Part 84 – The Wall of Darnkess
Morning came early on the compound of Esteldin. It brought with it a slight breeze through the rift in the hills as it snuffed out the many camp fires all about the grounds of the three courts of Esteldin. The breeze was warm, though, making the fires in the court grounds undeeded. The warmth was a welcome sense to the cool night they had. Each, through the night, had bundled up in their blankets inside their tents, ever feeling a bighting cold as if Forochel had been unleashed upon them.
As the Warriors of Eriador finished up preparing for their journey to the Valley of the Worms, and the dawn light was still far from peeking up over the eastern side of the compound, they unpacked their horses and set only what they needed on themselves. The night before, they discussed the need to bring only what they needed without their horses. Once again, Theomin had to say goodbye to Bragga.
“You have been my companions for such a long time, Bragga, but I feel like I am always leaving you,” Theomin said to his horse. “Upon my return, I will come right to you with a great hug.” He embraced the horse around her neck and for just a moment, it seemed Bragga knudged Theomin, almost responding to his feelings of the impending longing they would have.
“It is time, Theomin,” Sergee said. “We have gathered in the Crafters Courtyard at the base of the hill.”
“Okay,” Theomin said. “I will join you on your way back there.” He left Bragga and walked with Sergee. “Have you uneasiness about our journey?” he asked as they walked to the eastern part of the compound.
“I do feel nervous if that is was you are asking,” Sergee said. “In the Lone Lands, we battled orcs, trolls, and even a few weights here and there in Agumar. Never before have we battled worms or dragons. Or even drakes for that matter. This will be a new learning curve for us.” He patted Theomin on the back, “But that means not that we can’t do it. It takes only one kill for us to form a strategy. As Estonethiel told us there are a few drakes, spawns of that dragon. They have not yet grown into their harder scales which means they are much weaker than those dragons. I have also spoken with Melthindir. He says any spies who have wandered into the Valley of the Worms have reported about the drakes. Tough they are, yes, but they are uncoordinated and possess sloppy attacks. They are fast, but not skilled. I feel we can combat them with well placed arrows to weaken them and distractions to lure them to amushes. My time in the Lone Lands with Helesdir, Magla, and Eleswith taught me that every enemy has a weakness. We have already heard of the dragon’s weakness. I know the drakes have their own. If we were to do exactly what we are supposed to as a whole and confident group, we can come out of this alive.”
“If you believe so,” Theomins said, “then I believe so as well.”
They arrived at the awaiting group. Some rangers, including Ferrif, saw them off as well. There, Eleswith and Helesdir were speaking with each other, closer than Theomin had ever seen them. Estonethiel stood, waiting and observing the dress she had newly acquired from her friend while Teryndir stood smoking on his pipe. More calm than usual he was as he stood there and puffed away on the pipe Theomin rarely saw. Magla, stoic as ever, stood, waiting for the word to depart, almost looked anxious to depart. All were standing in the court as they waited for someone to speak.
“We are setting out this morning to face the dragon, Naglongon in the northern reaches of the Ram Duath,” Sergee said to his traveling companions. “If you felt you were not up for the task, your piece should have already been said. As for any anger you hold toward any one of us in the group, bury it far below. We must face these dragons together as a whole group, not a fractured one. Let us keep our baring on the dragon so we can hear what he has to say and then be gone from that place. Let the light of the Valar always be on our side.”
“Well said,” Helesdir said. “Shall we now have a fanfare?”
“Shut that mouth of yours,” Sergee said with a lighthearted jab to Helesdir’s arm. “Let us go,” Sergee said. “Darkness may come sooner than we expect.”
The group gathered their belongings all and trekked the incline up from the floor of the rift on through the great grey pillars of carved stone that stood as a gateway to the hidden camp. Theomin looked back, hoping to get one last glimpse at Esteldin, the last time he could see any sign of men. He stared at it longingly and gave it a slight hint of a smile before he continued on with the rest of his companions.
They continued on through the rift and on toward the overlooking valley of Eastern Nan Umlug. The sun was shining just above the distant hills and bore the great wall of the Ram Duath in its full glory. A wall it was, like a great fortress just placed there separating the northern kingdom of Angmar from the southern kingdom of the North Downs. Its sheer cliff face dropped off from a plataue above as a great waterfall drains from a massive lake above.
In the distance, a disturbing sight gave Theomin pause. There, at the entrance of some rift in the sheer rock face of the Ram Duath, was a pair of dark figures standing watch, facing out from the rock face. They looked as though they were tall iron giants standing guard on the valley, malevelant, and evil. “What are those?” Theomin asked.
