Thicker Than Blood: 4. The Lair

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4. The Lair

A soft voice and a hand placed on her shoulder stirred Éowyn from her dreams. She opened her eyes and saw Beregond sitting on his heels next to her.

“My lady, wake up,” said the captain again. “The sun has risen. It is time we took up our trek once more.”

“Already?” asked the woman sleepily.

“I’m afraid so,” answered he with a slight smile; for a similar exchange of words had passed between them only a few hours ago, when he was supposed to wake up for his shift at the watch. “I have saved a pair of eggs for you. As soon as you’ve eaten them, we can set off.”

Éowyn nodded her head, rubbing the slumber off her eyes.

“Give me five minutes, I will be ready soon.”

“As you wish, my lady,” said Beregond, rising to his feet. It was then that he turned, as though remembering something.

“There is also a stream nearby, where you can refresh yourself if you like.”

“I will do that, thank you,” replied the noble woman, as she stood up. After eating the eggs hungrily, she went to the stream, which she found it with great ease. She was happy to see that the water was cold and clear, thus she washed herself, drank a little, and then she went back to find Beregond, feeling much better. To her wonder she saw that he had lost no time at all while she was at the stream: he had scattered the ashes of the fire, packed the horses; and was now waiting for her, holding the beasts by the reins.

“That was quite quick,” she noted as the man handed her the reins of her steed. “What is our course now? Still to the left?”

“Yes, till we find the edge,” confirmed Beregond.

“Then let us speed on our way. I will not hide from you that I feel rather uncomfortable in the forest.”

“I know what you’re saying, my lady, and I couldn’t possibly agree more,” said the man, his eyes glancing at the woods. “I’ll be glad once we get out.”

And with no other word, they restarted their long march.

-----------------

They had already walked for many long hours when Éowyn stopped and asked the captain for some rest.

“Only a few moments, not more,” she said tiredly, supporting her back at the trunk of a tree. “My limbs are aching.”

“Of course, my lady, take all the time you need to recover,” said Beregond in a carefree manner. “It will be my chance to check our surroundings and see if we’re far from the end of the forest.”

“But how are you to find that out?” exclaimed the woman wonderingly.

“With difficulty,” muttered the man in answer under his breath, looking up and down at the tree by which Éowyn was standing. “I will be back shortly.”

“What?!” exclaimed the lady in utter surprise; and suddenly she saw the captain grasping the lower branches and climbing up.

It was true that Beregond didn’t have the agility or the confidence of an Elf when it came to climbing trees; nevertheless slowly - but surely - he managed to reach the highest branches that could support his weight. Holding the trunk firmly with both hands, he gazed at his left and he was pleased to see that he could clearly see the edge of the forest. It was still quite far away, but it was there, and that alone was enough to lift his spirits.

“Well?” he heard Éowyn cry up to him. “Do you see anything?”

“I saw the verge!” he cried back happily, climbing down once more. “It seems like a good way away, but we might be able to reach it before nightfall!”

“Then we had better make haste!”

“Wait a moment, my lady,” said the man, still descending nervously. “I’m afraid I’m not twenty-years-old anymore and it will take me a while to…”

A loud snap cut Beregond mid-sentence, and he found himself all of a sudden falling down and landing flat on his back with a heavy thud.

Éowyn gasped in horror and rushed to his side immediately.

“Are you all right?” she asked with worry.

Beregond sat up, wincing at the strain of this action.

“Never better,” he moaned sarcastically, looking up. “Well, that sped things up a bit.”

Surprisingly enough, such an answer made the woman laugh heartily.

“It’s nice to see you’re amused, my lady,” Beregond noted half-teasingly, half-seriously.

However that caused even more waves of laughter from the fair lady, her voice ringing through the woods clear as crystal; and even though he didn’t admit it at all, neither by his words or his facial expression, this sight gladdened the captain to no end. For the lady’s dark thoughts of late were lifted, if only for a little while.

