Part 85 – Game of Arrows
Two arrows and a bolt sailed away into the air from the group. Helesdir, Estonethiel, and Eleswith with her bolts, fired on the three unsuspecting cold-worms guarding eggs on an incline that streatched up toward a cliff face. It was late afternoon, the rift was cold and still and the group of seven had been quietly killing the groups of cold-worms since crossing the threashold of the valley.
At each nest of eggs, there seemed to be at least two to three cold-worms guarding them. Some were asleep and some just sat there, unmoved by anything, even the movement of the travelers in the distance. The seemingly unresponsive character of the cold-worms made the movement further into the valley relatively easy, though slow and tedious it was.
The cold-worms were oddly colored purple and light purple scaled creatures. Their bodies were massive on four squatting feet and long tails. Their heads, on the other hand, seemed small for their body size. Atop the bodies on the spines of the cold-worms were long pointy spikes almost like needles on a pine tree. Much like the back spines of the beasts were the front teeth of the cold-worms. They too had a set of pointy spikes forming something that looked similar to teeth. Though unusual, it looked as though the spikes could impale any unweary traveler unlucky enough to pass through the valley of the worms, much like the Warriors of Eriador on that day.
Every now and again was a more aggressive worm that would make its way quite hastily toward the seven, but it was always easily dispatched simply by one of the bow wielding warriors. They looked very much like the cold-worms but had a different color to them. They had a bronze tint to their scales atop their bodies as well as larger crimson scales around where the pinetree-like spikes were. Though they were most aggressive, none would come even a few hundred yards from the seven. This made at least one of the warriors a little antsy from no combat.
“At what point will we have a chance?” Teryndir asked, frustrated in his bordum.
Estonethiel looked at him with shock, “I am perplexed by your lack of patience. By doing this right, we are saving us much hardship and grief. When startled and in groups, these beasts are quite deadly. The simple fact that you’re still alive is testimant of this strategy working.”
“I feel the ground shake a little,” Theomin said. “What is that?”
“I have felt it for some time now,” Estonethiel said. “It is one of the drakes up above us. We should be thankful they have not yet spotted us. This silent game of arrows is paying off for now. But if we were to do this your brother’s way we would have already alerted the drakes to our presence.”
“That was not what I meant, elf,” Teryndir said.
“Even though that was not what you meant, it is what would be born out of your actions,” Estonethiel said.
“I am simply exclaiming my bordum…” Teryndir started.
“You know,” Eleswith said, “we need to keep our wits about us. This bickering will alert those beasts to our whereabouts.”
“She’s right,” Sergee said. “Of any place this conversation should be had, it is not this place. Wrong place, wrong time, you two.”
“Right,” Teryndir said, as if he won the exchange.
“Meet Guddaganir, filthy…” Estonethiel started before she was stopped by Theomin.
“Enough, Estonethiel,” Theomin said.
“I find even the most pigheaded of dwarves more pleasant this fool. He will have us all killed,” the elf said.
“We must work as a whole group, not a broken one,” Theomin said. “That is what Sergee said back in Esteldin. We must work together or parish.” He looked at Teryndir, “Let the archers do their part. We will have a chance to do ours.” He pointed to Teryndir, “Stop tearing us apart.”
“Are you finished yet?” Helesdir asked. “We have more cold-worms approaching.”
Through the late afternoon and into the evening hours, the seven continued on defeating the cold-worms. They persistent along the same strategy they were using: firing arrows and bolts at the beasts, killing them with accurate shots to the head, then moving on to the next group and finishing them off the exact same way. As arduous as it was, it was a strategy that worked. At last, they came upon a drake.
The drake was not as tall as it was lengthy. Red its body was that attacked to highly muscular arms which connected to hands that had fingers that splayed out to leather-like wings, much like the wings of a bat. The head was almost square-like, with a very short protruding snout but had small slits for its nose. Horns it had, two rear ones on either side of its head, facing back. The short snout also had a horn but it was almost hard to see. Its eyes glowed purple but looked glazed over, as if it was blind. At the center of its eyes it bore no puple to speak of. The jaw of the drake looked massive, capable of mashing down on strong bone or rock and held inside of it the very short but deadly sharp fangs. Thin threads of drool hung on to beads of larger drops as they hung from the mouth of the drake. Its legs were such that it looked as though he was squatting as they were bent at the knees. Its feet had three toes, each with their respective sharp black claws. At the hind end of the feet was another claw as if it had evolved from an opposable appendage but a no less deadly part of the beast.
At sight of the creature, the company hid behind a rock, each scurrying behind to hide from the terrible beast. “What do we do now?” Theomin asked.
“If we come at this like we would a troll, would that be unwise?” Helesdir asked.
“I have never seen you combat a troll,” Estonethiel said.