“Those bare no name as far as I know,” Teryndir responded, which surprised Theomin. “They are born out of evil men who enhabbit the northern reaches of Eriador, a land called Angmar. They were placed there to represent two Angmarim. Evil dread surrounds that place and none but the Angmarim and the Hillmen, who are in league with the Iron Crown of Angmar, inhabit that place.”
“Angmarim?” Theomin said as if hearing that name before.
“You’ve faught them before,” Teryndir said. “They were the former occupiers of Annuminus. Before their twisted men filled the city to search for one of the many seeing stones. Their forces just stayed there to set up a base to stage raids on the good people of the north.”
“Is it only the Angmarim that live in the Ram Duath?” Theomin asked as Helesdir and Eleswith listened on.
“I wish it was only them. Spiders and bats also make their homes there. Merrivile, a strange encarnations of evil, live there too. The whole place is a terrible craggy maze of evil creatures and disgust. I have made my way into Angmar with my father and a few rangers. Only few of us returned. Those of us who returned will not soon forget the horrors of that place.”
“And what of the drakes?” Eleswith asked. “Had you seen any there?”
“Even the Angmarim are not dumb enough to live in a place where there are drakes,” Teryndir said. “They live in the Ram Duath, yes, but further to the south.”
The seven travelers continued on toward the Ram Duath. Each step brought them closer to the giant rock face. They reached the bottom of Nan Umlug East and amongst the trees. Ponds dotted the valley floor as did patches of trees here and there. The entire valley was not enhabitd by the threes. Only small patches throughout the valley.
In the distance, Theomin could see giant men, almost thin like tree sapplings, roaming along their paths. “Great giants!” Theomin said.
“They will not harm us,” Helesdir said. “They are the the Earth Kin, friendly but quite parculiar men ancient men who shun all new inovations. They care not for the inventions of men and elves. They live more intouch with the earth. We know of a small camp of them in the Lone Lands. They are a strong lot and are just as weary of us as we are of them. They care not to involve themselves with the plight of men. Only to exist in their own small communities and to not be bothered.”
“I care not to get on one’s bad side,” Theomin said.
“That would prove quite disasterous for you,” Helesidir said.
They continued past the ponds and found their way to the great tall spires of rock. They were tall, sharp spires, dark in color, as if darkness from below squirted out of the ground and solidified right there. They passed by the tall spires, moving to the west of them, still slowly making their way to the ever growing ominous wall of the Ram Duath.
“That way,” Estonethiel said, “Is the entrence to Imlad Amlug,” she looked at the group, “The Valley of the Dragon.” She pointed to a small opening in the wall’s sheer face. The opening was strangly small, no larger than a few yards across but cut clear up to the summit of the rock face. “Inside, we will find lizards. They are not very strong and I know we can pass them with no problems. As we continue up the winding paths, we will face drakes. Nasty creatures they are but not as strong as you would think. As the sun is dying, we will need to camp inside the valley.”
“The valley?” Teryndir said. “With all the drakes?”
“That is presicely what I said,” Estonethiel said. “At night we will camp fairly close to the perch of the dragon. We will then continue on before dawn. During the late watches, we will capture the dragon matron.”
“And why do we capture her then?” asked Teryndir.
“Before she awakens,” said Estonethiel, “Naglongon flies out to fetch food for her. He needs to nurish her throughout the day, but it is almost always at different times of day. The morning is the best time we have for him to not be present when we capture her.”
At last, they reached the threshold of the valley. Noises far off could be heard echoing in the valley. The smell of putrid decay wafted through the wind that blew out into the grassy plain. At the edge of the rift of the Ram Duath, there were the decaying remains of grasses and plants, as if the terrible smell of the air choaked the grasses nearby.
“Here lies the entrance of the valley,” Estonethiel said. “Here is where the pleasant air of this valley turns putrid and the skies darken. The cliffs of the Ram Duath are without forgiveness. Should you fall, you will fall to your death. Worms are the first threat in that maze. They are quite horrible but can be managed. In a pack, though, they prove most difficult. Kill them one by one. Do not startle them, for if you do, you will condem us all. The worst threat here is of course the dragon, but there are other spawns that are also terrible. Drakes, the spawn of that dragon matron, wander the paths of the cliffs above the valley. Their armor is tough, but by far not as tough as a dragon’s. Fire arrows into them, aiming not for their bodies but for their necks and heads. There, they are most vulnerable.” She ended there. She looked at her companions as she gave a look of nervousness.
Sergee finally broke the silence, “Dusk is fastly coming upon us,” he said. “What light we have we should use to our advantage. We have a tough fight and need to find a spot to rest by nightfall. Let us go to the valley of the worms.”