Part 61 – The Hunters Hunted
The morning was cool. Birds sang their melodies while perched on the high branches of the dew laden trees that stood at the foot of the hills on the eastern shore of Lake Evendim. The rays of the sun had not yet pushed over the eastern hills but the sky was, nevertheless, bright giving the sky a cheerful blue hue. Clouds floated by like soft canoes of white cotton in the in the river of the sky. The slight breeze rustled the leaves of the trees as they gave off their melodic sounds.
Men Erain was a quiet ride, though the night before was terrible. Too much happened the night before. His brother was the least of his worries. Almost, within a second, he might have been slain while as the arrow almost hit him as he stood next to the table. Because of that, he felt almost relieved that he was out of the city. Regardless, he had to see if the arrows were still stuck in the slain orcs. He had to know but all of the fibers of his being said the man in the shadows was not shooting at the men of Annuminus. It was someone from inside the city. He was certain of it.
As he approached the place where the orcs were slain, he saw none on the road. They were gone as if someone picked them up and carried them off. Or perhaps something ate them. The arrows had been removed from the scene too. He looked about for any evidence, blood, foot prints but nothing was in sight. Theomin scaled the stairs lining the hill next to old ruins. The man in black was nowhere to be seen. It was empty. Not a thing was there, no evidence of anyone there. Nothing.
He looked around but saw two people approaching from the city. It was Eleswith and Herion. They looked displeased with Theomin as Eleswith dismounted from her horse and yelled up to him. “Why leave with no word or message? What are you hiding from me?”
“I am not hiding anything,” Theomin yelled down to Eleswith as he walked back down the steps. He was hoping not for orcs to hear their exchange of words. “I needed to go alone. The least who know the better.”
“What do you mean? Why would you shut us out?” Eleswith prompted.
Theomin stayed silent. He looked at Eleswith blankly but soon Taidir trotted up to the group. “Am I missing something? When did you all start hunting without me?”
“I am not hunting,” Theomin responded. “I am looking for the one who shot the arrow.”
“Right,” Taidir said. “The one we saw last night.”
“You are wrong about that,” said Theomin, sighing as he did not want to tell what happened as it would get back to Amathwyn. “Last night, after we parted,” he looked at Eleswith, “An arrow was shot at me. I am sure it was not the arrow of any person from the hills.”
“And why would you say that?” Herion asked.
“I was in the dining area.”
Eleswith’s mouth dropped, “And the dining area is nowhere near the hills.”
“Right,” said Theomin, “So that means the shooter is…”
“Inside the city,” Eleswith said. “Are you certain no one entered the city?”
“The guards said no one entered or left the city after we returned. It could not be the man we saw last night.”
“You must tell Teryndir,” Herion said.
“I am keeping that from him. At least until we know who it is,” Theomin said. “But this is not the only reason I needed to come out here.” He looked around, hoping there were no spies or anyone who would divulge the full extent of their meeting in the ruins. “I am going to Ost Forod. I need to convince the Arbiter to aid our food needs. Once there was forged an alliance between the Wardens of Annuminus and the men of Ost Forod. An alliance that benefited both Tinnudir and Ost Forod. My brother has soiled that alliance and it withered away into a quick death. My brother says it is treasonous to approach Ost Forod. I say it is treason not to. We need their aid and we cannot keep the defense of the city unless we re-forge that alliance.” He looked at Eleswith, “A good friend helped me understand that.”
Eleswith smiled. “Then I am with you. I will keep your secret.”
“As will I,” Herion said.
“And so shall I,” Taidir said.
With that, the four mounted their horses and through the day headed north across the bridge of the tall and ever vigilant Colossus and up the sloping winding path through the Parth Aduial. The view from between the two ruined hills was always magnificent. The crossroads at the Canadiach seemed to hold a special beauty to the ride from Annuminus. But there was something different about the road to Ost Forod. One small dark figure stood at the crossroads. It was not the same figure they saw the night before. It was an orc. Just a single orc standing alone on the road. Lost, ousted from his clan, or hunting, they did not know. Nevertheless, it was just standing there.
Herion dismounted and pulled out an arrow and readied his bow. “I have this one,” he said with confidence.
“Wait,” said Theomin, leaping off Bragga and pushing Herion’s hand down, “Something does not feel right about that orc there. It is best we just leave it alone.”
“Alone?” Taidir said, surprised. “They don’t let us go if there’s just one of us. They just rip at us whenever they have a chance. We should do the same.”
“We are not orcs,” Theomin responded to Taidir. “We will not succumb to the way the orcs act. We are better than that.”
