Part 125 – The Blood Path
The air was thick and sinister. A feeling of dread hung heavy in the atmosphere at the threshold of the path toward the Bonevales. No bird chirps could be heard for quite a while before coming to the edge. Only wind blew through narrow pass before the steps into the stone laden valley that connected the southern part of Enedwaith to the northern part of Dunland.
For some time, a trail of blood had continued from the paths just outside of Lhanoch, decreasing in increasing in amounts but a constant stream and continuing just before the entry of the Bonevales. The blood seemed to disappear as the mist of the path laid before Theomin disappeared.
Theomin sat on Bragga as he peered into the bleak dense fog of the valley of the Bonevales. He felt the fear gripping his heart as he recalled the last time he took the path into the valley. The horrible sounds and the fearful feelings he had in there he could not forget. But, he had what he did not before. He had flashes of memory from his dream inside the paths under Aman Sul. They told of a light that he could call upon to ward off the fear and darkness of such places as the Bonevales. And there he was. At the threshold of the valley and only his trusting in that light that he had never used before but had all the faith in that it would work to pierce through the unknown of the valley.
So, he raised his staff just before the dense fog that laid before him that hung in the valley of the Bonevales. He gave an encantation and the staff emanated a green light that, indeed, pierced through the thick, dense fog of the valley. Instead of the thick fog, he could see a path clear out before him that led through the valley and turned off into the distance. Stone statues that looked like odd sad faces stood on both sides of the path, perhaps a ward to whomever would brave the paths of the Bonevales. And there, on the stony paths laid out before him was the continuation of the trail of blood.
He continued on as he kept his staff raised and his wits sharp. He continued, while Bragga slowly trotted her way through. Her hoof stomps echoed through the many rocky carapaces along the path, and the sounds echoed back at Theomin, making it sound like an army of hooved creatures just followed him up in the rocky crags someplace out of site. The eeriness of the path kept its frightening feel but its powers of fear were lessened by the lamp light of Theomin’s staff. But every-so-often, the sounds would come and go. Sounds of footsteps that were not like Bragga’s hooves. Sounds of possible whispers in the wind. The falling of loose stones beside the path also echoed through the stoney crags. The path still held some power of fear that Theomin tried to push out of thought.
Deeper into the path he ventured, deeper into the mouth of fear he continued. The deeper he was, the louder the whispers were. The deeper he went into the pass, the more dense the fog became around him. He could feel Bragga’s nervous feelings as well as she would almost stumble and retreat in fear. But Theomin kept her from bucking him off and running. He kept her reigns tight as he also held tight his staff. But it was becoming more difficult to keep his staff raised and hold onto the reigns. His palms were beginning to sweat as was his brow. His breathing became more shallow and his heart raced. He did not know how much longer he could keep his staff aloft and hold the reigns.
Eventually, he had enough of the fear and he pushed Bragga fast through the pass. Much to his gratefulness, he was not that far from the other end of the path. He pushed Bragga straight through to the other end and there, in the distance a large stone tower loomed up amongst the hills. It was still morning in Dunland and a beautiful day it was. He made it through the path and still with Bragga and Aches holding tight to him.
He breathed a sigh of relief and descended down the path away from the Bonevales and deeper into Dunland. The grass laden hills of the lands were green and tall. The trees were sparse but full of leaves and healthy. A stark contrast, it was, to the bleak feel of the Bonevales. A releaf it was as well as he continued through the lands of Dunland.
It took until the afternoon to come close to, what Theomin remembered, was the final path toward Avardin. It was maybe only a few miles away, but something caught his attention. Hoof sounds from behind him. It had the sound of many as they closed in behind him. He suddenly pushed Bragga fast but the hoof sounds came around him and as Theomin tried to ride past the local hills, a large group of about ten Dunlandings came charging around him, surrounding him and enclosing him in their group.
One spoke from out of sight, “Who is this devodiad who dare come to our land, bearing such a cloth that only a Dunlanding would wear?” The man waited for a while before he insisted, “Speak!”
“How do you know of the village of Avardin, Devodiad?” the man said. “None but the people of Dunland know of its villages.”
“I was once held there and healed by its healer, Eva,” Theomin said.
“And who has permitted you to return here? Your presence is not welcome here, Devodiad,” the Dunlanding said. “Before you think of going to Avardin, turn and return to your home. We do not permit visitors here.”
“I am sorry, but I cannot,” Theomin said. “I must continue to Avardin. I must ask for aid.”
