15. Chapter 15
Things, naturally, did not go according to plan. Wulgof had not found the dung gate, but had missed it and bypassed it. He had come around to the north of the town. Realising his error and the fact that none of the de-facto company leaders were with him, he let a wave of panic pass through him. Saruman's army was not one for individual innovation. Wulgof over his head here now without anyone, even the grouchy horse-lord Frea, there to tell him what to do. Those with him were not really leaders. As Wulgof pondered his options, he grasped realised now, too late, that this was a test Hanasian was putting to him. It meant much to have the trust and responsibility handed to him, but he didn't have to like it. When Belegost asked what they were going to do now, Wulgof mumbled something to himself about knowing better than to volunteer for anything.
"We'll cut down this slope so as to come to the town wall more to the north. We'll try and find a way in."
Belegost nodded and waved the others forward. Wulgof hoped he could salvage this in some way.
Mecarnil too missed his mark and had cut toward the town too soon. As they approached the town in the lighter jungle growth, Donius tripped and fell.
"What the... who put this trip line in the way?" He mumbled as his brother came up and helped him to his feet.
Daius reached down and pulled at a small log. It pulled against the brush and grass, and revealed that it was a scaling ladder. It wasn't as old as it appeared and had been obscured well. If Donius hadn't caught it with his foot, they likely would have passed it by entirely.
"Interesting," Mecarnil said when he came back to have a look. "If everyone is well, let's go. We're late."
They moved forth. The brothers each took an end of the ladder and carried it along with them. All seemed quiet when they reached a clearing before the wall. Obviously nobody had set off an alert, but they were well off their mark of the water inlet. Mecarnil looked about and contemplated a move farther around through the thick bush where no track lay. His thoughts turned to the recently acquired ladder and the faint track they had found in the mist. Donius pointed up the wall to a barely discernible door. It appeared to be a disused waste door of some sort.
Daius whispered, "Think we should give it a go?"
Mecarnil nodded and the brothers were off across the clearing with their ladder. Anras followed as their cover. It was a perfect fit. The ladder reached the door. Donius rapidly ascended and opened the door slowly. A store room of some sort. Maybe a larder near kitchen. It was empty. Donius waved down to Mecarnil and the signal was given to go in. Donius disappeared through the door, followed by Anras. Daius held the ladder secure as each man went in and was the last up himself. The men collectively held their breaths as the ladder was pulled up and the door shut. No alarm. They were in unseen. Now to work out where they are, and where they needed to go.
As these events transpired, Morcal waved at the guard they approached. One seemed interested at the figures that approached from the fog, but the other didn't seem to pay any mind. Mulgov smiled and waved too, and they stopped when the curious guard walked out to them.
In Haradian he asked, "What is your business here at this time?"
Morcal said without prompting, "We are merchants. We bear food and medicine required by the freedom fighters. We were slowed by the storm as we should have been here in the afternoon."
The guard looked him over, giving only a glance to Mulgov, Khule, and Rin, all heavily wrapped and hooded against the 'cold'. The bored guard, obviously the senior, waved them through, not interested in moving away from the fire he was by. It was an advantage that this cold snap had given them. Haradians didn't like it one bit.
Her lips still felt the warmth of Hanasian's even as she stood in a situation beyond her wildest imaginings. She was far to the south, infiltrating a hostile town, in the company of soldiers in whom she had placed trust for her life just as they trusted theirs to her. The hostile town was the only part of the scenario with which she was acquainted. Homeless vagabonds were rarely welcome anywhere. She recalled her promise on the ship to Pelargir. She would not become a ghost to haunt him. Not this night. When they slipped through the main gate unchallenged, an instinct honed across her life told her that their luck was about to shift. The man on the other side of the gates represented that fork in the road. Would she see Hanasian, Loch or any of the others again? The guard pressed a wax seal to a parchment that Morcal had produced. They were in with allowance of free traders. They got in easier than they had thought.
