10. All Aflame
Erethon was on watch at the borders, taking note of the comings and goings among the squat black tents of the glam-hoth. Yesterday his patrol had managed to cut loose one of the pontoons that bridged the river, but it had cost them dear, coming within range of the enemy, and the venture had proved useless, since the orcs had recovered their bridge down stream. Its ugly, tarred weight lay again like a shackle across mighty Anduin's neck.
The Nazgul passed overhead, deepening the already dim light. Orc horns brayed and clamour spread from their camp. Turning his eyes towards Dol Guldur Erethon saw something black and huge draw out of the twisted boughs of Mirkwood. Teams of yrch were dragging it. Like centipedes they looked at this distance, all slimy armour and legs. Warg riders rode beside it. A vast misshapen bow on the back of a heavy carriage, it seemed, shaped from oaks ravaged from the Greenwood. Teams of Uruks paced beside the wagon, six at a time, carrying its mast-sized arrows, which did not come to points. Instead, on the tip of each massive beam, there was a cage of iron and glass from whose ill made joints black liquid seeped.
"Siege engines against a wood?" Erethon asked himself, "What folly is this?" But he misliked the way it crept slowly closer, leaving its trail of ooze to foul the grass it crushed. The orcs of the camp greeted its appearance with bloodthirsty yells. Foreboding seized Erethon. He caught hold of his messenger and told him "The great ones must see this. Bring them. Run fast!"
A moment of disquieting peace settled over the land. Mordor cloud eddied and a sunbeam stabbed down, illuminating the machine in all its hideous glory. It was close now, set up upon the other side of the river. Chains rattled amid an outcry of whips and screaming, as slaves turned the windlass to pull back the cable that was its bowstring.
Sunlight passed. The cloud closed again and the day seemed darker than before. Rope groaned under tension. One of the Moria orcs climbed up onto the arrowhead with a torch. Vainly an elf of Erethon's patrol shot at him - but the engine was just beyond the archer's range. The arrow fell, wasted, on the ground, as the goblin touched his torch to the globe of black liquid.
Instantly it was a ball of fire. At once the great bow was loosed and the fireball arced over Anduin trailing greasy smoke. Fifty paces into the borders of Lorien it fell, and oaks shattered under the impact. Splinters of glass exploded from the arrow tip, and with them went oil - a gush and pulse of thick oil that spattered on bark and branches, on leaf mould and pine needles, and then clung, burning, setting the living wood alight.
"No!" Erethon tried to put out the nearest blaze with his cloak, but the oil soaked into the fibre and soon it too was ablaze. He flung it from his blistered hands and it burnt on, the fire eating out from it, tendrils winding through the undergrowth like poisonous snakes, creeping up saplings to make the leaves sizzle.
"Here!" young Ardil ran forward, hurled a punctured waterskin at one of the fires. It burst, but instead of dousing the flames, the burning oil rode upon the water, splashing further. Fifteen trees were already alight and the blaze was spreading.
"Leave it and fall back!" cried Erethon in dismay.
There was the sound of hooves - many hooves quiet on Lorien's soft grass - but at the same time the shriek and thrum of the infernal crossbow sounded again. The arc was flatter now, the missile coming down further in. Two hundred paces inside Lorien's sacrosanct borders the second fireball fell and all began to burn.
Galadriel felt the heat of the fire on her face, gentled her horse. Looking at the fair woodlands shrivelling in flame, seeing through the curtain of fire the seething blackness that was the army of Dol Guldur, hearing their jeering laughter, she grew cold, crystalline with fury.
"This must not be." Celeborn vaulted from his horse, walked to the edge of the forest fire with his hands outstretched as if he longed to touch and comfort the dying trees. When he turned Galadriel saw in his eyes, as in the eyes of every elf there, a shock and disbelief hotter and whiter than the flames behind him. "It must not."
Galadriel slid down from her palfrey and stood very still, her eyes closed. Gathering Nenya's power she sent her thoughts outwards, feeling the world spin, winds jostle like ill tempered giants above her, tracks of power, the flight of Saruman's gorcrows, the distant hidden murmur of waterfalls in Imladris. A third missile screamed in to burst among the trees to her right. She felt it little, poised like a weaver with the winds as her thread. Instead, gently, she guided a spool of air onto her loom.
