Part 59 – From the Shadows
Green hills surrounded the small grassy lawn next to the lake. Large grey boulders sat amongst the grass, perhaps placed there long ago by some glacier or just rolled off the surrounding hills and settled there, unmoved since. Ruins were placed about the grassy lawn. Old and weather warn were they, now unrecognizable as to what type of structure it was.
The sky was of bright blue, nearly cloudless and the warm sun shone brightly. A slight breeze came in from the east, warm and a welcome from the cool wind that blew from the north earlier in the day. The green grass shined brightly in the late afternoon sunlight. Slowly making its way through the grass as he ate it was a deer. Its large antlers stood proudly adorning its head, as if it was a crown fit for a king.
A sudden whoosh startled the deer. It poked its head up to look around while grass stuck out of its mouth as some dropped to the ground. Left and right it looked, not sure if it was safe. Its hind legs bent down as if it was going to leap away but it was struck in the head and fell onto the grass with a thump. Protruding from its head was a bolt shot directly to the side of the ear. The bolt felled the deer.
“I believe that makes three today,” Eleswith told Theomin. “Remind me how many deer you bagged.”
Theomin looked down. He shook his head and gave a slight chuckle, “I bagged none this trip.”
“Just this trip?” Eleswith was obviously gloating. “And what about yesterday?”
“I killed that one yesterday,” Theomin protested.
“You injured it, I killed the deer,” Eleswith proudly corrected Theomin.
“Still,” he said, “You could not have brought it down without my aid.”
She shook her head and smiled, “Like I need help, Theomin. I have enough skill to fell a deer.”
Theomin nodded. He knew he could not beat her logic. He looked around at the surrounding lands. “Regardless, it is becoming tougher to find food. I am wondering if the deer are migrating someplace else.”
“Or,” Eleswith said, “We’re killing off too many. I think we have to find a different type of food if we are to survive here.”
“Where?” asked Theomin, “The farms of the North Downs are too far.”
“I know you continue to suggest it but my brother has no trust for them. For a long time they had no trust in the rangers and the rangers had no trust in them. It was not until recently that they started to work together. When they offered no aid to take the city, my brother pulled a sword on them and spat on the ground just before that arbiter. At least that is what Amathwyn said.”
“I know the story,” Eleswith interrupted Theomin. “You go there yourself. Tell them you are not your brother and we need their help.”
“And what? Go behind my brother’s back? Forget it, I have been on his bad side since I came.”
“I know,” Eleswith said. They already started lifting the carcass of the dead deer over Theomin’s shoulder and walked with it. “I know you have. But your brother is unfit for that job, you know it. The whole of Annuminus knows it. Teryndir should have not have been appointed to oversee everyone. He sits in that tower all day. He cares not for giving extra warm bodies to help those of us who need it. Making him in charge of the garrison and the manager of the wardens was not wise.”
“And what would you have me do?” asked Theomin, tired of the debate, “There were three Marshalls that were to run the city. Sergee is busy with the rebuilding effort of the city so he could not run it. I could not possibly run it as I know not everyone here. So I am just the one in charge of finding the food.”
“How many men has Teryndir given you to manage your job?”
“Not many,” Theomin said looking around trying to think, “With Helesdir and Magla helped for a while but since they left for the Lone Lands I have only have three others helping.”
“And how is that working for you?” Eleswith stopped ahead of Theomin. She prevented him from reaching the cart to put the deer in and relieve the weight from his shoulders. Eleswith looked around to make sure none could hear her, “That little help is hurting the city. You are constantly out here looking for food, hoping for a chance at a bountiful pile to bring back to the city. Instead you have very little and nothing but apologies for it. The men are starving, Theomin. The city cannot be rebuilt without the help of food nor can it be defended.”
“Is that why you asked to be reassigned?” Theomin asked suspiciously, “so you could bother me with this? I have enough to think about without you insisting I confront my brother. I need to find more food. I need to arrange the scouting parties and the lookouts. Everyone knows Teryndir is not a good person but he was the one closest to father and he is the one who knows father’s leading style not to mention he knows all the men under his charge. Besides, one cannot learn how to lead on a whim. He will make mistakes but in the end he will learn how to lead us.” Theomin continued on toward the wagon.