A man scowled at the four figures before him. His was the unlucky lot to find space for these late arrivals in a town already overcrowded. He frowned at the paper Morcal thrust at him and held up a torch. Damn wind would freeze his fingers from his hand thanks to this lot of stragglers. The first two were tribesmen. Not like they needed more unwilling. The town was already ensnared in men like these. From that region that had proved most unwilling too. Well, talk was that the king's grip on the undead was far from certain. More fell inanimate each day. Probably they'd need to top up the troops. The man shouldered through the first two to look closer at the other two. Smaller in stature, different tribe. He flicked past Khule without hesitation. Dark eyes wrapped in a cowl bore no further inspection. The other though, deep blue eyes and pale skin no matter how thickly he wrapped himself.
"No tribesman is this!" the man said in haradi.
"Djinn," Molguv replied steadily.
Rin resolved to get to bottom of this djinn matter if it was the last thing she ever did. The man squinted at Molguv and then spat to one side. Rin did not know it was an instinctual warding against bad spirits. Nor did she know that the Haradrim considered healers to be amongst a pantheon of spirits loosely gathered under the collective term of djinn. Rin did know to not say anything about bad manners.
"Enough trouble as there is. Don't need no djinn," the man growled, backing away as Khule drew closer to Rin. His hands closed on the pommel of swords beneath his wrappings.
"Healer," Morcal insisted and this made the man hesitate before he reached and ever so cautiously yanked back the cowl that covered Rin's head to see for himself.
Reactions were instantaneous. His eyes widened at the revealed pale skin and hair. She scowled fiercely and yanked the cowl back into place. He spat, a warding sign, for good measure. No one wanted to upset a djinn.
"That way! She will be tested," the man said as he jabbed a finger at a largish and unlit building towards the centre of the town. Morcal and Molguv nodded and they led the other two away. The man spat to one side once again and then went to organise the testing. If they lied, they committed a grievous sacrilege that would go not unpunished. He hoped they lied, for if they did not then the king would be healed and no one wanted that. Better that they lied and they were executed for their heresy than the alternative.
Wulgof came to the north gate some time later. There was nobody there. No guards, no watch on the wall. Stranger yet, the gate was unbolted. Wulgof gave it a pull and it opened. There seemed to be nobody inside either, it was early morning before dawn, but it was an odd thing. He decided to take press his luck and he waved the others forward. They simply walked in.
Some time had passed before Hanasian and the rest of the company moved forth beside the road. The hour before dawn saw them ready to take the gate if need be. The two guards seemed to paying little attention. As they studied the gate, Hanasian saw a sign from the wall above. It was Mecarnil. His signing motioned them to go around to where the door was, and one of them would drop the ladder for them. Hanasian motioned for Loch to take point and skirt away from the guards to the east. By first light they were up the ladder. The town was beginning to stir in the foggy morn, and somehow, the company was inside without detection. Their luck still held.
The large, unlit building was quickly found to be unoccupied. As Morcal lit candles, it was revealed to be some sort of temple. Rin's jaw dropped behind her veil as she took in the scale of it. The roof was lost in shadow. Everything seemed made of stone and huge. There was writing of some description ringing a large open space. A stone table seemed to sit at the apex of some sort of plinth and columns stalked the plinth, the inner and outer walls. Khule crouched to watch at the door as Rin took in their surrounds.
"What the hell is this place?"
Even though she whispered, her voice carried well enough to Molguv. He was prowling columns and shadows. Word of a djinn, particularly a healing one, would spread fast in the town. It was entirely possible it had lured people to the temple before they themselves arrived.
"It's a temple, of sorts," Molguv replied.
There was a particularly sharp note to Rin's question.
"You better tell me what a djinn is, Molguv."
"There's a crowd gathering," Khule warned. It was the infant hours of the day and yet a crowd gathered outside.
"A djinn is… a collective term," Molguv started and hesitated as Rin placed her hands on her hips.
"For what, precisely?"
"For… healers… all you need to do is prove you're a healer. Since you are a healer, that should present no difficulty for you, yes?"
"Why would do put healers in temples, Molguv?"
