to Gondor for protection, Lossarnach was virtually defenceless.
An attack upon Lossarnach would be nothing less than devastating for the Reunified Kingdom but of supreme value to the Haradrim should they capture it. From Lossarnach, they could establish a beachhead from which to launch a more savage attack upon Minas Tirith itself or become so entrenched that it would taken all the might of Gondor to dislodge them, might which was needed to defend the rest of the kingdom. It was a cunning plan that hinged upon the secrecy of the Haradrim approach to Lossarnach.
The Ranger had been pushing himself harder than he had ever pushed himself before. Since his discovery, he had been moving across the land at a relentless pace, allowing nothing to stop them. He knew that King Elessar had sent many troops to Ithilien, preparing for the expected attack upon Emyn Arnen. Those forces however, would have to be diverted immediately if Lossarnach was to be saved. He honestly did not know if they had time enough to reach the vale in time.
They said the dead could not speak but in the Dead Marshes, the Wainriders who had taken refuge in the fetid marshland swore they could hear the dead warriors of their race whispering in the dark. From the time of Eamil and the Battle of the Camp to the more recent carnage during the war of the Ring, the voices of the dead cried out for vengeance amidst the murky fog and spitting rain. It was as if the souls who had perished were bound to the swampland when they had fallen. For many years, those who had not succumbed to the perils of the marsh believed that the quest for revenge was a pointless exercise, none believed that they could ever possess the power to rise up against the enemy once more.
However, the alliance had changed all this. Not since the attack upon the old kings of Gondor had there been such solidarity amongst them now that they were preparing to launch themselves upon the Reunified Kingdom in battle. The alliance comprised of almost all the races that had been wronged by Gondor in the War of the Ring and even if many of them were factions split from their own nations. It did not matter. United, they were a force to be reckoned.
Even the races of the Black Speech, who dwelt in the caverns of Moria, had been enlisted in their cause and were now were preparing their own offensive with the assistance of the Dunlendings and the Easterling agents who were providing leadership against the Rohirrim. The Haradrim were pushing hard towards Lossarnach while the Easterling had their own orders to hold back and wait. The general in command of all these armies had planned his assault well and had ensured that enough disinformation was carried to the Gondorian king through his Rangers to ensure that the commanders of the Westernesse would be uncertain of where the actual attack would come.
And the Wainriders had their own orders as they were joined by more of their brethren from Rhovanian and had become a sizeable force laying in wait in part of Middle earth that no one thought capable of sustaining life. The Dead Marsh was perhaps the most inhospitable place in Middle earth, save Mordor itself. The Rangers had thought it too desolate for any creature to willingly remain there and had failed to keep a close eye upon the region. It also aided in their anonymity that most believed the Wainriders had perished in the marsh during the War of the Ring.
It was because of this belief the Wainriders were able to make their way south through the mountains of Ephel Dúath. It did not matter if the Rangers caught sight of them because there were other forces already in place, ensuring that when the time came much of Emyn Arnen’s forces would be diverted elsewhere. The strength of Gondor had always been in its allies and the leader of the Easterling Confederacy understood this all too well. The strategy of their campaign was not in meeting Gondor in open confrontation but to cut the strength from under its feet.
Before they brought the Reunified Kingdom to its knees, they would first see to it that King Elessar knew he was very much alone.
His had been one of many faces that marched home to Harad in defeat following the destruction of the Sauron’s Ring and the subsequent vanquishing of the dark lord from the realm of Middle earth for all time. He remembered well the despair felt by the men he had led and those who knew that it was not simply a war that had been lost but their entire way of life. As most of their captains were killed in the war against Gondor, he had been promoted quickly to fill in the command structure that was severely depleted. However, it was clear that the days of warfare for the Haradrim were over. The will to fight had died with Sauron.
Turning inward to their own affairs brought home the stark reality of their situation. So much of their lives were dedicated to war and extorting food supplies from surrounding fiefdoms that were incapable of stopping them because of their military might and fear of the Dark One in Mordor. Now that he was driven away forever and much of the Haradrim’s strength was lying dead on the battlefields of the war, coercion was no longer possible and the food supplies came to a grinding halt. The Haradrim made some effort to take up the industry of large scale farming but such an enterprise would take time and they did not have enough to spare before wide spread starvation became a reality.
Turning to their neighbours, the Haradrim learnt that the Easterlings and Corsairs were faced with similar troubles and it exacerbated their hatred even more when there was talk of unparalleled prosperity in the Reunified Kingdom, the source of all their misery. Even more painful was when the Gondorian King made offer of grain in exchange for a treaty of peace. The Haradrim leader Ulfrain seemed to accept this exchange willingly enough though there were whispers that he had a secret agenda of his own. It was a secret that was not revealed until their most respected general returned home with the body of their king and claimed that Ulfrain had to die because of his alliance with shape shifters.
He did not disagree that Castigliari had done right by killing Ulfrain if he had entered such an alliance for being slave to another dark lord did not appeal to the Haradrim or the Easterlings very much and Ulfrain had gone to Gondor speaking for the Confederacy. What he did take offence with as did the rest of the leaders who heard Castigliari’s speech was the unconditional surrendering of their national pride to Gondor, to accept the aid of King Elessar and enter a treaty with the Reunified Kingdom. Whether or not Castigiliari deserved death was something he had no power to change and the general had gone to his death with honour, head held high as he had always done so when riding into battle.