“We are not acting like orcs,” Eleswith said as she tried to keep her horse steady. “What’s wrong with you, girl?” she asked as her horse continued moving around nervously. Feeling frustrated she leaped off and continued, “They are more brutal than we are. We may be peaceful either but it is the manner in which we attack. They are savages, we are not.”
“But the more savage we are, the more we become like the orcs. I know from experience that men can act just as savagely as orcs. Gerald, back in Bree, said he felt like an orc. He called himself Kronog. He was brutal and unforgiving. He was as much like an orc than anything. We are not orcs but the more we act like them, the more I see no difference between us and them.”
“I don’t understand you,” Taidir said. “They are orcs and as such must be destroyed. If we must, we will do it one orc at a time.” He jumped off his horse and readied his bow. He fit an arrow into the bowstring and pulled it back. Before Theomin could say anything, Taidir fired his arrow up in the air. For a few seconds it was silent as it sailed through the air peacefully and beautifully. It arched and soon descended down toward its target, and sped up but before it could go any faster, it suddenly halted as it met its mark. It was a precise hit in the head. The orc, with no movement or any other sudden motion, dropped to the ground with a thud. The dirt that on the ground flew up just a few inches before settling back down around the body. “Ha,” Taidir said proudly, “Perfect hit.”
In the distance, a horn blew. Almost immediately, a large group of orcs, twenty strong, came from behind the hill. As the group of hunters turned toward their horses they were met with surprise. The horses were gone. They tried for the other side of the hill but another group of orcs, even larger than the other, started up on their position. They could not advance northward. They had to turn back to Annuminus. All four turned back around toward the colossus but as they reached the summit of the hill, out of the western ruins of the hill, just below the summit a third horde was already making their way out and crossed the road. The four hunters turned toward the other side ruins, hoping there were no orcs in the eastern ruins. The group of four entered the ruins where only a few orcs had gathered. The four hunters quickly sliced through the few orcs waiting there but by the time they reached the inner part of the ruins, they realized they were trapped inside.
A few orcs from the other ruins followed the four in. Taidir and Herion made quick work of them but they were trapped. There were only four of them against over ninety orcs outside.
The main court of the old ruin was mainly large enough to fit a small pool. The center of it held a statue protruding out of the water and at the four corners stood downed pillars. A few pine trees dotted the inside and bushes were scattered too around the main court. If there was an eastern wall, it had long since fallen for there was no sign of it but a bare cliff where it dropped off down almost a hundred feet. A distant view of the eastern vale of Evendim could be seen stretching to the hills; cut onto the hills was the pass toward the North Downs. An ominous cloud hung over the air near the pass. From the high cliff, they could see a large horde of orcs, hundreds of them gathered near the pass. All were waiting for something. They were not ready for any battle as there were no ranks or anything leading them. They were just there, waiting, watching.
It was then they realized the extent of the invasion and it was not just some light skirmish. No, they had come to Evendim for conquest. Whether it was for their own victory or something else, something darker, Theomin could not guess. From high above, where they were trapped, they could only think about their own impending battle.
More orcs came into the court from the entrance but Taidir and Herion, again, shot them down. They were coming faster and the two were quickly running out of arrows. They did not have enough to combat the great number of orcs pouring in through the main entrance. From the other side, a few had already traversed between the edge of the hill and the ruined wall. They came in from the back side and tried to attack Theomin and Eleswith. Only a few could fit on the narrow space. Eleswith shot at the orcs with her crossbow as Theomin sliced through the rest that came at them.
“We have no place to go!” Theomin said, already feeling defeat. “We are cut off on all sides.”
“There is always a way,” Eleswith said, desperately. “Can we go down the cliff?” She sliced through more orcs.
“No,” Theomin yelled to her. The noise of the orcs and the constant clang of metal drowned out their voices, “the fall would kill us. Besides, we cannot cut through hundreds of orcs down at the bottom!” He cut through more orcs that came from the side. “Help Taidir and Herion!”
She ran toward the two wardens who were obviously overwhelmed, “Around the side then? Check it,” she yelled while she engaged orcs.
He peered around the side where the orcs were coming from. There were already more than ten orcs making their way around the side of the hill. Theomin ran to the other side of the hill, hoping to see another way out. An equal number of orcs were making their way between the other side of the hill and the ruins. Theomin ran back and sliced through three orcs and ran back to his companions who were trying desperately to stay alive. There were far too many orcs for the four to combat.
From above an arrow was shot. The whistling sound made it all the way to Taidir. He was struck in the shoulder by a dark arrow. He collapsed to his knees and screamed in pain. The hunters were far outnumbered by the many orcs that had made their way into the ruins. The grunting and growling of the orcs was so loud that Theomin could feel the vibration as he held his sword, ready to strike at the orcs.
From the ground, Taidir said quietly and gloomily, “I am sorry.”