6. Lost Part II
My apologies for the incredibility long time it has taken me to post this chapter. I have had health issues over the past months which sapped my energy. Further updates will follow at more regular intervals. LBJ
Lost Part II
'But there's only four of us,' Gidon protested. 'There's maybe a dozen of them. Difficult if we were fully fit, but in our weakened state, without water ...'
'That's the point,' Amroth interrupted, shushing Gideon before he could raise his voice further. They had moved a good distance away, but sound travelled easily in the desert and he didn't want any risk of the enemy detecting their presence. 'Without water we are doomed anyway. They have water, we have to get it from them to have any chance of surviving.'
Gidon pondered thoughtfully for a moment, gazing towards the far dune that rose black against the lighter sky. 'You obviously have a plan, lord, so are you going to share it will us?'
Amroth looked over to where the three remaining horses quivered in an exhausted group. His insides retched at what he was about to suggest, but it might be their only chance. 'The most urgent thing is to get some liquid down us, enough to give us a bit of strength. If we do that I think we can surprise our friends over there, and have a good chance of overcoming them.' Puzzled faces met this statement, so he explained quickly. 'The horses will be dead by the morning, losing some of their blood now will make no difference to that outcome.'
'Blood!' Borinon exclaimed. 'What do you mean, lord?'
But Gidon followed Amroth's eyes, his baffled expression lifting. 'Have you ever done it before, lord? I am not sure I can stomach the idea.'
'I haven't, but it's that or to start walking with no certainty of finding the waterhole. Even if we were sure of the direction, we could miss it easily in the night, and by the morning we would probably be too weak to carry on. I like the idea as little as you, but I am prepared to take the first mouthful.' Amroth knew he had to just shut his mind to the horror of drinking his horse's blood. Aero had served him well for many years, the horse's last contribution to their partnership might be his most important.
Realising his intentions, Borinon and Galor had paled under their coating of red dust, but they made no protest and Amroth carried on.
'With a bit of judicious planning I think we will have a chance. More chance than we would of fighting the desert, anyway. We drink the blood, rest up, and attack as dawn breaks. They will not be expecting us.' Amroth indicated the bow slung from his saddle. 'If we can creep up unnoticed, I reckon I can take out half of them. They won't know our numbers, so we may be able to pin them down.'
Gidon nodded slowly, a smile of understanding on his face. Confident he could deliver what he promised Amroth matched his smile, though the effort cracked his lips. His friendly rivalry with Devoran since their marriage had turned him into a first class bowman. She said he would never match her brothers, but he could notch an arrow faster and shoot it more accurately than any other in Dol Amroth. And using the bow he had inherited from her father, he wouldn't have to risk getting that close; he'd be well out of range of his opponents' weapons.
'Your job,' he said to Borinon, the only other with a bow, 'will be to make sure they don't break out. Keeping them together will give us the best chance of taking out as many of the bastards as possible.'
The foul metallic taste of Aero's blood still clogged his mouth. Blessed Eru, he'd give anything for a drink of water. Amroth prayed that he would never have to do such a thing again. His horse had died sometime during the night, but surprisingly he felt numb about the loss. Too concerned with making sure they all survived. Too determined that he would somehow get back to Devoran and Elenna to mourn even such a fine and loyal friend as Aero. The past four years had been the most joyful and fulfilling of his life, and he treasured every moment of them. He only had to close his eyes to see his wife's glorious hair, hear her bubbly laugh, feel her soft hands caressing him …
'It won't be long till dawn, lord,' Gideon whispered out of the darkness beside him.
Amroth shook himself fully awake and gazed towards the east. Gidon was right: a faint streak of paler sky glimmered on the horizon. 'How do you feel?'
'I've been better,' Gidon murmured. 'But it stayed in my stomach, and I'm still alive.'
'That was the idea, although I reckon I could throw up at any moment.'
'Best wait till you can do it over those filthy sods.'
Amroth grimaced. 'A good idea.' He indicated the two inert bodies stretched out the other side of Gidon. 'Wake those two; we'd better get into position.'
They had used the darkness to move right around the other side of the Southerners' camp, far away from the dead horses. When dawn came the vultures would swoop in on the bodies, giving the enemy a sure sign of their presence. But hopefully, by their long, exhausting crawl through the night, they would have fooled them as to their position. What he didn't know was if they'd have lookouts posted. It seemed likely.