“We first shoot at its eyes, blinding it. Magla then hits its leg and as it falls Sergee drives a sword into its skull,” Helesdir said. “Would that suffice?”
“We could try that,” Estonethiel said. “But the consequence of that not working or anybody making a mistake would be disasterous.”
“The least we can do is try,” Theomin said. “I am for it.”
“As am I,” Eleswith said.
The rest agreed to the plan and no sooner than did the last person vote, Helesdir came from behind the large rock and shot an arrow at the creature’s eye. It plunged into the eye as Estonethiel shot an arrow at its neck. Magla ran toward the beast with no restraint of fear holding him back. He slammed his club on the knee of the drake. As it fell, Sergee thrust his sword into the skull of the beast but instead of it sinking in, it bounced off as if it hit a metal wall. Before anyone could do anything, the drake stood back up and with all its anger, drew in a deep breath and exhailed a blast of hot fire. The company dispersed as Estonethiel ran to the other side of the drake. With a quick pull back, she fired another shot at the other eye, effectively blinding the drake. As it cried out in pain, Eleswith aimed her crossbow at the drake’s mouth. She shot a bolt directly into it and it sunk into the brain of the beast. It fell with a giant thud on the ground.
The loud thud awoke the nearby cold-worms. Soon, a dozen or so drakes descended onto the travelers. “Heads up,” Sergee said, “we have worms!”
Helesdir and Estonethiel both fired on the advancing worms. Theomin pulled out his sword as did the rest of the company. They engaged with the worms hacking and slashing the beasts. With no warning, the worm flipped around and slapped Estonethiel with its tail.
As he saw her get wipped, Theomin ran and sliced the tail off the worm as Sergee buried his sword into the worm’s head. They looked to see their fallen companion. It took a few moments but she rose up just a moment later.
“Wait, look she’s fine,” Teryndir said. He then flung his dagger up into the air and threw it at Theomin. Theomin braced himself, almost expecting to be hit by the dagger but instead of it hitting him, it flew past him and sunk into another cold-worm, killing it.
Theomin looked back and saw the dead worm. “Thank you,” he said with a smile.
The rest of the company did their parts clearing off the last of the worms when another drake came. Estonethiel regained her wits and flanked the drake to the right while Helesdir ran to the left. They both shot into the eyes of the drake as Eleswith quickly fired a bolt into the drake’s open mouth. It screamed and fell down, again, with a thud. The rest of the company waited for more worms to show up. After a minute or so, no worms came and they were safe for the time.
Into the evening, Helesdir, Estonethiel, and Eleswith faught the drakes on the path up to the perch of the dragon. Any worms that came as a result were quickly beaten by Magla, Theomin, Sergee, and Teryndir. Their strategy proved effective and soon, they could see the lonely high perch of the dragon.
“There lies the dragon-matron,” Estonethiel said. “We must find a place to camp for the night.”
“We can find a small alcove nearby to rest until foredawn,” Sergee said. “The task we will do tomorrow will be most difficult so we need as much strength as we can muster.” The group found a quiet place amongst the sheer rock cliffs of the valley. It was guarded by a massive boulder that had probably fallen there from the high cliff long ago. There, they could have a vantage point out to where the worms and drakes were and they were also protected on the other side.
That night, there was no fire made and no meal was eaten. What conversation they had was quiet and intimate. “A watch will be set on the surround. Two per watch. Magla and I will be first. Then Helesdir and Eleswith. Lastly, Estonethiel and Teryndir will have watch. This way, we all have a watch while Theomin rests. He has the toughest task of all tomorrow. To speak to a dragon requires a lot of wit and no shortness audacity.”
“That makes me feel confident,” Theomin joked, but then realized it was not a joke.
The evening progressed quietly. None spoke as they sat close to each other in silence. All were thinking of the task they were about to perform and none could think of anything else. Theomin had nothing but anxiety as he tried to formulate what he would say to the dragon. It had to be tougher than even talking with Gerald. His thoughts drifted toward home in the Wold. He could feel the warmth of the breeze and hear the running waters of the Anduin. The thought also brought Theomin back to his mother. It felt to him that he was thinking of her much less lately. He did not want that to happen or to forget her enterily. He had zoned out a while thinking about home when he heard the others talking, which snapped him out of his thoughts of home.
“I know I’m sounding a little anxious but that is because it’s a dragon,” Helesdir said.
“I felt skeptical about it as well, but I we have a good plan. I know it will work,” Teryndir said.
“You only want that weapon, nothing more,” Helesdir said.
“What weapon?” Teryndir asked.
“He means the weapons the lost elves hold,” Theomin tried to quickly answer. “Come, let us talk of other things.”
Teryndir threw up his hand to stop Theomin, “hold, please,” he said with an angry command. “This one said there was a weapon, one single weapon,” he said as he pointed to Helesdir. “He said nothing of elves or a forge of weapons. What is the meaning of what he said?”