It was then that the sound of her laughter made him realise something. He pricked up his ears, not heeding the woman anymore, and then gestured her to silence.

Éowyn’s mirth soon died down and she started looking around apprehensively.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“Can you hear anything, my lady?” asked Beregond in the same soft tone.

Éowyn tried to listen to every possible sound, but there was none to be heard. In fact, there were not even birds singing.

“That’s what worries me,” said the man when Éowyn told him that. “The birds wouldn’t be so quiet if it was just the two of us in the forest. There’s something else here.”

“Whether it is a friend or foe is what concerns me,” said the woman.

“In either case, let us proceed cautiously.”

The noble lady nodded her understanding, and they soon started walking again. They had marched only a short distance, when Éowyn stopped, her ears picking up a faint sound.

“Beregond…” she said softly.

“I know, I heard it too,” replied the man in dismay. “Wargs. And I fear they’re too close for our comfort.”

“Can we not avoid them?”

“The hope is faint, because the growl was heard from the path where our road lies,” said the man, tethering the horse at a bush nearby and then he turned to Éowyn once more. “I need to see where they are headed, so we can make sure we don’t come face to face with them. You better stay here, my lady.”

He sneaked amid the thick bushes and headed for the direction the growl echoed from. However another sound made him look behind before he went too far away: it was Éowyn following him.

“My lady, please! There is no need for both of us to go.”

“I know,” the fair woman replied, “but I cannot simply stay behind and wait either.”

Beregond bowed his head in resignation, but his sigh revealed his defeat.

“Very well, my lady,” he said in the end. “But you must stay close to me at all times. The wind is on our favour for the time being and so the Wargs won’t smell us, yet we mustn’t get too comfortable – things could change.”

They crawled ahead, trying not to make too much of a noise, until they finally reached a point where the growls – and even voices – could be heard only too clearly. Beregond and Éowyn exchanged an apprehensive look and then they raised themselves to the level of a fallen trunk by which they were hiding.

Nothing had prepared them for the sight they were about to witness, for indeed they weren’t looking upon just a small number of Wargs and their riders merely passing through the forest, but a whole camp infested with the devils and their beasts. Both the man and the woman watched on in dismay as some Orcs were sitting by a fire, others were feeding the chained up Wargs (what they were actually eating, neither of the watchers dared to think), and others were even fighting amongst themselves for the sport of it.

“It’s a lair,” whispered Beregond half to Éowyn, half to himself. “That’s where the Orcs venture from to attack. That’s what they did in our case too.”

“Are you sure they are the same?” asked the fair lady. “I do not see any wounded among them after our fight.”

“Orcs don’t care for their own people enough for that,” answered the man in controlled disgust. “We’ve seen enough, let’s go. It’s obvious that we can only avoid them by taking the long way around.”

Just when the captain was about to turn away, Éowyn grasped his arm and pointed at the centre of the camp. Beregond looked hard, and he saw a great Orc arguing heatedly with a strange figure, which was clothed in a black weather-beaten cloak. Both he and Éowyn remained watching them, but what these two creatures were talking about, they couldn’t hear.

-------------------

“Sha!” scowled Azrag in a piercing voice. “How were we supposed to know that they were soldiers, eh?”

“You should have kept these slits you have for eyes open and checked for weapons first!” said the dark face underneath the hood, his eyes gazing the Orc angrily. “Then the mess you made out of things would have been avoided!”

“We killed a lot of them before they forced us to retreat!” said the big monstrosity defensively.

“That hardly makes much of a difference, does it? What do you think is going to happen now? They will warn people, make search parties and investigate every nook and cranny to find us and exterminate us!”

“How are they to do that, when they don’t know about our hideout?”

“Do you think they are fools like you, Azrag? Or that they are blind? They will find it eventually!”

“And by that time, we’ll be too far away, pillaging and plundering some place else.”

It was then that the cloaked figure grabbed the Orc by his armour.

