7. Chapter 6: Backtracking
Trudging through wet dirt and bristly bushes, a dead silence was among the party. Berethor felt safer in the midst of his new found comrades but pondered – as did all of them – about what Idrial meant the other day. There is much you should know about this war. <What does Boromir have to do with this? And why did he come to this part of Middle Earth anyhow?> Lord Denethor had failed to give any detail about this task to he and his regiment, bar the destination. Yet, the faithful soldiers of Gondor never hesitated to answer the challenge and do their Lord's will, nor question the sparse information given to them. His task could never be completed now. He wondered how his return to the white city would fair, if Boromir was not standing there beside his father when he returned. The trees grew thick as they moved deeper into the woodland before them, then sounds arose from the near distance. Idrial head cocked up to the sound. Then more. There was no mistake this time, they could hear the war cries of orcs. Idrial, Elogast and Berethor drew swords and Hadhod readied his axe. The sounds grew louder. "They can smell us", stated Elogast.
"Let them come", snarled Berethor. The party stopped as the bushes ahead rustled and the orcs jumped out ten yards away. The small battalion charged at the party. "Stand fast!" Berethor shouted. The fight broke out with Berethor parrying a wild slash from the first orc and following up with a thrust into the orcs chest. Hadhod swung his axe wildly connecting blows to the mid section of orcs while Idrial and Elogast made sword play themselves too, slaying the beasts at a rapid rate. The odds were four to one at least but the mountain orcs, although excelling in strength, could not match the intelligence of the four and their skill was fatally poor. The party found themselves backed against each other fighting for their lives. There was no room to manoeuvre but they managed to parry the heavy attacks from the frenzied creatures. Dead orcs lay surrounding the group while the rest of the orcs trampled over them to get to the party. Berethor began to push forward, away from the others, dodging and hacking down his enemy. He parried another attack, whirling his sword high in a singing arc, cleaving an orcs head asunder. Now separated from the rest, he quickly checked his rear guard when an orc crashed into him, bringing him to the ground and dropping his sword. "Berethor!", Elogast called out. He tried to get to him but was occupied with the seemingly endless barrage of beasts. The orc raised up and punched Berethor in the face, stunning him. Before the orc could do more, Idrial ran over and dived on the orc, stabbing the creature in the neck. Berethor, a little groggy, quickly got up to see Elogast and Hadhod fighting off the remaining orcs as they fled back to toward the mountain. Elogast turned back toward Idrial and Berethor, "Is everyone alright?"
Berethor nodded, then looked down at Elogast's leg. "Your wounded."
Elogast dismissed the statement. "A scratch is all." Hadhod holstered his axe and examined the dead. He spat, "Mountain orcs."
"We must move on quickly", stated Idrial who was staring through the trees, deep into the forest. The rest of them gathered round her. "We will rest soon, but not here." With that they began once again on their path through the forest, their heads looking vigilantly in all directions. "We should make for the road, away from the roots of the mountains", Hadhod stated.
Idrial shook her head. "No, we cannot. The Nazgul patrol the roads of Arnor, we must stay off the road." Things were now making sense to Elogast who stayed silent as they trudged through the dirt and bushes. The war, Aragorn and his company, and now the Nazgul. Though he was still uncertain, he began to suspect the magnitude of the situation. As the evening sky formed above, Idrial, who was ahead of the others turned to face them. "We will rest here tonight."
"We have not travelled far, let us go on." Hadhod challenged.
"We have not slept for three days, my friend." Elogast claimed. Berethor did not protest, he, Elogast and Idrial were spent. And so they settled down in an area nearby to eat. The rations weren't much though, just a bit of bread, a little meat and some dried fruit. There was no fire, for they did not want to alert any unwelcome attention. As they ate, Hadhod's curiosity got the better of him. "So war comes to all then eh?" he said still finishing what was in his mouth. Idrial did not speak. Berethor was concentrating on his food, he knew as little as Hadhod. "Yes my friend, a war has begun, all evil has been summoned to Sauron's will. I believe this war will end the third age." Elogast answered. Hadhod raised his eyebrows. Idrial finally spoke. "Lord Elrond will tell all in due course. Now you must get some sleep, I will go on first watch."