The breeze shifted, flowing cool from Caradhras, smelling of rain; heavy spring rain that washes away dams and all the accumulated dreariness of winter. A few drops fell, pattering onto leaves, hissing into steam. She smiled. And then, across the brown, wasted lands, on the tip of a needle of black stone, the Great Eye turned to look on her, and the mind of Gorthaur, Annatar, Sauron the deceiver was bent upon her. As Gil-Galad must have suffered, pinned beneath the black, burning hand, she also felt - exposed, suffocated, in agony. Involuntarily, she winced - a tiny movement of pain across her serene face.
The wind changed again, wheeling back to the East, bringing at first a marsh stench and then arid fumes that parched the throat and seemed to make the fires burn more greedily.
Longing to do Sauron hurt, to gore the diamond and adamant power of Nenya across his filthy spirit, she endured a moment, but it was not for her to reveal the secrets of the Three to him. Retreating at last she let go her power. Her legs felt suddenly weak. She swayed, and Celeborn caught her shoulders, steadied her. "The Enemy is aware of me," she said, opening her eyes. Her voice sounded weary. So defeated, I would hardly know it myself, and her husband's face grew grim. "I cannot wrest the winds of the world out of His hand to bring rain. Not without I drain the power I am hoarding against our uttermost need."
"Very well," Celeborn nodded, a brusque gesture. Where she felt drained, he seemed alight. There was a flame like that of his tortured land in his eyes, fey and dangerous. "Then we will try it my way." His gesture brought Merethir and Calandil out of the escort, and they nodded understanding, as though this had all been discussed before.
"Erethon. I will need you and your archers on horseback."
The human boy brought Celeborn's armour, looking bemused at its lightness. The long hauberk of mithril chain, made for him when he ruled Eregion, brought back memories of betrayal, terror and sorrow she had wanted never to revisit. It was as fair as all of Celebrimbor's work, the same icy, pure colour as her Lord's hair against the backdrop of blazing amber.
Seeing him buckle the belt around it, reach for his helmet, arrayed for war like a hero of the elder days, a darkness of remembrance came over Galadriel. Even so Celebrimbor must have looked in Ost-in-Edhil. Before they took him, and abused him, and hung him from a pole, as their banner. She caught Celeborn's arm. He must not be allowed to do this. Had he not promised to take care? "No!" she said, "It is folly to go beyond the wards. You run into needless peril at the Enemy's bidding. It is his very purpose to draw you out thus."
Before the many eyes who watched their quarrel she could not say it; You are my weakness and my strength. The Enemy cannot touch me. But if he kills you... They would break his body in her sight, and she did not know, she did not want to know what she would do then. As Melian had turned her back on her kingdom when Elu died, her heart cried out that she would care nothing for Lorien if its Lord was slain. "Remember Doriath!" she said, "Let the borders burn, they will regrow."
Celeborn leapt back on his horse, put out a hand and Calandil passed him a long spear with a pennant of green and gold. Pausing, he looked down. Had he heard in the sparse words what was essentially a declaration of love; the confession of her vulnerability? Would it turn him back?
He smiled, a flicker of warmth that did not touch the danger in his eyes. "We are not they," he said stubbornly, "And I will not have this."
Fury overcame her. She clenched her hands at her sides. "No," she said, bitterly, "For Elu's foolishness was at least over something important. But you risk all for common trees. Not even mellyrn."
There came another burst of fire and a glade of beech went up, twisting and roaring in flame. Celeborn matched her wrath with his own. "They are my craft, my joy. As dear to me as the Silmarils to Feanor, and I will not stand by and watch them die."
She was Galadriel, and she had done all the pleading she would. She drew herself up, "So be it," she said coldly, turning away, "If you wish to imitate Feanor in his madness there is little left to say. Only think how much good it did him."
The half-wing of cavalry departed behind her back as she bent her mind towards preventing the spread of flame. The Enemy had chosen his vantage point well. From here it was but a little distance to Caras Galadhon and if the fire could not be checked it might indeed threaten the city. But I will not tell him so.
The sound of battle reached her ears. Calmly, she gave orders for ditches to be dug and the waters of the Silverlode diverted. When all was underway she mounted her palfrey and departed, calmly, for the city. She smiled encouragingly at the diggers, messengers, and the healers she passed on their way to the battle lines. And inside she told herself that if he died, the last thing he would ever have had from her lips would be condemnation.
It was poor comfort to know it was all his own fault.