“You will do nothing of the sort, they will be on the lookout from now on,” he hissed. “We will remain out of sight and, once the vigilance is dropped, then you may start your ransacking again!”

“And then I’ll cut your throat so as not to listen to your belly-aching again!” said the Orc with hatred.

“You can try!” replied the dark face, his other hand reaching for the knife attached to his belt.

However, the fight never broke out, and neither of the two creatures had the chance to fulfil their threats, for at that very moment the Wargs started snarling and pulling their chains in frenzy.

---------------------

“The Wargs caught our scent! Hurry!” said Beregond, pulling Éowyn to her feet and running towards the horses. They had just found them and mounted them, when they heard the monsters howling – the pursuit had started.

“Go, my lady, ride!” cried the captain, spurring his horse to a gallop.

Éowyn did just that and soon her own horse was ahead of Beregond’s. She looked back to see if the man followed her, but he quickly shouted at her:

“No, don’t look back! Ride on!”

The fair woman complied, and she led the horse with the mastery of all the people of Rohan amid trees, bushes and uneven ground without error. As for Beregond, he was still riding behind, his eyes on Éowyn, when he fleetingly noticed a shadow moving towards him. But he didn’t realise the Warg lunging at him until it was too late.

His horse neighed in terror as the beast sank its razor sharp fangs into its noble neck, and Beregond found himself on the ground, knocked off the saddle by the collision. He tried to get up after the first shock, but powerful Orkish claws held him fast in place. He struggled to free himself, but soon a great brute stood over him, growling threateningly and holding a knife against the man’s throat, thus forcing Beregond to stop.

He was their prisoner.

-------------------

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” coaxed the Orc, yet he still was unable to cover the threatening tone in that call.

No answer was heard from the woods that surrounded him.

“You can’t hide forever, you know,” said the monster once again, “so why don’t you make it easier for both of us?”

Éowyn still watched the abomination from her hideout amid a thick set of bushes, barely moving a muscle. Her heart pounded rapidly against her chest and her hand rested on her steed’s neck to make sure that it also stayed down with her. That particular Orc had hunted her down more stubbornly than her other pursuers and she couldn’t throw him off her trail. Not wishing to come across any other foes or hurt her horse in her attempt to escape, she resorted to this tactic in the hopes that she would be missed. However, she wasn’t all that fortunate. The Orc simply wouldn’t give up.

The fiend’s sickly yellow eyes searched again for a glimpse of her everywhere, his scimitar ready at hand.

“I have to admit that you’re good. You remember my ride? Broke its neck it did, when I tried to make it follow you onto too dangerous a ground,” he cried again in a general direction, his claw rubbing his shoulder at the memory of the fall. “But you’re only putting off the inevitable. Do you think you can actually avoid all of us? And face the dangers of the forest at the same time?”

The woman let out an inaudible snort of contempt. Did that thing really believe that she would step out and say: “Here I am, why do you not slay me please?”

The horse’s neck started twitching lightly, and she stroked it gently, whispering to the horse’s ear a soothing command. The stallion couldn’t understand the lady’s words the way he could understand the Elven-tongue; but he was still a noble creature raised in the fields of Rohan, where the bonds between the horses and their masters were most powerful. Thus he realised on some level that his mistress was in grave danger and his remaining still was necessary, even though the Orc’s hideous shrieks were intimidating.

Just then, another growl was heard, followed by another Orc’s bellow.

“Come on, Radgbug! We are called back to our camp!”

“What about the female tark?”

“What about her?”

“She’s still at large!”

“And what of it? Her kind is nothing but trouble, hardly providing any good sport; she won’t even survive an hour in this forest on her own. But the toy we caught is indeed a find. He can last for days in our little… games.”

Éowyn’s eyes widened with worry, as she understood that they were talking about Beregond.

“But…” started Radgbug.

“But nothing!” snarled the other Orc. “Are you to disobey orders?”

Radgbug growled in answer but in the end he followed obediently. He looked sidelong to the clearing he was leaving behind, feeling that he was turning his back on the prize he was looking for; then followed the fellow Warg-Rider.