Damn, Molguv thought. Women with spit were fun. Intelligent women with spit were hard work. Hanasian was welcome to her. This, of course, did not come out of his mouth.
"Can you just get ready, Doc? You need to be ready because if you can't prove you're a healer, things will go real bad."
"Ever seen a haradi ritual execution? No? Well, be ready and you won't have to."
Rin approached the large stone table and started to set out her gear. She was well aware Molguv hadn't given her a straight answer, but he was right. Now was not the time to quibble. Outside, the press grew. In its midst were Hanasian's and Mecarnil's men. Word of a djinn was plunging headlong through the crowd. A healing djinn. Many were not happy about it. Vidgavia's signal told Hanasian that Wulgof and his men had been sighted also. Their luck had stretched this far, but would it hold for those inside, behind the massive stone ediface the townspeople clustered before?
A deep bass thrumming shifted the press from behind. It came from men beating a complex rhythm on large, goblet shaped drums. Grumbling, but not openly, people cleared a path that was soon flanked by men who were far more than conscripts. Everyone bowed their heads as they passed, meaning that the Black in their midst continued to blend in. The phalanx of elite troops shielded a veiled palanquin that was carried towards the temple. Khule's eyes widened as he took in the approaching scene.
"Show's on!" he called and narrowly stepped into shadow before the leading guards thrust the door wide open.
"Djinn! Attend!" they boomed in haradi. Rin understood the djinn part of the command and swallowed thickly through a suddenly dry throat. Morcal and Molguv traded glances and then looked back at Rin. Molguv reached and pulled back her cowl.
"More different you look, the better," he told her.
Then he walked out with Morcal and took up position on either side of the large stone table. They bowed from the waist.
"Who calls on our sacred mistress?" Morcal replied in haradi.
"Lord of the South, High King of the Drowned Lands, Master of the Singing Sands,"came the ritual response.
None of it made any sense to Rin, who waited in the shadows. Morcal and Molguv understood who they were referring to. Rin's test would be none other than the very man they had been sent to capture. Morcal made the ritual gesture of welcome and the official party entered the temple outright. Rin's glance of the palanquin had her heart pounding. That looked official, very official. Surely she would not have to heal the very man she wanted to kill.
Once the royal guard was through, the crowd filled in behind them. The Black entered the temple as they laid out the king on the stone table. Rin stepped out and a combination of torch light and the pale light of dawn cast her hair in shades of rose and fire. In the setting, even those who knew Rin to be mortal found it a fey, otherwordly sight. She wore a remote expression, a mask to hide the turmoil and uncertainty of her thoughts. Rin looked out over the gathered people and then wrenched her eyes to her test. Could she heal him? Could she marshal her will and heal him? He lay in his dreadful armour, but seemed much diminished from the monster of her dream. Blood, dried and old, was caked in his ears and traced down his neck. A bad sign. A sign of mortality. Perhaps that stole the nightmare from his presence and yet the stench of the dead wafted through the high narrow windows. Mortal and yet terrible. She should never forget that.
"State your desire and we shall convey it to our mistress," Molguv said as Rin stood in silence and stared at the figure on the table.
"Insolence! I shall speak to her myself," the most ornately armoured man bellowed. His voice careened off the surface of the wide space and it drew Rin's attention to him. This man she had seen before too, in her dream. A gaze of endless winter ice met his pride. Rin's cold rage surged to life once more and it showed in her uncanny eyes. The officer licked his lips uncertainly.
"If you insist, though I warn you that our mistress has little patience for the unschooled utterings of mortals," Molguv replied calmly.
"Healer! What shall she do if displeased?"
"Refuse to heal, and only that if fortune shines on us this day."
"Then you shall be executed, all of you."
"Tell me, friend, have you heard of a mortal who bested a djinn? You know you can do her no harm. Do you think she will care if we fall?" Morcal said to the other side. Khule edged around the cusp of the crowd, difficult for it spilled out of the temple. He could see the senior soldier consider whatever it was Molguv and Morcal had countered him with. Then, after great length, the man nodded and Molguv bowed before turning to convene a mystical discussion with their mistress.