“And I say you must return,” the Dunlanding said, “What will you do, Devodiad? Will you return to your home safely, or will we kill you here? The choice is yours. Do not think for a second we will not end your life here where you stand.”
Theomin looked at the Dunlanding. He needed the journey to not be in vein but he knew that if he did not turn, they would kill him there. He could not turn and head for home. He needed the aid of the Avardin. “Can you not hear what I have to say?” he finally asked. “A powerful force…” he was hit over the head by one of the Dunlandings and he fell from his horse. As he laid there on the ground, he heard Aches attacking one of the Dunlandings as another blow to the head knocked him out and soon, he lost consciousness.
He suddenly woke as if he was in a nightmare. He looked around at the surroundings. They looked to be from Dunland but they could have also been from Lhanuch, back in Enedwaith. He remembered surroundings much like it back in one of the huts back I Enedwaith. He wondered the journey he took to Dunland was only a dream and that he needed to still head south past the Bonevales. He sat up and headed up to the closest door.
Upon exiting, there he saw the tall tower nearby of the one of the Gondorian kind. But unlike Enedwaith, it was nearby on the same hill as he along with many other towers that were much more crudely constructed. Upon the pinnacle of the towers were wooden platforms, much like the ones he saw in Dunland. He was indeed in Dunland, but why was he not imprisoned?
His first thought was about Bragga and Aches but then, “Devodiad!” a woman’s voice called from far off. At first, it sounded much like Eva from Avardin but it was not. Another woman came to him. “Devodiad, you have awoken!”
“What happened?” Theomin asked. “I was knocked in the head and that is all I remembered.”
The one who approached Theomin gave a slight chuckle. “We are a much more protective people after the events of Isengard. Luckily for you, a girl came and knew who you were. Together, we took you here to Galtrev, the main village of the Dunlanding people.”
“Who are you? And where is my companion lynx and my horse?” Theomin asked.
“Your lynx, though a little beat up, is fine. He’s being taken care of by our apothecary,” The Dunlanding lady said. “Your horse is okay too. You’ll find her in the stables. I am Anwen,” the woman said. “After the girl, Eva, came, she told of what you did and why we should all be in your debt..My brother and father were taken prisoner by the half-orcs of Isengard. It was because of your bold actions that allowed the men of Dunland to return home. Many of us here have you to thank for our fathers and brothers and sons to return to our homes.” She looked down in sadness. “Many didn’t return but that was not your fault. It was only the fault of Saruman, the deceiver. He tricked many of our men to go to war with the people of Rohan. As much as we hate Rohan, not all of us went to war with them. Those who did not want to fight were imprisoned by the wizard. Those imprisoned were released. Upon their return, they could not pass the orc stronghold in the south without being seen. You destroyed the orcs and because of that, they returned home.”
“I am glad you are grateful of that,” Theomin said. His mind was still on the task that needed to be done, but he did not want to rush it.
She walked Theomin through the village of Avardin as she continued to speak, “We have carved out a life here Dunland. Tough it was at first as we all split up into separate groups. Eventually, we made Galtrev our capital and made it the center of trade.” She took him to the trading posts of the village. “Many goods are traded here now whereas before they were only used to aid The White Hand in the war. They are now used to aid us here in Galtrev and all around Dunland. Children ran past the two talking as Anwen walked Theomin over to a small path that was lined with stone walls and led past a small hill.
There on the side of the hill children played together, chasing each other and climbing on a type of playing structure they had built for the children of Galtrev. “Here, children of Dunland know that we are not to be fearful anymore. A fear that brought them to tears struck as the White Hand was brought here and threatened death to us if we did not join their war. The scars of that fear can still be seen in the men of this land but children…” she trailed off as she looked at the children, “Children can be so brave. So much braver than their fathers. I thank the children for without their happiness and their love I would have forgotten what happened only a few months ago. They really are the source of joy here in Galtrev.” She looked lovingly at one of the children who played there on the structure. “Envo is his name,” she said. “My son lost his father in the war. If it was not for my son, the struggle of losing my husband would have destroyed me. But he is so brave. I cannot stand to go to war again.” She looked at Theomin, “I’m sorry, I have been talking all this time. What has brought you here to Dunland?”
Theomin looked down. He could not possibly tell her why he was there. Such pain the men and women of Dunland suffered because of a false war. Such a price they paid for the evils of one wizard. He did not want to say a word but he had to. He needed to explain what he was there for and the grave circumstance he was there for. “Such a heartbreak your story is,” Theomin finally said. “Things like that cannot be forgotten. For why I am here is not something that I have contemplated lightly. I have thought long and I have thought hard why I must come here. I count the Dunlandings as my ally and the ally of all of the men of the west.”