Éowyn kept still for a few more moments until she made sure that both Orcs were out of hearing range, and then she commanded her horse to rise. The proud beast did so, dragging with it the lady herself (during all this time, she had never left the saddle).

The lady clenched her fist in frustration. A part of her wished to find the Orcs that held Beregond and free him, but her more rational part chided that this wasn’t possible, since the only thing that she would manage is to get caught also. She shuddered as she thought the man in the abominations’ hands. She remembered them quite well when she had to face them at the Pelennor Fields back at the War of the Ring, and she was well aware of their cruelty and malice. They would torture the captain without mercy until, when the man wouldn’t have any more strength even to scream and thus excite their dark souls, they would throw him to the Wargs.

I have to find Faramir, she decided, for she knew that if anyone would do anything within his power to find Beregond, it would her husband. She was just about to spur her horse forward, when she realised one important thing.

She didn’t know which way to go.

To her dismay she understood that the Orcs were right. Beregond was the one that guided them both through the woods but now that he was captive… how could she find the way? It was then that she remembered the man’s words. “The place is filled with signs…”

She looked at the sun and then her eyes quickly found a tree with some moss on it. Remembering how Beregond insisted on their course to the left, she rode swiftly to that direction, praying that she wasn’t going the wrong way.

-----------------------

Beregond was pushed to the centre of the camp violently, the Orcs making a circle around him. He coughed out the dirt that he involuntarily swallowed as he landed and turned to face his opponents, but a fist hit him on the jaw and made him land on the ground again. Such was the shock of the impact that this time he remained down, his tongue tasting blood in his mouth. He was not given time to recover however, for he was dragged again by the chain that kept his hands tied and one of the Orcs forced him to look up at him.

“What’s the matter, tark? Can’t put up a proper fight? You’re only powerful when your kin covers your hide then? Bah!” mocked the Orc and, spitting the face of the Gondorian with hatred, he shoved him away.

Beregond wiped his face in disgust and tried to crawl away, but another of the filths stepped on his back, pinning him down. He fought underneath the abomination, struggling to slip away, but to no avail.

“Going somewhere, tark?” hissed the Orc, his every word dripping venom.

The creature sat on his heels, his weight always on the Gondorian, while the rest of the Orcs cheered and shouted. He pulled the man’s arms towards him with force, making Beregond grit his teeth at the strain his muscles suffered.

“A tark’s bones make such a pleasant sound when they break, don’t they boys?” shouted the Orc, receiving as an answer more cheers of approval.

“So from where do you think we should start first, eh? I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll start with his fingers!”

The Orcs shouted once again, chanting wildly as they watched their comrade ready to crush the man’s fingers in his hands, while Beregond closed his eyes, expecting the worst to come yet.

“Enough!”

All cries and shouts ceased. The Gondorian felt with relief that the weight that kept pressing him was finally lifted and his hands were released harmlessly from the vile grasp. And yet the silence that fell throughout the camp made the man even more nervous about what was to follow, for he felt it was only the calm before the storm. He stayed down, not daring to see to what creature belonged the steps that he now heard approaching him. Powerful claws quickly turned him around to face him; and Beregond recognised the great Orc that had been arguing with the cloaked figure just before he and Éowyn were discovered.

“Ah, I remember you. You were among those soldiers that we fought yesterday,” said Azrag, recognising the man also. “Well, tark-spy, spill it or spill blood. What were you and that female doing in these parts? You were sent to find our camp, weren’t you?”

Beregond looked at him, trying to calm his heart as it beat in a frightened manner within his chest.

“We were sent by no soldiers,” he said as truthfully as possible.

Azrag let out a blood-curdling cry and, whipping his knife out, his hand went for the man’s head.

Beregond flinched as the knife grazed by his ear and got jabbed in the ground right next to him.

“For some reason I don’t believe you,” sneered the great monstrosity. “Now unless you want me to cut small pieces off you for every lie you say, you’d better tell me where are they.”