"Your test is our target, Doc… and do you think you could do something fancy? Not lights or anything… maybe wave your hands and chant something so you appear… mystical?"
Khule heard expel a sharp breath shortly before she stepped towards the table. Wave her hands… How could she wave her hands if she was throttling the monster? In the temple, the talk of the crowd simmered so very quietly.
"Haven't had a djinn here for generations."
"I heard the djinn left us at the end of the Great War."
"Why would they return now?"
"Perhaps he really is our rightful king."
"Perhaps she is bored. You know how djinn are."
"Unpredictable, untrustworthy, unreliable and cruel."
"Hush, she is starting."
"More of the dead fall each day. His hold fails. I hope it fails..."
As Rin laid her hands on the cruelly armoured chest, the rebel's guard surged forward. She glared at them fiercely as sensations swamped her awareness. He was a dying man. The bleeding from the ears was only the beginning. Rin withdrew her hands and glanced to Molguv.
"I don't know if I can do this," she said, her words carrying to the fellow members of the Black that shared her language.
"Just close your eyes and imagine it is one of us," Molguv unhelpfully replied.
"I need more information. I need to know what caused this."
Molguv conferred with the senior soldier, who in turn reluctantly conveyed the source of their leader's malaise. It rested in the very power he was using to corrupt life and death. When this was relayed to her, a wild idea leapt into her mind. She didn't need to heal him outright at all! An absolutely reckless smile came to her lips. Loch, in the crowd had seen it before, in Edoras shortly before all that cheese had gone missing. She didn't often smile like that, but when she did.
"Oh no," Loch lamented.
Rin delved, not the least bit concerned about being delicate. She did not set out intentionally to cause pain. No, that would be in defiance of everything she was. However, she felt not the least bit of remorse when this man she worked on felt pain. Healing was painful and she did little shield him from it. Only the worst of it. He wouldn't thank her, for he didn't know what she buffered him from. It was a juggling act of the highest order. She needed to heal some things but leave other things untouched. Just enough to get him on his feet again, perhaps capable of speech. It was far from certain. His power had wrought true devastation upon him. When she had thought she had done enough, she waved her hands and stepped back. A collective murmur rippled through the crowd.
Though she had not done everything she could, it had still taken its measure from her strength. Rebuilding a brain and heart was hard work and she was still fine tuning her technique. It was possible that she had failed. The rebel's guard pressed close again. Then the sorcerer drew a sharp breath and moaned. The senior soldier closed on the table, suddenly deferential and fearful. He seemed, to Rin's eye, to barely conceal anger and disappointment. The rebel opened eyes that long ago been stripped of all humanity and peered at the ceiling shadows. Morcal and Molguv suppressed their relief. It would be unseemly if they appeared uncertain of their mistress' abilities. Many in the crowd suppressed moans of bitter disappointment.
"He wakes," the soldier cried as he assisted the rebel to sit.
"A djinn has returned in our hour of need! Glorious shall her welcome be, so that she may stay amongst us."
"She will abide a moment yet, if certain provisions are met," Molguv said with artful skill.
"Name them," the senior soldier commanded and the haradian stood his full height. He had not missed the dark cowls in the stunned crowd.
"She will select her attendants herself and she will abide in this place for as long as it pleases her. She has no need of sustenance, but her attendants shall be provided with such food and drink and other needs as satisfies their wants."
"A high price in these times!"
"Then you had soon find yourself another djinn."
"This will be provided, but she will attend me upon my command and her attendants cannot be drawn from my men. This proviso only, and a deal shall be struck," the rebel said, his voice dusty.
Molguv instructed Rin to nod, which she did.
"The bargain is struck."
With that, it was done. The rebel was aided back into his palanquin and vanished behind its veils. The crowd parted, it's curiosity now answered. There was a dejected pall over those assembled. Morcal, Molguv and Khule pushed through them, tagging Black Company men and pushing any others out. It took nearly half an hour to clear the temple and shut the doors. No sooner was it shut did the men race about to locate surveillance positions and examine the temple's offensive and defensive qualities. Rin came down the steps to the floor of the temple and those who gathered there. Had she done the right thing? Daylight was starting to send shooting liquid shafts into the belly of the temple already.