Ulfrain left no heirs which was one of the reasons why the throne was laid at his feet. Prior to Ulfrain’s death, he was a lesser noble with almost no chance of securing the throne but his links to Ulfrain and Ulfang the Black were undeniable. He was of the royal bloodline. They gave him the throne and were pleased that their choice was not some pampered young prince, but rather a season soldier of the field. Once in place, he knew what had to be done. Since the end of the war and his subsequent return home to find his land facing a new crisis, the solution had always been clear.
If they were to survive, it had to be war. However, he was not so foolish as to repeat the mistakes of the past. To win, they had to move carefully. Elessar’s reclaiming of the Gondorian throne from the line of Stewards had ensured that he had the allegiance of almost every Westernesse fief in Middle earth. Fiefdoms that had remained separate from Gondor suddenly rallied to Minas Tirith with the return of the king. From Dol Amroth, to Lossarnach, he doubted that any king was as beloved as Elessar. With Ithilien and the Rohirrim ready to protect Minas Tirith at any cost, there was also the possibility of an elven involvement since it was well known that Elessar was raised by the elves and had even taken one as his queen.
Thus he took steps to ensure that the elves did not become involve and though it would require more extreme measures then the butchering of one small village, he was confident that when the lesson was inflicted, the elves would withdraw completely from the conflict. The elves often considered themselves above it all, that they were untouchable.
Danallar of Harad had every intention of showing them how wrong they were.
- When Anna had finally revealed to Melia as best as could be told by a seven year old the destruction of Lebethron, the lady of Eden Ardhon set her down for a nap. The little girl who had poured out her heart in a most emotionally charged narrative, was more than happy to rest as she had wept almost as much as she had spoken. As Melia feared, Anna had seen the death of her parents under the stampeding charge of the mumakils being ridden by the Easterlings. It disturbed Melia that there was an Easterling army no more than a few days journey away from Eden Ardhon. She supposed that it was fortunate that Legolas had chosen to take the King’s advice to maintain their neutrality until the Easterlings were confident that they had no intention of participating in the conflict and moved on.
- Melia left the house with the intention of resuming some of her duties as Lady of Eden Ardhon when she suddenly noticed a commotion involving Aloin and two elves escorting a man into the heart of the colony. As Melia picked up her skirts and hastened her pace to meet them, she saw that the man had a familiar face. He appeared exhausted and a little older from when she last beheld him but it was without doubt the same man.
- "Handor?" Melia asked with no small measure of surprise. "Is that you?"
- "Melia!" The man looked up and a swell of relief flooded his face at her presence. "I am glad to find you here."
- "Find you?" Aloin looked at him dubiously. "My lady, we found this man stumbling about our wood like a lost child and you will afford the Lady Melia, the proper respect due the wife of our Lord." Aloin warned Handor.
- Melia tried to stifle a smile as Handor gave Aloin a dark look before turning to Melia, "please Mel…my lady," Handor corrected himself and resumed again, "you know me. I come here at the greatest urgency seeking your assistance."
- By now, a small gathering of elves had come to observe the excitement and Melia met Aloin’s gaze.
"Release him. I know this man, his name is Handor and he is a Ranger. We encountered each other in Angmar. I can assure you, he is a man to be trusted."
- Aloin’s frown deepened, however he took Melia at her word and gestured to his men to obey her request to release Handor.
- "Now what is it that is so important that you would attempt to enter an elven city without invitation?" Melia asked once Handor found himself no longer a prisoner.
- "Not more than five days ago, I saw a fleet of ships moving up the River Sirith," Handor wasted no time with the details of what he had seen and got to the meat of it. "They were cautious enough to travel by night and rest by day to avoid being seen. My lady, there was enough of them for an army and they travel the river with such speed that I do not think they were the first. I believe they were bound for Lossarnach."
- "Lossarnach?" Melia exclaimed with horror. "Are you certain?"
- "Yes," Handor nodded. "I remained with them as long as I could, until I could determine their plans but I dared not linger too long for I know what I had learnt was too important to be lost. I am certain that they plan to take Lossarnach."
- Melia thought quickly and saw the same realisation crossing the faces of Aloin and the rest of the guards under his command. From Lossarnach, the Haradrim would be in perfect position to launch an assault upon Minas Tirith.
- "Aloin," Melia said after a moment. "You must ride immediately to Emyn Arnen and warn them that an attack upon Lossarnach is eminent."
- "But Prince Faramir is meeting Lord Legolas is in Lebethron," Aloin pointed out.
- "That is true," Melia agreed. "However his army and that of Gondor’s is in Ithilien expecting an attack from the east, not the west. If the Haradrim take Lossarnach, they could entrench themselves there for an further assault upon any number of Gondorian fiefdoms, not to mention the White City itself."
- "We should also send word to Lebethron," Aloin added, agreeing with Melia’s assessment of the situation. "Endornórë, you will go to Lebethron and inform them of what we have learnt here. With good fortune, we can prevent this news from becoming tragedy."
- As the elves prepared themselves to ride, Melia prayed that their actions would not be seen by the enemy as a break in their neutrality or else the preventing of one tragedy could very well result in another.
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.