Eleswith shook her head, “Some people would learn from their mistakes and know how to lead us by now,” she whispered to herself. “I wish you could see that.” She helped pull the deer all the way up the cart so that nothing was hanging down. “How is Amathwyn? I saw you two looking out from Ost Elendil.”
“She is doing well.” Theomin said. “We are waiting for that celebration we were supposed to have. Though with father gone and so many wardens killed in the retaking, I have no want for any celebration.”
They had finally finished with the deer and Theomin forced his back up against the cart. He wiped the sweat from his brow when Eleswith continued, “I know it is the last thing you would like to hear,” Eleswith said, “be careful with that girl.”
“Careful?” Theomin asked, baffled. “Why would you say that?”
“I’m not sure,” she said almost lost. Eleswith looked troubled about something but either could not tell what that was or that she was hiding something, “Something just does not seem right about her.”
“I know not what you are saying. She is very special to me and I to her. I just hope this is not coming from a place of jealousy.
“Jealousy?” Eleswith scoffed at the idea. “I am not jealous of you or her. I’m simply telling you to watch yourself. Something about how she acts around you doesn’t feel right.”
As the day’s light turned to a darkening twilight of gloaming, two other rangers approached Theomin, “Herion, Taidir,” Theomin said to the two who approached as he looked around with worry, “what happened to Feleslon?”
Taidir looked at Herion and then down at the ground. “He fell.”
“We were scouting the eastern reaches of the path toward the Downs when a sudden darkness fell upon us. A small band of orcs jumped us. They took our deer and we barely escaped when Feleslon was hit by an orc arrow. He pushed us to leave and ran back to attack the orcs.” The ranger shook his head and placed his hand over his eyes while Taidir wrapped his arms around him, “it should never have happened. We were careless.”
“You were not careless, Herion. Leaving the safety of Annuminus is a dangerous business these days. Let us return to the city. We will have you cleaned up while I send a party to look for Felslon’s body.”
Herion and Taidir nodded in agreement as the four mounted their horses. The cart was fastened to Bragga as she was the strongest of all the horses. She pulled the cart with ease as they continued back toward the city.
“I would be willing to bet Teryndir does not provide you with any extra men after this,” Eleswith said.
“I beg your pardon,” Theomin was shocked at Eleswith’s blindness to the dead man. “We just lost a man. A good one. I do not expect you to care for him but give a moment for grief.”
“I give no grief,” she said, “I give pity. You will not do what needs to be done. Ask for more men. Beg if you must, but the city needs food. Those of us who are hunting for food are doing it on empty stomachs and fear. Fear of being attacked by orcs and goblins who have started to invade this land after the Angmarim left. You know why they attacked. They saw an opportunity and they took it. Too few of us are hunting for food. So they take the opportunity to attack. Ask for more men.”
Theomin stayed silent. He had a scowl of disgust on his face, unchanged with anger as he, almost unnoticeably shook his head. He knew Eleswith was right but her tone angered him. She was brazen in her accusations, though they were true. He knew they needed more men but he also knew that asking for more was a waste of time aside from being a treacherous task. He knew, more than Eleswith, that Teryndir was a tyrant. He was ruling with an iron fist and all who crossed him or opposed his orders were quickly dealt with. He had enough of being assaulted both by Gerald in Bree and by his brother. The spirit that Theomin held, before the events of Bree, was broken. He wondered if he would ever be able to confront his brother if the incident in Bree never took place. “I will not risk it,” Theomin finally blurted out.
“Then it is not Teryndir who failed Annuminus,” Eleswith said. “You failed it.” She then trotted off but then stopped. She stared blankly back toward Theomin and the other two rangers. As Theomin started to protest she yelled back, “Shut up, Theomin.” She looked down and as if searching for something but not with her eyes. She then looked east. Amongst the brush and thickets, a mass of orcs came upon them. “Orcs!” she yelled.
Theomin quickly looked. A group of at least ten orcs had found their way to the group of four hunters. “Herion, Tiedir, Eleswith,” Theomin quickly yelled to his men, “Draw your bows!”