"How'd you go, Mecarnil?" Wulgof asked.
"Found a ladder and climbed in. You?"
"Missed the dung gate and walked in through the north gate… unlocked and unmanned."
"Hmmm, they're low on stores. We found our way through a storeroom next to what looked to be a large kitchen that was empty. No supplies."
"I heard what that crowd was saying," Khule added, coming down the stairs. "They want this rebel gone. Most were hoping Doc would prove false. Maybe they're hoping someone will attack and take him out."
"If someone doesn't tell me straight what a djinn is…" Rin's threat was left dangling as she wrapped her arms around Hanasian and held him for a brief, tight moment.
"If we round up local support we could do this easier than we think," Molguv said.
"Or we wait… that man is dying. Won't be long," Rin said ominously and heads swiveled sharply to her.
"What did you do?" Loch asked fearfully.
"I healed. I was just selective about what I healed is all. I'm not a monster. Orders are to take him alive if possible. I made it marginally more possible, but probably not possible enough."
Loch rubbed at the back of his neck, relieved.
"What's killing him?" Hanasian inquired.
"Himself," Rin said unable to hide her satisfaction at the justice of that.
Morcal edged closer to his cousin and said something in soft haradi, eyes downcast.
"Morcal says we can expect visitors, with offerings and requests for intercession from the djinn," Molguv said.
"I think we are best to prepare for a summons," Khule said. "They made it clear. Molguv's demands were granted on two conditions: she attends upon command and her 'attendants', which I guess is us, are not taken from his men. Seems to me that they'll call for their djinn again," Khule explained.
"Then us attendants go with the djinn. Could be the chance we need to get close," Frea suggested.
"Any way of knowing how long the wait will be, Molguv?" Berlas inquired.
As Molguv shook his head, Rin spoke up.
"Soon, I think... day or so. He'll need healing to perform the next... rite and if things are poised on the knife edge we think they are, he will not want to be seen to fail."
"Waiting is a bad idea. Too much like a siege to my taste," Foldine said. Helm's Deep was the sort of situation he never wanted to experience again and this was cutting a little too close to the mark.
"Don't think he'd let us wait anyway. Did you see the way he looked at Doc?" Folca observed and men nodded.
"No, I didn't. What's that supposed to mean?" Rin demanded, looking about. Wulgof rolled his eyes.
"Is she serious?" he asked Loch, who shrugged an affirmative.
"Great… our target is besotted with Doc, and if that ain't bad enough, he thinks she's some sort of local Maiar!" Wulgof drawled
"WHAT?!?!!" Rin exploded, voice ringing through the temple.
"That's not all bad, provided she looks the part," Berlas suggested and men nodded at that.
"She'll be able to get us close, like Frea said," Foldine said.
"Now just wait a damn moment! I am not masquerading as Maiar. No. No way. Absolutely not."
"Too late, after that display this morning," Molguv told her smugly.
Rin spun on her heel and stalked away, muttering.
"It could work…" Khule said to murmured agreement.
Not everyone was happy with the idea. Farbarad was one who thought it too risky. Hanasian had yet to reconcile himself to the conflict between his heart and his head also. Discussion was ended by a whistle from Videgavia. Men scattered to shadow and Rin was hustled back up the stairs and shoved unceremoniously into an alcove at the back of the dais. Her gear was tossed in after her. Morcal and Molguv stood, again cowled, around stone table and Khule unbarred and drew back one door to admit a local offical.
The man blinked into the depths of the temple, momentarily sun blinded and then cautiously edged in. He was clearly none too happy about his mission. Still, he clung tenaciously to it and once he had left again, the Black Company's opportunity was secured.
"Tonight at sunset," Molguv relayed in Common Tongue once Khule had barred the door again.
"Our djinn has been summonsed to attend our sorceror. We'll have to make sure she looks the part."