“I don’t know,” answered the man, and then added defiantly, “and if I knew I would never tell you!”

This time the knife went for Beregond’s cheek, cutting along his face. Such was the pain that the Gondorian couldn’t help but cry out, something that pleased Azrag to no end.

“Where are they?” the Orc repeated slowly, but with greater menace in his words.

“I already gave you my answer!” cried Beregond angrily.

The monster showed his fangs to the man infuriated; but he never managed to do anything else, because at that moment the cloaked figure appeared and kicked the vile creature aside.

“What do you think you’re doing?” cried Azrag in utter surprise.

“What you should have been doing all along: thinking before acting,” said the cloaked being, and then turned to the two Orcs closest to him. “You two, take the man and tie him up close to the Wargs. They will warn us if somebody tries to take him from there. The rest of you place guards around the camp and at the edges of the forest and come notify me if you should see anyone entering.”

“What’s the meaning of this? You can’t be seriously thinking that anyone will venture in,” said the leader of the Orcs confused. “We can kill that tark-spy and the female is as good as dead in the forest! The hideout is safe!”

“You idiot! The soldiers of the West would never be so foolish to send one of their own with a woman to spy. It’s obvious they ended up here by accident!”

“So?”

“If they got separated by mistake, the rest of the soldiers will try to find them, even if it means entering the forest! They will eventually find the woman, and she will lead them here!”

“Then we should show them what fate expects them should they try to attack us,” said Azrag, his hand fumbling the knife and his eyes squinting at the direction where the man was dragged away.

“No!” barked the dark face, understanding the Orc’s intention. “You will not touch him!”

“What are you on about now? Do you know what will happen if the tarks find him here alive?”

“Do you know what will happen if they don’t?” retorted the dark-clad figure. “He will not be touched, not by you, nor anyone else. He might prove our only means of escape!”

And with that, the cloaked figure turned its back on Azrag, leaving him cursing under his breath.

----------------

Éothain looked again at the tall figure that stood silently at the very edge of the woods and then turned to the guard next to him.

“He hasn’t moved from there at all?”

“Not an inch, sir,” was the soldier’s answer.

The Rohirrim captain sighed and shook his head. Faramir had been standing there ever since the troops had arrived at that place the night before, watching and waiting for the two missing, and no one could persuade him to move away from there.

Éothain went to the blazing fire nearby, took two bowls from his pack and, after filling them both with some of the stew the soldiers had been brewing, he went to the prince and offered him one of them.

“Thank you,” murmured Faramir, accepting the food graciously. Yet he still didn’t eat. His gaze simply wandered again to the woods, trying to discern in the darkness any sign of Beregond and Éowyn.

Éothain watched him for some time and then ventured to speak.

“The guards will tell you of their arrival, my lord. Why don’t you rest? It is already very late and you shouldn’t weary yourself like this.”

“I promised Captain Beregond I would wait for him here,” said Faramir.

“But the forest is large and dense. It will take them some time to pass through it even on horseback.”

The prince actually chuckled at this.

“Gondorians can prove very determined once they set their mind on their goal, and Beregond is not an exception, you can take my word for that. I know him, Captain Éothain, and I know that the forest will not prove an obstacle to him. So no, I don’t worry about that at all: it is the Orcs that worry me, for they retreated into the very forest in which he and Lady Éowyn are. I fear that they may come across them.”

“Then we should go inside and try to find them, my lord.”

“That will hardly do any good,” replied Faramir, shaking his head. “You said it yourself, Captain: the forest is large and dense and, moreover, we don’t know where to start looking. And if we get separated to cover more distance to find them, then the Orcs will have the opportunity to kill us off one by one, since they apparently know the territory better than us. We can’t risk any unnecessary losses in such a way. On the other hand, two people might be able to escape the vigilance of the enemy – there is a thing called luck in this world yet. We will wait for five days and, if we don’t hear any news till that time, then we will enter the forest.”