“I meant nothing by it, only a slip of the tongue,” Helesdir tried to cover.
“There was no slip of your tongue. Your words flew as straight as the arrows you shoot. You said and you meant one weapon,” Teryndir said. “What weapon do you mean, Helesdir?”
“Now calm yourself,” Theomin tried to stop Teryndir but Teryndir had none of it.
“I will NOT calm myself,” he said loudly. His voice echoed through the chasms all around them. “Explain to me what Helesdir meant,” he continued with a more calm voice.
“He means,” Sergee said as he looked at Theomin and then at Teryndir, “That there is a weapon out there that is such a great weapon that the one who holds it is the one who commands the city of Annuminus. No other may use it. That is the weapon of which he speaks.”
Teryndir looked betrayed by his company, “You meant to keep this from me?”
Eleswith shook her head in disgust at Teryndir, “What would you expect from us? We considered your betrayal of your brothers, your false imprisonment of us, your continuous harm and vitrial you spread upon those around you including your own brothers. You wonder why we decided as a group to keep the secret of the sword from you? It is because we are afraid you will claim it for your own and once that happens evil will come to this land and it all comes because of you.”
“Keep calm,” Theomin said.
“I will not keep calm,” she yelled as quietly as she could at Theomin, “You know not of the horror we have had to suffer under your terrible rule in Annuminus. The starving you brought upon the wardens because of the insult you claimed at the behest of the Arbiter of Ost Forod. So childish you were to claim that. Many of our good people died because of your single mindedness. Your foolish pride made us loose many good men while we were hunting. Who knows how many died because of your foolishness before we arrived. Your alliance with Gerald is even more of a reason not to trust you. And you think we can trust you with the truth. A terrible mistake that would be,” she growled and said again, “A terrible one.”
“That is enough, Eleswith,” Sergee commanded. “You have said enough.”
“My trust in you only extends so far,” Eleswith said. “I would not trust you within a hundred yards of that weapon.”
Teryndir looked at Eleswith. He looked as though so much hate was seathing through his veins but kept himself from saying anything. He kept calm, and quiet, and sat down on the ground. No sound or anything came from him for the rest of the night.
The first shift seemed to go by very fast. Soon the second shift was up on Eleswith and Helesdir. Sergee awoke the two sleepers as Magla sat and watched for cold-worms advancing on them. It was quiet. The only sound was the occational echong of a cold-worm in the revene. The air was moist with a new mist that was also collecting on the rocks around them.
The two sat up very close to each other. They could feel the moisture that had already collected on their clothes, making them feel that slightest of dampness. Eleswith sat just next to Helesdir as she rested herself on him. It took a while before anyone spoke, but Helesdir began, “If we aren’t careful that Teryndir will have us all killed.”
“I don’t disagree but I need not to think of that right now. I’m anxious for what tomorrow will bring.” She stayed silent for a few moments then asked, “Do you remember when first we met?” Eleswith asked.
“I do,” Helesdir said. “I can never forget it. It was that night at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree. Harrassed you were by those brigands.” He looked down with slight embarrassment, “In truth, that was when I first wanted to give you my heart. I could see you were not a frail thing. You had some fight to you, and that was proven in the Lone Lands.” He looked at Eleswith with a smile, “I have a weak spot for strong women.”
She gave a slight chuckle at what he said, but soon looked down. She knew the real reason she went with Helesdir that night and it was not to help him and his group. She knew it was to murder Gerald’s brother but she could not bring herself to admit that to him. She only replied, “Yes, I remember that too.”
“As soon as I saw that letter from Elrond on the Great East Road, I knew I must go to Sergee. That was the only way I could see you again. I had been thinking of you ever since our departure from Annuminus. Of course I could not tell that to Magla. He may be stoic and quiet, but beneath his cold exterior he is a thinker. I could just see his judgemental eyes on me if I told him I had feelings for you. He wouldn’t say a thing, but his look would say enough.”
“I started having feelings toward you when I had to depart from your group in the Lone Lands. Something tells me that I needed to leave. My heart grew fonder for you with distance. When I saw you again in Esteldin just before we retook Annuminus, I felt the joy I had never felt. I missed you.”
“As did I,” Helesdir said. “But here we are. I am very glad to have this time again with you.”
“As am I,” she said as she looked at Helesdir.
Theomin was awake, listening to the entire conversation. He never knew Eleswith and Helesdir had feelings toward each other. He also did not know why she kept that relationship a secret. Despite the dim, dreary place they were in and the charge they had to watch for cold-worms, the two slowly came together and gently touched lips. Their kiss lasted for some time as Theomin watched while pretending do sleep. The affectionate actions of the two brought joy and hope to Theomin’s anxiously worrisome mind; so much so that it eased up the tension, brought gladness to his heart and he was able to finally drift off to sleep.