"We'll have to get her to agree to do it. Such a reasonable woman, always amenable to changing her mind. Shouldn't be a problem," Wulgof drawled in response to Molguv.
Hanasian sent Khule off with the Anfalas brothers to scrounge up whatever was needed for the deception. They returned with interesting tidings along with brightly coloured drifts of silk.
"Word has gone out that he'll try another rite tonight and it's about tipped them over. Don't know if they're at the point of open rebellion, but they're close. Could be that we'll need to fight our way through to reach our target. We may find ourselves in the middle of a civil insurrection," Khule reported as he passed the silk to Hanasian. Mecarnil read his friend's face and stepped forward.
"Leave that to us, Cap. None of this will work if Rin won't play ball. If anyone can talk her round, it's you. Where is she anyway?"
At that, Molguv grinned a moment and then raced up the stairs again. At the foot of the stairs, all they heard was a heated exchange between the healer and the haradian. The expression on her face was not that of a woman in a reasonable frame of mind.
"Good luck," Mecarnil and Loch said in unison to Hanasian. Hanasian stared at the silk in his hands, took a deep breath and started up the stairs.
"Rin… need to talk," he said and she regarded him warily.
Hanasian disappeared with Rin, shepherding her along to a secluded area for a discussion about the task ahead of them. In his wake, men considered themselves fortunate that their captain was tackling this matter and not them. No one knew what passed between the two. It took quite some time, indeed the rest of the day, before either was sighted again. Hanasian emerged without the silk. Rin was a few steps behind him, her cloak pulled tightly closed. Wulgof spotted that her feet were bare and let out a victorious shout. This was one wager the contrary woman had not cost him.
"We have our djinn," Hanasian said.
"We have our plan, Cap," Mecarnil responded.
"This will only work if she looks the part," Khule warned.
"I am NOT removing this cloak before I absolutely have to. Understand?"
There were no small number of disappointed expressions at her edict.
"I can assure you she…. Looks the part," Hanasian dryly said.
"And we'll do ours," Molguv said. The odds were remote, but not hopeless. These were conditions the Black thrived in.
As sunset burnished the sky in a glorious riot of colour, a djinn was revealed on the top step of the temple. Her attendants flanked her, each cowled and cloaked in black, which made the colours of her garb burn all the brighter. Silk caught on the breeze. On the street, out the front of the temple, all had been made ready. Indeed, a veiled palanquin had been sent empty to ferry the djinn despite the proximity of the destination. Once within it, heart skidding in her chest, she had only the vague shape of men visible through the opaque fabric as reassurance. When the palanquin stopped, the curtain was drawn back and an "attendant" reached in with a hand she knew and loved well. Her eyes met Hanasian's, hers large and simmering with worry and his silvered with his own concern. He knew, she did this because she wished to serve well, for him. His fingers pressed on her own and then she was out and released.
A carpet had been lain down and gilded lanterns sat atop plinths. It was opulent, and made obscene by the rank stench of the dead and the silent throngs of hungry, angry townspeople. This unholy path she trod with bare feet. Firelight flickered over exotic pale skin that seemed like marble, satiny marble to those that waited. She emerged to find a table laden with a wasteful excess of food. One man stood by it, terrible armour now burnished. She did not miss that he held onto the table to steady himself and she could not suppress a flash of pleasure at his weakness. It curved her lips into a cold smile matched only by the ice of unusual blue eyes. Overhead, the silk fabric of the pavillion sighed as the evening breeze rippled through it.
Her attendants fanned out, matching the configuration of the elite guards that stood at regular intervals around the table. On the far side, down a slope, more guards hemmed in a large group of tribesmen. They lived, for now. Their target held out a gauntleted hand towards his djinn. Clad only in silk, and not nearly enough of it to Rin's mind, it took every measure of her courage to step forward. With her went Molguv at her shoulder. There was one other seat and she moved to that, relieved it was at the far end of the table. Rin heard a stream of haradi. Beside her Molguv bowed and turned to whisper in her ear even as he covertly signaled to the other attendants.