They did. One at least. Creeping towards the camp from the west, they saw him outlined against the grey pale of dawn. Amroth could have taken him out with the bow, but a scream would have alerted his companions and that was the last thing he wanted.
'I'll go, lord,' Galor volunteered.
Amroth nodded. Galor was the youngest and the nimblest of them. He could work around towards the sentry, squirming on his stomach. 'Keep the dark at your back. Come up to him from between those two low ridges. If I think he's spotted you, I'll shoot and then run like hell straight for the camp. I should still be able to down a few before they know what's happening.' He looked around at his meagre force. 'But no heroics, I'll give the word for close combat.'
Galor moved away, soon disappearing into the undulations of the dunes. Amroth sent Gidon and Borinon into position, away to his right and left. As soon as they had gone, he started to edge his way towards the sentry, keeping low to the ground and dragging his quiver and bow through the sand. He stayed a good way behind Galor, the soldier rapidly disappearing into the murk. But he needed to be closer in case they were rumbled. Close enough to shoot the sentry if needed and then rain arrows down on the camp in double quick time. Amroth wiped the crud from his lips, his mouth had dried completely. Not enough moisture to even swallow. This had to work. He raised his head slightly and looked around for the others, but the gloom had hidden them from his sight. He could only hope they were in place. Wanting to be aware of any change in the man's demeanour that would indicate he had spotted Galor or one of the others, Amroth fixed his eyes on the sentry – a hunched shape, still and ominous.
Suddenly Amroth saw a dark shadow a little to the right of the sentry. He strained his eyes. Yes, the shadow was moving. It must be Galor. The shadow moved closer, but the hope that they had got away with total surprise was shattered when the sentry's head whipped around as he sensed someone approaching him. Amroth gave him no time to shout out – jumping to his feet he loosed an arrow in one fluid movement. He didn't know if the man cried out; if he did it was not a loud sound, and immediately Galor fell on him. Amroth rushed headlong for the crest of the dune, stumbling in his weakness as the sand slipped from beneath his feet.
He reached the top, hearing the shouts of alarm as the Southerners realised they were under attack. Needing to take advantage of the short time he had before they realised exactly what was happening, Amroth sent down arrow after arrow. For a moment all was panic in the camp, giving him easy targets. A few of the Southerners dived for the camels, which were bellowing at the upset around them, and pulled out their own bows, using the beasts for protection.
Arrows winged Amroth's way, but he was out of their range and they fell short. The Southerners were aiming into the dark, whilst he could pick them off as they silhouetted against the glow of the fire.
The dead or dying littered the ground below him, but no more Southerners showed themselves. Amroth could see the outline of a hump of bodies he took to be the captive girls huddling together, and waited. He remembered the night before the great battle on the walls of Minas Tirith when he'd been awed by the skill of Duilin and Derufin. The brothers had picked off orc after orc, finding their targets by the glint of fire on a helm or the flash of an unsheathed weapon. He would learn from them, wanting to take more down before he risked any hand to hand combat. They were too weak for serious fighting.
Zing... the arrow left the bow and Amroth grinned to himself as a cry of pain sounded over the noise of the camels. One less to contend with – the white flutter of the man's headdress giving him away. But he only had a few arrows left.
Suddenly there was a burst of activity: a couple of camels were dragged to their feet as the enemy decided to make a break for it. Amroth yelled a warning, calling the others into the fray and started running down the slope. Hopefully he could drive them to where Borinon waited. He let loose another arrow, but it hit the rear of one of the camels. The beast let out a mournful bellow and kicked out at the rider trying to shelter behind him. Then the man went down as he got into Borinon's range, the camel taking the chance to lope off.
Gidon and Galor broke cover. Swords drawn they converged on the remaining Southerners through a rain of arrows. Amroth managed to hit another, which stopped anyone else from fleeing, but within moments he felt into an empty quiver. Flinging his bow aside, he drew his sword, jumped on the nearest camel's back and down onto the man hiding behind it. He got a fleeting glimpse of a curved sword before he sliced into the black neck. Blood sprayed in his face and he got caught in the tangle of limbs and clothing, landing with a thump on the hard ground. Luckily just out of range of the camel's teeth. The wind knocked out of him, he lay panting, too weak to get up.
'They're done for, lord.'