The two wardens armed themselves with their bows while Eleswith quickly set a bolt in the crossbow and readied it. Theomin dismounted from Bragga and pulled out his bow. The four shot at the group of orcs. Two fell to arrows and the others where only wounded. They continued to come at the group of four hunters. Before long, the other two rangers let loose two more arrows while Eleswith armed her crossbow and fired it. Theomin dropped his bow and readied his sword. Three more orcs fell to the arrows and the bolt. The rest of the hunters readied their swords and ran toward the group of five remaining orcs. They quickly dispatched the orcs but not before they heard a horn far away from them. The horn was not of men but an orc horn. Many meters away they could see another group of at least twenty orcs advancing on them.
Theomin looked at Eleswith, “We cannot win this,” he said with fear. “Distract them. I need to remove Bragga’s cart.”
“No!” Eleswith yelled at Theomin. “We need that food!”
“We cannot escape with the cart fastened to Bragga!” Theomin yelled back at Eleswith while the two other rangers tried to hold back the onslaught letting fly their arrows as quick as their arms could.
“We are starving, Theomin!” she yelled at him. “This may not be much but it is worth fighting over.”
Theomin looked back at the two other rangers then at the cart. “Get on the cart!” he told Eleswith and the other two rangers. “The only way we can escape and keep our bounty is by defending our cart!” Theomin jumped onto Bragga while Eleswith and the other rangers jumped onto the dead deer on the cart. “Hold on!” Theomin yelled back as he pushed Bragga.
The sudden jolt almost made one of the rangers lose his balance and fall but Eleswith caught him. He turned south toward the path that lead up the hill. From afar, they could see some of the orcs chasing after the horses left behind but the majority continued after the four hunters. One by one, each shot their arrows, felling the advancing orcs. They were too fast and too many for the slow moving cart. They reached the summit and Theomin had to slow Bragga for the winding way down toward the bridge. At five orcs down Herion yelled out, “I’m out!” and Taidir was not far behind, only having two arrows left, missing both times. Eleswith had no more bolts left.
“I will defend the rear. Herion, Taidir, you defend the flanks,” she yelled at the other two. “Make sure none pass us and attack Theomin or Bragga!”
They did so, as the orc pack drove closer and they slashed and stabbed their as Theomin pushed Bragga to gallop as fast as she could. They reached the bridge that passed over the Brandywine. The towering figure offered some protection from the orcs flanking but not for long. Soon they had made it across the bridge and became vulnerable from flanking attacks again. Some orcs ran far out of reach of their swords and, as such, were too far away for the hunters to dispatch. As they reached Theomin, he drew his sword and readied to slash as a sword flew past and cut an orc down before Theomin could attack. It was Herion’s sword. Regardless of the mighty aim of Herion, Theomin still had to battle while atop Bragga. All four were engaged with the orcs, fighting as best they could, trying to maintain balance on the cart. The fifteen remaining orcs turned to ten, then five. The last remaining orcs flanked Theomin and ran up close to him. Theomin could only kill two as the three others came close. Eleswith yelled something incomprehensible when two arrows sailed out of nowhere and felled two orcs in quick succession. High above the arrows had come. Theomin looked up and ahead of the blackened blanket of night he saw a man clothed in black standing atop an old ruin through the ancient trail through Men Erain. His face was half hidden behind a mask as he stood there watching the group of hunters slow their advance on the road. He then looked back and for any additional orcs following them but none were. He slowed Bragga to a halt and looked back up to thank the man in the ruins but he was gone.
“Who was that?” Theomin asked, puzzled at the sudden appearance and then disappearance of the man in black. “He just saved us.”
“I’ve seen him before,” Eleswith said. “When we were driven off by those goblins in the ruins near Bree, he was the man who saved me.”
“I have seen him before too.” Herion announced. “I only thought it was something out of my imagination. A specter perhaps. During the raid on the city I saw a glimpse of him fighting down below in the docks. I believed it only a dream. Now I know he was there.”
“Whoever he is,” Theomin said, “It would seem we have an ally in the shadows.