"You are bid welcome and he hopes you are pleased by his offering. He says he will do you great honour in demonstrating his power this evening as an amusement for you, if you would but demonstrate once more your own power in accordance with the bargain struck."
"He means the rite, doesn't he? All those men down there."
"If I touch the man again, I don't think I'll be able to help myself. I want him dead, Molguv. Eru help me! I'm a healer and I want him dead."
At the far end of the table, the man the djinn wanted dead licked his lips and watched, transfixed by the unearthly creature before him. His guards too were similarly stunned. Even the miserable tribesmen, too proud to submit to his rule, were watching like wide eyed children. Such a remarkable creature, and she had come to him. It was a portent, surely, like none before. The chief attendant straightened and inclined his head. The would be king gestured and a serving boy, clad in a loincloth over his dark oiled skin, struggled forward with a full silver carafe. The game was afoot and Molguv's signal was clear. When Rin rose to "demonstrate" her power, her attendants would move as one to eliminate the central guard and capture their target.
Hanasian wasn't sure what happened. Rin moved to begin her demonstration, and what was set in motion was somewhat unexpected. The company moved to take out the guards according to their plan, and with the ring of steel, it was apparent that some of the guards may have been ready for such an event. Wulgof's attempt was blocked and he was held to a standstill, blades clashing. Mecarnil dispatched the unsuspecting guard he was near and turned to help the Dunlanding. The spreading confusion was not helped any by a bright flash and the resultant cloud of smoke. There was too much happening here. And it was happening too fast.
Hanasian saw Rin make for the sorcerer, death in her eyes, and moved to stop her. He noticed also one of the guards, who moved first and knocked Loch on his butt, had stepped toward the sorcerer as well. Hanasian had knocked back the man he was faced with in surprise, and so he moved to prevent Rin from killing the sorcerer. But Hanasian assumed the guard that moved in was trying to stop Rin from touching the sorcerer, and at the last moment he turned to prevent him from taking out Rin. Instead the guard struck the weakened sorcerer with a small sharp object in his hand, and in that moment his hand was severed by a sword from another guard!
A split moment before that, Rin was knocked back by some spell from the sorcerer, but regained her footing. Steadying herself, she sank back to the ground dazed. Hanasian right then saw something coming toward him, and as he reacted and started to fall backwards, he felt something hit his face. His reaction was enough to soften the blow, and falling backwards, he saw Loch take the guard down, running him through while Hanasian landed on his butt. Things became a bit hazy to him right then, as the clash of steel faded. The smoke started to clear as well.
In the time it takes to breath a dozen breaths, the carnage become apparent. The sorcerer shook as if he was having a seizure. The captive tribesmen had run amok further down the slope and everywhere was the terrifying roar of riot. A storm of blood and violence and vengeance had been released. Every one of his guard lay dead or dying from wounds inflicted by the company or from each other. So too lay Gian, motionless while the expanding pool of blood from him met the rivers from others. He was gone. Anbor too lay gurgling around a grievous wound in the throat. His hand tried to hold it together. Anras, having taken down three of the guards, rushed to Anbor to help save him. Mulgov was slightly wounded after being cut by a sword edge while he was crushing the guard's head. The rest managed to get through with minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
Too much happening too quickly, and in too little time. Apparently there was a plot among the elite guard against the sorcerer, seeing this distraction as a chance to take him out. Analysis would have to wait though. Alert members of the company moved to seal off the scene, but it was only a matter of time before word got out that something was amiss. They had to get out of there somehow. But with one of their own dead, one seriously wounded, the doc stunned, and the cap himself wounded, it would be a challenge.
It was Loch who came to his sister who sat unmoving. A slap on the face seemed to bring her around.
Khule shook her, saying, "Doc. DOC! You are needed!"
It seemed to bring her out of whatever she was hit with from the sorcerer. She spotted Anbor and immediately slid herself over to tend him. He was probably wishing he didn't so eagerly join the company in Pelargir.