“As you wish, my lord,” said Éothain.

It was then that the Rohirrim horses started neighing.

“What is happening?” asked the prince in surprise.

“I’m not sure. But the horses aren’t frightened at all, these are neighs of rejoice. Wait a moment!” exclaimed the captain, pricking up his ears. “Did you hear that, my lord?”

“I did,” replied the Gondorian noble. “A horse neighed back in answer. And the sound was coming from the woods!”

It was then that out of the darkness of the forest came trotting a proud stallion, and Faramir recognised immediately the figure that was riding him.

“Éowyn!” he cried joyfully and rushed at her side, taking the reins of the horse and stopping it.

“Faramir…” she whispered relieved, as she leaned towards him, her tired face brightening. “I finally found you. I feared that I had lost my way.”

“No, no, you did not, my love. I was waiting for you,” the prince assured her smiling. It was then that he realised something terribly wrong with the sight before him and the word “I” that Éowyn used.

“Beregond is not with you? What happened?” he asked worriedly.

“Orcs,” faltered the fair woman, bowing her head with regret. “We came across their hideout and they pursued us. I escaped but… they caught him.” And with those words, the slender form fell into a swoon, the long ride, the ordeal and the fear she had to go through proving finally too much.

Faramir grabbed Éowyn in his arms before she landed on the ground and he swiftly carried her in his tent. He placed her down and covered her with his blanket, always caressing her cheek in affection and whispering gentle words; then commanded Éothain to make sure everyone made as less noise as possible during the night. Éothain nodded his head in acknowledgment and walked out, leaving Faramir and the exhausted woman alone.

The man didn’t realise how much time passed as he watched over his wife, heeding nothing but the occasional booming of clouds clashing together, signifying that a storm was approaching. He looked again at the pale face of his beloved and wished that she would wake up soon and tell him more clearly what happened in the forest.

And Beregond? Was he dead or was there a chance that he may yet be alive? On the other hand, held captive by Orcs was often a fate worse than death…

His heart wrenched as his mind drifted involuntarily to images of his brother-in-arms in the hands of the abominations, screaming Faramir’s name in the hopes that he would come and save him, but no one coming. He looked out of the tent, where part of the forest was still visible even from where he was now sitting, and he murmured softly:

Telithon an le, mellon nín. I will come for you, my friend.”

--------------------

The cold rain falling on his face woke him. Beregond opened his eyes, only to find himself in the nightmare that he hoped he had only dreamed of. The Orcs, as obedient as they could be, had hung him by his hands on the tree the Wargs were chained up. Now the blood-thirsty creatures were looking up at him hungrily, eagerly hoping that the rope wouldn’t hold such a nice meal up there for long.

The man shuddered at such a notion and looked away from them, his eyes falling on the camp. He was relieved when he didn’t see Éowyn anywhere; for there was hope that they hadn’t found her. Yet he wasn’t sure if that would be enough either, because, after all, the lady would still have to find her way through the forest.

How could I let this happen? he thought sorrowfully, I’m supposed to protect the ones I’m entrusted with, not lead them to trouble. Or getting myself in some for that matter!

The stinging pain in his wrists cut off his thoughts. When he looked up, he saw that the rope had cut his hands nastily and they were bleeding now. Droplets of blood were even trickling down his arms mingled with rainwater as the element of nature still whipped him mercilessly. As for the dried blood on his face, it was becoming liquefied again and some drops were now falling on the ground among the Wargs.

Such a teasing scent excited the great Wolves even more and two of them actually leapt upwards to catch a morsel of him, but, to Beregond’s relief, the rope held him too far from their reach. His eyes looked again at his tied up hands.

How long do they intend to keep me up here anyway? What do they have in store for me?

These and many other such questions passed through his mind, having no doubt that he would find out the answers soon enough – and that they wouldn’t be pleasant.

TBC…

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.

Story Information

Author: Beregond5

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/26/07

Original Post: 04/30/05

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