Anwen’s eyes grew large. Her face grew pale as she stepped back, “No,” she whispered. She already knew what Theomin was wanting to propose to her but she could not bear to hear it. She stepped back and placed her face in her palms as she ran away from Theomin.
“Mama!” her son Envo called out as he ran after his mother.
Theomin watched as the woman, who was once so happy, turned and ran crying. Those who witnessed the event looked at Theomin with questions on their face. They once looked at him with respect but what he proposed shattered the respect and they looked on him with distain.
“Come with me,” a man said to Theomin. “Tomos wants to see you.”
They stepped away from the play area of the children and ascended the hill just next to it. Up higher it went up past a palacade gate that bore banner hides with the crude picture of an ox on it. Into the palacade and toward the center of encircaling houses the man lead Theomin. A much more grim part of the village that area was as the people surrounding him looked unfavorably at Theomin.
There, in the circular area at the center of the houses stood a man with white hair and grey beard. He looked at Theomin with seriousness. The one who led Theomin up to the man turned and left, leaving Theomin and the man with the white hair alone.
The man with the white hair took a long look at Theomin. He looked him up and down and analyzed him. Finally, he spoke, “What is your purpose in our land, Devodiad?”
Thoemin closed his eyes. He was fearful of what they would say to him if he said what he came for. Anwen’s cries seemed to alert the Dunlandings and they seemed to now want to remove him from their lands. “I need allies,” Theomin finally said.
“Allies?” the man said. “Another war, Devodiad?” he asked.
Reluctantly, Theomin replied, “Yes.” He had not but that to say as his words were stifled by fear.
“Tricked we were into another war that was not our own,” the Dunlanding said. “Fought and died we did for the sake of one wizard’s greed. That is all it takes. Only one. And now, only one is trying to trick us again into war.”
“It is not a trick,” Theomin said.
“Says a trickster,” the man said. “We invited our enslavers into our village and into our lives. They came with a flag of peace, but their intent was not for peace. They came with lies and falsehoods. They came to trick us into war, to fight men of Rohan. They came so that we would be their slaves. We fought and died for the White Hand. We became slaves to Saruman’s will. But there were some of us who fought back. We cleared this village of all those half-orc enslavers sent by Saruman. But it was a hard-fought victory. Many died when many didn’t have to. Before that even happens here, I want to wish you a farewell. You have come here to Dunland to speak of war. You will leave from here with your life, and that is all I can offer you.” He waved his hand, “Go now.”
Theomin backed off. He was on the verge of tears as he tried so hard to find allies. He needed their aid and he too hard to fail now. His heart sank low as the first tear began to break free of his eyes. He turned to leave but then turned back. “I cannot go,” he said. “You know I am a man of honor. I helped you. I helped your people. I helped them home.”
The man came to Theomin and grabbed him by the neck, “You too come with a flag of peace but want to start a war.”
Theomin pushed away the man’s hand, “War has already started. They took our homes. They slaughtered my people.”
“Don’t tell me of slaughtered people,” the man said. “Every day I am haunted by the men we lost to the wrath of Saruman. Your home is of no value to me.”
“If you were to not give me your help, your homes would be under threat from the danger that comes from the north. Danger that has not been seen since the first age. A threat so terrible…”
“You are permitted to leave with your life,” the Dunland man said. “Leave with it and speak not of war again.”
“I want to hear what he has to say, Tomos,” a woman came from behind one of the huts. She too had hair of silver, much like the man, Tomos, that Theomin was speaking with. “It was because we did nothing that those evil men, or half-men, came from Isengard. They used our hatred against us. Show not your hatred to this man, the woman said. “Send him not away from your sight.”
“Did you not tell me you wanted not for me to go and find aid to destroy our enemies here, Mari?” Tomos said to the woman named Mari. “I am sending him away so that we do not need to fight again. We are safe here in our homes amongst the hills.”
“Are we?” Mari asked. “We know that there are beings as powerful as Saruman who would force us into war and enslavement. We know that because we lived it. We were in the middle of his wrath and we were tricked by using our hatred against us. This man comes not to force us into a war. He has come to ask us to aid him in a fight that sounds like it is worthy of fighting.”
“I cannot force our men to go and die,” Tomos said. “I will not allow them to go fight a war they have not a stake in. War is not coming to this land, so I will thereby not declare war on anyone and fight another man’s war.”
“War has already been declared,” Theomin said. “It will come here whether you declare it or not.”
“My decision still stands,” Tomos said. “Leave now and never return.”