"But my Lady, you must rest also", claimed Berethor, who felt it his duty to protect the she-elf. Idrial had assumed a role of leadership since travelling from the Moria Gate. She felt somewhat responsible for the group, being the one who knew the most about the past and unforeseen events. "I will take first watch and we will set off at first light." With that, Berethor shuffled into the roots of the large tree next him. He sat, leaning against the tree with his knees tucked to his chest and fell asleep quite quickly. Elogast simply lay where he was sat with his back facing the others and his cloak wrapped tight around him. Hadhod did not sleep, <she is so tired she can barely stand.> he thought as he watched her, leaning against tree, staring into the darkness. <No, they shall sleep safe tonight while Hadhod is here.> Hadhod had been on many adventures with Elogast above ground and although he had grown more tolerant of the creatures that kept the land, not all bitterness towards elves had left his bones. Idrial was aware that Hadhod was watching her but she did not show it. She noticed a strange vibe from Elogast, he was lay very still, his breathing was low and regular but his energy did not speak of sleep. She stretched her senses as far as the forest would allow, listening to the sounds of nights creatures as they scurried about in the near distance and the song of the trees. She felt at home in this environment, not like Lothlorien. She was born and grew up in Lothlorien but long ago, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel came from the Undying Lands across the sea to govern the land and when they arrived, Galadriel used her magic to mute the seasons of the forest. No trees ever died, and no new ones ever grew. Many of the elves did not like this including Idrial, who made regular visits to the outer reaches of Lorien Forest where the trees were untouched by Galadriels power. Then she decided to serve Galadriel directly so she could travel the lands of Middle-Earth and experience death and rebirth once again. She thought about what Elogast had said. A war to end the third age. It was true, and after the elves would depart from Middle-Earth and sail to the undying lands. <Elrond will not tell them everything> she thought, <The fellowship's quest is utterly dependent on secrecy.> She had a feeling that her and the others would have a major role to play in the war, in some shape or form.
Hours had now passed and Idrial grew evermore weary but her thoughts refrained her from going to sleep. Hadhod was still awake and had not moved an inch, he was about to offer Idrial some rest when Elogast got up and walked over to Idrial, not noticing Hadhod. "You were not asleep." Idrial said in more statement than question. "Yes my Lady, not all is as it seems, is it", Elogast shot back. Idrial's stomach turned, "I, I do not follow…"
"Indeed." He muttered and then added. "Listen, it is no secret in the north that Isildur's Bane has been found." Idrial was dumbfounded. "Does this have anything to do with the war, or Aragorn?" Idrial could not speak. Berethor stirred. "Settle down Elogast." Elogast turned around to see Hadhod sat down with his back to a rock, staring at him. "Im sure if Idrial could tell you more, she would." Idrial, was now even more surprised, she had been rescued by the most unlikely of creatures. Hadhod too had been pondering on the knowledge he had recently heard. He had also noticed Idrials attempts to diffuse any talk of the matters at hand. "When we get to Rivendell we can discuss this properly. Come now my Lady, you need your rest. I will stand guard for the remainder of the night." Idrial smiled in appreciation and lay down to sleep, she now felt relieved, not needing to hide anything else and that relief granted her sleep. Elogast knew Aragorn and his bloodline, he wondered if it as time, the time his whole race had been waiting for, time for the king to reclaim the throne of Gondor. He walked back over to his spot, staring at Hadhod suspiciously. Calm is not at the top of the fiery dwarf's qualities. <He must know something.> he thought. <Or has seen something I have not.> He shook his mind of the thoughts and settled down to sleep.
"I can smell rain in the air." Berethor looked up at the sky, Elogast was right, the clouds were beginning to form. It was only right, he thought, rain had not come often on their journey and their luck could not hold out long. He looked at Idrial who was leading the party over the long, barren field. "Yes," she replied. "A small storm is brewing, it will arrive before the day is out." The sun shined through the cloud in the hours that preceded noon and the trees on horizon remained ever-distant as they marched at pace. Their departure in the morning was swift. Not a moment later than Hadhod had roused them from sleep, they had departed swiftly, missing breakfast. Idrial had wanted them to them to reach the border of Hallon before they ate, so she could plan the next week properly.
Idrial called a halt as the sun dissappered behind the dark clouds. The late afternoon had settled in and they sat down on the rocks in the midst of trees, pulling food from their packs to eat. Idrial had gone off to scout ahead for a suitable place to camp. "How does the white city fair?" asked Hadhod. Berethor was surprised to hear the dwarf speak of his home but answered in any case. "She holds," he said in remembrance. "And remains strong enough to answer the threat of Mordor."
The dwarf sighed. "Minas Tirith is a beautiful place. It has been long since I set my eyes on her."
"It seems long since I myself, last set eyes on her magnificence," Berethor agreed, stuffing the last of his bread into his mouth. He took a moment to think of his home, then stood up. "Come we must continue." With a grunt, Elogast and Hadhod got to their feet and they carried on through the wood. "Maybe one day, together we could return the white city," said Elogast.
Berethor smiled. "We will, my friend."
