53. The Fall of Arthedain
Earnil closed his eyes. His head slowly fell into his hands. "Say it again," he said quietly. So quietly no one but his son heard. Earnur made a curt gesture to the messenger.
"King Earnil of Gondor," the messenger read, his voice trembling slightly. The king looked so devastated. "I thank you for your congratulations on my ascension to kingship of Arthedain, and also for your promise of aid. I fear that I must ask you for it now. The last stroke of Angmar has begun on my land. The Witch-King has unleashed his forces upon Arthedain. I fear that without aid we will not last a year. Not even Fornost can stand against the powers that now roam the wilds of the north. Therefore I beg of you, send aid. For if you do not or you delay, then there will be no more kingdom in the north."
"What shall we do, Father?" Earnur asked. He was itching for a battle. To test his sword against the fabled Witch-King…ah…he could hardly wait.
"I cannot go," Earnil whispered. "Gondor has suffered such heavy losses in the recent war against the Wainriders. I cannot abandon my people."
"Then let me go," Earnur said. "I will lead Gondor to victory!"
Earnil felt like he stood on the brink of a precipice. He could choose to abandon Arvedui to his – and Arnor's – death. Or he could send his only son into possible death. His only child.
"Go," Earnil said at last. The decision did not lift the burden on his heart but merely increased it. "Take as many men as you need and use the fleet. I do not trust the roads."
Earnur grinned. "Yes, Father. Fear not, Arthedain will not fall."
It's not Arthedain I'm worried about, Earnil thought. It's you.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Khamul asked with a grin.
"I have stood upon this hill too many times to think it beautiful," Vorea replied. "But this time there are no men in the bushes. There are no elves with swords and arrows. There is no one."
"No one except a bunch of guards on the city walls," Khamul said. "I like it when I can see my enemies."
Vorea smiled. She waited a moment before raising her spear to signal the attack. She was savoring the moment. Savoring the destruction of Fornost.
The army of orcs, goblins, trolls and men surged down the hill and threw themselves against the gates of Fornost. They broke within minutes, and although hundreds of invaders died in a hail of arrows, there were thousands to replace them.
"We've won," Khamul said in astonishment as the orcs swarmed the city, slaughtering everything that moved and burning whatever didn't. "Who knew it would be this easy?"
"It is only easy because we have striven for a thousand years to weaken Arthedain," Vorea said. "It is only easy because we have a force over a hundred thousand strong. Where are you going?" she asked as Khamul urged her horse through the hordes.
"To find Arvedui. He's the last king, and I'm going to cut off his crown."
Vorea sighed. Spotting a valiant defender trying to keep the orcs away from his home, Vorea hefted her spear and let it fly. Better to be slain by a fellow Man than an orc, she thought as the man was skewered.
"They're coming!" Arvedui shouted. He raced through his castle, looking for Firiel and his son. "Firiel! Get Aranarth! Get out of here!"
"Where are you going?" Firiel asked as she ran into the room, cradling the infant in her arms. He was so swaddled in blankets Arvedui could hardly spot him amongst the wrappings.
"Get out of here. I'm going to try to make it to Lindon."
"You can't. The western road is blocked. Trolls've barricaded it."
Arvedui cursed. His heart was pounding in his chest. "Then I'll go north. You take the north road as well, but be careful to stay off the road itself."
Firiel gave him a disapproving look. "I can take care of myself." She brushed aside her cloak to give him a view of the sword that hung at her waist.
Arvedui smiled. "My beautiful wife," he said. He kissed her, and then Aranarth, who made a gurgling noise.
"Go!" Firiel shouted. "Go while there's still time!"
"Same to you," Arvedui said as he ran out of the room. He never saw Firiel or his son again.
Down the stairs he sprinted, and out the door. The orcs were everywhere. So were the goblins and wildmen. They moved through the streets like a tide. And beneath them the streets ran red with the blood of the Dunedain.
He found a few loyal guardsmen and together they fought their way out of Fornost. The bulwark against the forces of Angmar had turned into a deathtrap.
He made it to the northern road with only three men left. Somehow they had made it out. Somehow. He could only pray that Firiel had as well.
The land was crawling with orcs, but through some miracle they were never found. Perhaps Varda was smiling down on them from above. If so, she had a funny way of showing her favors.
"My king," one of his men said a week later. "These mountains we are near, there is an abandoned dwarf mine in one of them."
Arvedui looked up with hope. A place to stay, to recuperate from their injuries. Safety. "Lead the way," he said.
"I doubt there's food in it though, my king."
Arvedui shrugged. "It doesn't matter. We'll find something. Besides, food isn't our biggest concern right now."