Hanasian got up on his own and silently barked orders with his hand flipping about madly. Mecarnil searched to secure an exit, and Wulgof and Belegost watched the front on case anyone thought of coming into the pavilion. Fortunately for the company, the riot had carried those still alive off to seek out supporters of the sorcerer. The company moved rapidly, retracing their path to the security of the temple. They sealed the large doors with the knowledge that they were now trapped, penned. How would they be able to get out carrying their dead, wounded, and prisoner? It had all the makings of a seige and Foldine kept shaking his head at this turn of events.
"Is that rebel still alive?" Hanasian asked looking at the quivering, blood stained foaming body.
Rin nodded grimly and this made him very dangerous and unpredictable. His seizure, maybe caused by some sort of poison that the would-be assassin guard had on his palm blade, or maybe not, seemed to caused a stroke of some description. No matter, he was not conscience of what was going on around him.
Mecarnil checked the walls for any doors and found someone hiding in an alcove.
He called out in the native tongue and Mulgov came over to see. It was a boy, maybe ten years, no more than twelve. Mulgov engaged him in a rapid conversation, and the boy seemed excited about something. Mulgov nodded and started to tell Mecarnil and Hanasian what was said.
"The boy is an orphan and a sneak. He said that his ladder was missing so he had to get inside the city by other means. Apparently he came in through a tunnel that goes under the wall, smugglers hole. I asked if he would show us the way out, and he readily agreed."
"How can we trust him after what happened here?" Mecarnil asked as he looked around at the others.
It seemed the company was recovering, save Anbor who wasn't getting any worse. Rin was fighting a battle for his life even then, silks now a bloodied and torn ruin. Mecarnil dropped his cloak over her shoulders, a gesture of kindness for the woman was practically naked. She barely marked it, absorbed in her work. Gian was wrapped in his cloak. Mulgov asked the boy about what he saw and relayed the boy's answer.
"Says he saw smoke and fire, and some fighting. He didn't know what was happening, but was happy the head was taken. His father was forced to go to war farther in the north, and his mother had died years ago. So he will help us for some food."
"Well, there is plenty of it here. He is welcome to have as much as he can carry, for we aren't waiting around," Hanasian said, wiping at a warm wetness that flowed down his face.
"Damn… guess I was hit harder than I thought," he murmured.
Hanasian had a gash from his scalp across his forehead down to his left eyebrow, then on the bridge of his nose and on his right cheekbone.
"Will have to tend that later. Can Anbor be moved?"
Khule noted that Rin had just finished working Anbor and had stopped his bleeding. In her turn she had noted the bloody state Hanasian was in. Still dazed by whatever she had taken the brunt of, she stood to go to him, but got dizzy. Khule caught and steadied her.
"Here is your leathers, Doc," he said kindly, aware she wouldn't want to venture into the jungle in what remained of her already scant silks.
The boy collected all the food he could carry away, and then some. A few of the others took advantage of it as well, with Loch right behind the boy in his collection. They were ready as they were going to get. They needed to get out of there before someone got curious. Who knows how much time they would have?
The boy opened a wall panel in a dark corner and led the way. Mulgov went next. If he could fit, then the rest could too. It was the dead weight of Anbor, the sorcerer, and the body of Gian that was hardest to move, but they all managed. Foldine brought up the rear, and as best he could, pulled the panel back into place. They were in the dark moving slowly to wherever this boy was leading them. A leap of faith by the company, but one that was needed to be taken.
The way was straight, with few bends to contend with. One towards the end was rather sharp as it turned to the right. Getting their casualties and prisoner around that was a bit of a challenge, but it was done. When they came to an opening, they each crawled out and stood. It was still dark. They were still underground in some sort of cavern. They could use a torch right about now. All they could do was slowly step forward toward a faint point of light. It seemed like it took forever to get closer. They did manage it, and sitting down before a crevice opening, they decided to rest. Hand-sign was useless in the dark, so a slight whisper was passed back. It came forward again, and soon everyone was there and accounted for. Rin sat Hanasian down and said,
"You need tending!" she said, all stern worry. Hanasian agreed, for he had a pounding headache.
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.