After an hour or so, they were greeted by Idrial. "There is a cave, north and east of here, no more than 2 miles away. We should make it before dark." The news was greeted by audible sighs of relief and gratitude. And so, they resumed their strong pace through the bushes and trees with purpose. Idrial ate while they walked. The darkness came as swiftly as the rain. Soon they were trudging through the wet mud under the heavy shower of the storm, their cloaks wrapped tight about them. A flash of lightning followed closely by a crack of thunder made Berethor uncomfortable as he walked with his back hunched trying to hold his cloak to him with both hands, fighting against the gusts of southerly winds. "That lightning struck too close for my liking," Hadhod exclaimed. Elogast glanced at him in acknowledgement. He was used to these conditions but the second crack of thunder and lightning did not make him feel any easier. "We are close," shouted Idrial as she look back a her companions, but most of the sound was stole away by the wind and it sounded no more than a whisper to the rest of them. They nodded simultaneously, their eyes squinting at her under their hoods. Not long after, they had found their refuge. Luckily, there was a little wood in the cave, but not nearly enough for a fire. Hadhod volunteered to find more wood but Idrial intervened. "No, I will be quicker."
"As you wish, my lady," Hadhod said compliantly but slighty offended. So Berethor and Hadhod prepared some cloths and wool as makeshift beds while Elogast arranged the small amount of wood as a base for the fire. Elogast offered first watch and Berethor called the second. "Finally we can roast our meat," claimed Hadhod, rubbing his hands, gleefully. Idrial returned with wood. She put the wood down and said, "it is quite damp, but the driest I could find." Elogast felt the wood and looked impressed. "No no, this will be more than effective."
In a few minutes a modest fire was burning and the four sat, surrounding it, and eating their food to the sound of the raging storm outside. Once Berethor had finished he looked at Elogast. "Tell me more of your race," he asked. Elogast paused for a moment to finish his what was in his mouth. "Well," he began and Idrial and Hadhod sat, listening although they already knew much about his people. "The Dunedain are descendants of the Numenor race, the kings of Men." Berethor nodded in indicationof his knowledge of Numenor. "My people live in villages in the very North and we dedicate our lives to protecting Arnor from evil." Berethor looked in great respect at his companion, eager to learn more. "But there are few of us," Elogast added gravely. "And we spread thinly and can barely contain the innocent peoples of our land. Our chieftain, Aragorn…" Idrial stopped him. "This is not the time or the place. We must wait until Rivendell, where we are not in fear of evil spies."
Elogast shook his head. "If Aragorn travels with the… with the company he has chosen, then he will be known to Sauron in due time. He is a strong man, we cannot fear for his safety anymore." He turned back to Berethor, who looked confused. "Aragorn is son of Arathorn, and heir to the throne of Gondor." A look of sheer joy and suprise filled Berethor's face and he looked up to the ceiling of the cave.
"Praise the Valar, our king lives," he said quietly ecstatic. He looked back at Elogast. "My people's generations have waited many long years for this news. But there is so much I do not understand, why…"
"You must understand," Elogast interrupted. "That there are many questions that cannot be answered at this time, and in Rivendell we will speak of all we know. But for now, that is all I can tell you of him."
After a more conversation about the ways of elves, gondorians and dwarves, they decided to settle down to sleep. "Elogast," Berethor said. "Let me take first watch, I need time to think." Elogast nodded and retreated to his sleeping spot by the fire. Berethor sat against the wall of cave close to the entrance, scanning the perimeter of the area around them. The trees shook heavily in the winds, but the rain had settled to a light shower. He thought of the news he had just heard, of his long-awaited king. He had learned so much in his journey from Minas Tirith, but this he did not expect. For generations in his kingdom, they had been taught of Isildur and the breaking in the line of kings. They still guarded the white tree, which stood in the courtyard outside the citadel, hoping one day he would return and the tree of kings would flower once again. Doubts crossed his mind, why would their king abandon them to live as a mere ranger in the north. To protect the lives of folk other than his own people. Long had a shadow of gloom lay over Gondor, the kingless kingdom that was under constant attack from evil creatures in seemingly unlimited numbers. Creatures that did not fear death, that only knew what it was to kill another man. How could he leave them under rule of mere stewards, surely he could restore Gondor to it's greatness once again. Berethor let out a sigh of sorrow and a crack of thunder responded. He jolted suddenly and realised he had been too immersed in his thoughts to carry out his task of watchman. He pushed his feelings to the back of mind and looked around the dark wood.
The time had passed rather quickly and the storm was dying down to the quiet sound of the wind, under which, he could hear the sounds of the small creatures rustling in the forest and the dwarf, snoring loudly from behind him. A small rush of wind flew into the cave. He tucked his knees to his chest and threw his cloak over them. His watch would be over soon, he thought. The crackle and pop of the fire made him look over to his companions who slept soundly in the warmth of the fire. He had quickly grown a liking to all of them, more so the elf. He, in her felt a companionship he had not felt since before the attack at the Gap of Rohan. Them huge orcs had slaughtered his men when they unexpectedly attack in the broad daylight. He silently cursed the foul creatures as he got up and walked over to where Elogast was sleeping. He roused him by shaking gently at his shoulder. "It is time.""I see the storm has died," he said, fully awake. It was amazing how quickly he awoke from sleep with no visible grogginess. "Be free from your concerns and worries in the haven of sleep, my friend." Berethor smiled at his orders and nodded.
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