Amroth focused on Galor, who was leaning on his sword taking deep breaths.
'There won't be in a minute.'
Amroth started to protest, but stopped himself. They were in no state to look after prisoners and anyway, he didn't think he could bear to come face to face with the murdering bastards. He nodded, heaving himself up. 'Everyone all right?'
'Gidon's taken an arrow, but it's not serious. The girls look unhurt, but frightened to death.'
Was it any wonder? Amroth hobbled over to the trio, pulling his knife from his belt. Eyes full of fear, they shrank from him, jabbering pitifully. He held up his hand, trying a few words he knew with the hope of calming them. About nine or ten, all were probably orphans. But they were alive and if luck held would stay that way. One seemed slightly less panicky than the others and he pointed to the rope that bound her hands, making a sawing motion with his knife. After a little persuasion – he beckoning with his fingers and smiling – she held out her hands to let him slice through the bonds. Nervously the other two held out their wrists for him to free them, joyfully pulling at the ropes on their ankles as soon as he had done so.
'Water, lord.' Borinon held out a skin.
Amroth put it to his lips and gulped down half a dozen mouthfuls before forcing himself to stop. 'How much is there?'
'Plenty. They must have stocked up for a long journey home. But you'd better come and see Captain Gidon, lord. It's only a flesh wound, but he don't look too good.'
The sands stretched away: endless; desolate. The deep desert had fascinated Aragon since his first visit long ago. It still fascinated him. Men crossed it; lived in it; fought it. Sometimes they won, often they lost. Especially if they were not born to its ways. He could only hope that Amrothos had somehow won against the odds. Although his chances were diminishing fast. With the winds ever shifting the sands, the scouts had found no signs. Why did he think he and Amal had a chance of finding something they had not?
Licking dry lips, Aragorn raised his hand to his eyes, shading them from the relentless sun to look into the distance. Empty desert. No movement, the wind had dropped. Not even a vulture disturbed the heavy air. Hot and weary, he gave a deep sigh and turned to Prince Amal riding beside him. The Harad leader had forsaken his rich clothing for voluminous desert robes that enveloped his body, shielding him from the sun He looked, perhaps, more at home amongst the dunes on his high-bred camel than in the city he was building on the coast. Aragorn sensed that as the ranger still lurked within himself, then the stirrings of the desert warrior would never quite be lost in this fair-minded and far-sighted ruler.
'It does not look good,' Aragorn mused. 'Five days since the sandstorm and not a sign. It is a long time to survive in this heat. '
Prince Amal eyed him speculatively. 'You have been this way before; you know that the desert is a cruel mistress.'
Aragorn cast his companion a smile that could have been mistaken for a grimace. 'I do. The last time I travelled this land I pitted myself against the scorching wilderness, and barely escaped with my life.'
'But you still came back.' The Prince returned the smile. 'Because to some of us the desert calls. Its beauty and magnificence has no equal. For me, I need to remember where I come from. I am grateful that I now rule a land where crops will grow and children have enough water to drink. The cities we are building and the trading ports will bring security to my people.' He paused, reflecting. 'You and I are alike in some ways: soft living could easily claim us. Only in vast, empty lands where the enemy is the frailness of our own strength, can we become real men again. Here we battle our own weaknesses, unfettered by the demands and restrictions put on us.'
'You think that is why I chose to ride with the search party?'
'It was not?'
'Partly,' Aragorn acknowledged, knowing that Amal spoke near the truth. 'But more that Imrahil and I go back a long way. Also, without him, I would have had more difficulties during the first few years of my reign. I would not want to face my friend knowing that I had not done everything I could to find his son. Although I am expecting you to order the search off at any moment.'
The Prince pursed his lips. 'No, you are wrong. I will not give up yet. Even if I only have a body to return to his father.'
'So, this search means more to you as well?' Not just the warrior retuning to the desert as he'd thought.
Amal's eyes were dark and unfathomable. Aragorn waited whilst the Prince deliberated on what to say.
'I hope I made a friend in Amroth. Out of the three of Imrahil's sons he welcomed me the most openly.' Amal paused for so long that Aragorn decided that was the only reason, but then he received a sideways look filled with remembrances. 'But also I owe a debt that needs to be repaid.'
'A debt?' Aragorn frowned, not quite sure what Amal meant.
'Prince Imrahil's daughter once did me a service. I have not forgotten it. I would spare her the grief her brother's death will cause if I am able. Or at least ensure that there is a grave where she can mourn.'
Aragorn shot his mind back to the time when Lothíriel had saved Amal the embarrassment of apologising to a woman. 'Ah...I see,' he said after a moment's reflection. 'It is true that every action has an outcome, although some we cannot foresee.'
'Indeed.' Amal's attention was suddenly fixed on a speck that rose into the air behind a high ridge of dunes.
'Vulture,' Aragorn cried, torn between fear and irrational hope.
'Last time it was an antelope,' Amal muttered. But he waved his hand and immediately two of his men urged their camels into a fast, loping gallop. 'Let's see, shall we,' he cried, taking off after them.
Summoning his own escort to follow, Aragon kept up with the Prince, though he dreaded what they would find. But he wanted closure, so he steeled himself for the worst, already imagining the grief on Imrahil's face. The men in front crested the ridge, and as they did so, a flock of black-feathered flesh strippers spiralled high into the sky. Aragorn choked back the bile that seared his throat – whatever gruesome sight lay behind that dune had to be faced.
The buzz of the flies was the first thing he noticed as they reached the top of the dune, then the putrid smell of decomposition assaulted his nostrils. Below, there was a mass of bones and torn flesh. Amal's men had already reached it, one jumping from his camel and surveying the scene of carnage laid out before them. The man, Hassim, scrutinized the bodies, nodded to his companions and shouted out to the Prince who was now halfway down the sand-hill.
Aragorn gasped. 'Did I get that right? There are only the bodies of horses.'
'That's what he said,' Amal confirmed, 'but whether it is good or bad I don't yet know.'
'How many?' Aragorn asked when they reach the bloodied remains.
'Three, lord,' Hassim replied.
'But four men are missing,' Aragorn contemplated the news, trying to work out what might have happened.
'I am surprised there are three horses in one spot,' Amal said. 'It would be far more likely that they died at different times than all together.'
'True, I have no answer to that. But whatever, Amroth left the horses here and presumably tried to find his way back on foot.' Aragorn ordered his camel to the ground, and slipped off its back. Covering his mouth against the swarm of flies they had disturbed, he moved towards the carcases. The smell made him retch, as did the sight of torn flesh heaving with fat white maggots. 'How long ago, I wonder.'
'It is difficult to tell.' Amal wrinkled his nose in disgust and moved away. He went into an intense conversation with Hassim who was walking around studying the horses' remains. When he turned back to Aragorn his eyes held no hope. 'Hassim thinks maybe four days.'
'That's what I thought,' Aragorn agreed. 'The carcasses are not fully stripped of flesh.' He stared down at the heart-rending remains of the horse he recognised to be Amroth's big grey – it lay slightly protected by being half covered by the body of another. The grey's eyes and lips had gone; its belly had been torn out, as had its soft throat, but the tougher meal of its strong neck remained untouched as yet. Something strange caught Aragorn's eye, something out of place with the vultures' frenzied tearing. He knelt down, swished the flies away, and ran his fingers over the dead flesh. With sudden clarity, Aragorn recognised the significance of the cut outlined by a ridge of dried blood.
'This horse has been bled.'
Amal knelt beside him, making his own examination. After a moment he nodded his agreement. 'So,' he said thoughtfully, 'that is good news: Amroth kept his head. The blood would have given them enough strength to make for the waterhole.'
'Yes, and surely that was where he would have tried to head for. But we have covered all the terrain between here and the scrubland and have seen no signs. Erchirion is still there, looking and waiting.' Aragorn shook his head despondently. 'I cannot believe that Amroth would go in any direction other than north.'
Amal scanned the haze that glimmered on the horizon. 'Any other way would lead only to death. 'But we will look for one more day. Then we ourselves must return to replenish our water-skins.'
Aragorn stared out across the hot sands; hope had left him as well. 'Which way did you go, Amroth,' he muttered to himself. Suddenly he blinked, as he thought he saw some movement between some far dunes. But when he looked again he decided it was the sand being blown by a sudden gust of wind.
To be continued.
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Devoran Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond – married to Prince Amrothos.
Elenna First daughter of Amrothos and Devoran.
Gidon Amroth's Captain
Borinon & Galor Two Dol Amroth soldiers.
Prince Amal Ruler of Near Harad.
Hassim A Harad scout
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.