Mari looked sadly at Theomin and then at Tomos. Anger filled her as she just sneared at him and said, “Coward.” She stormed off down the hill, away from the meeting place.
“Leave this place,” Tomos said. “Go and die in your war.”
Theomin closed his eyes in grief. He needed the aid of the Dunlandings. The man from Lhanoch was right. The Dunlandings were not going to fight another war. He should have listened to Suvulch from Lhanoch and not ventured into Dunland. Theomin hung his head down, turned, and left. He headed toward the horses and grabbed Bragga.
Mari soon came with Aches. Aches came to Theomin and brushed himself against Theomin’s leg. “I am very sorry for my husband. He can be pig headed sometimes.”
“Can you convince some of the villages to fight?” Theomin asked.
“It is not my place to go over my husband’s wishes,” Mari said. “His decision is to not go to war and that must stand.” She placed her hand on Theomin’s shoulder with compassion, “I am sorry but you should return to your home.”
Theomin looked sadly down, “Soon it will no longer be my home. The darkness will spread from Annuminas and out through the lands. It will spread to Bree and the Lone-Lands, to Enedwaith to Dunland. We, all of us, will soon no longer have a home to go to.” He looked her in the eye, “That was why I needed your aid.”
He then turned and mounted Bragga. Aches jumped up to ride with Thoemin as he turned and rode Bragga through the small village of Galtrev and down the path toward the palisade entrance. He rode Bragga out and through a winding road toward the main path that lead north and south. But as he road, the familiar trail of blood continued down south. It had to be the same blood that Theomin saw from Lhanoch. He had to follow it.
It continued through many twists and turns and on up some of the hills. He continued to follow it as it went up some winding steps toward the one tower that was obviously Gondorian. A pool of drying blood stained the stony path and then went on up the path toward the tower. He needed to dismount from Bragga as he was afraid his horse might be too heavy for the dirt path that lead up the hill toward the tower.
It was far up the hill that he and Aches continued until he reached a point, just outside some ruined walls that he heard ugly voices of orcs. He stepped back and listened in on the conversation.
“We’ll string ‘em up on the tower,” an orc said, “That way those Dunlanding can see what we’ll do to their kind when all is over.”
“Get some rope,” another said. “We’ll tie ‘em up, string ‘em up, and when he’s good and dead, we’ll eat him to the bone.”
“We’ll first lop off his head and fling it to the town over there,” another orc said. “That way, they’ll flee because they’re nothin but a bunch ‘o petrified dogs.”
Theomin heard enough. He had to do something about the orcs. With no thought behind it, he ran around the corner. Ahead of him, nearby some flames, there stood five heavily armed orcs and a body that looked very familiar. The orcs looked at Theomin as Theomin withdrew his staff.
“Where’d he come from?” an orc enquired.
“It don’t matter,” another orc said. “We’ll string him up too. But first we’ll lop off his head.”
Before the orcs could do anything, Theomin raised his staff and blasted a bolt of lightning on top of the orcs. They all fell to the electric force of the lightning as others came around in a group. “What’d he do to our mates?” They looked at Theomin and they yelled, “Get ‘em!”
Theomin then sent a firey flame their way as it burst and they caught on fire and flames engulfed the orcs as they scrambled around in pain and cried in horror; their loud cries echoing in the ruins all around.
More came and they too were quickly dispatched by the force of nature that Theomin unleashed from his staff. A whirling of wind and lightning caught the orcs and soon they too scrambled and died. Soon, one, who seemed like the boss of them all, came strolling down the hill. He was much bigger and seemingly not an orc at all. He was a stronger type called an Uruk-hai.
“You,” the Uruk said, “You have killed my whole regiment, you have. Very unwise indeed.” The uruk sneered as drool flowed from his fanged mouth and he looked with disgust at Theomin. “Your world will burn. The victory in my death and my regiment’s death will amount to nothing. While you fools celebrate the victory in the east, your sight is blind to your true threat. Death will come to you at last. You and all your kind will fall.”
Theomin raised his staff and began to bring a lightning bolt down on the uruk when he heard something behind him. Fearing it was yet another orc, he spun around. Instead of the orc, though, three Dunlandings came from behind the ruined wall followed by ten more. Eva, Mari, and Tomos advanced toward Theomin.
“I have heard enough,” Tomos said. “Now, to you, I say yes.”
Theomin turned to the uruk. He then said to him, “Your day will not come. We are the men of the west. We will not fall so easily. We will fight, and we will have victory. Be GONE!” He slammed his staff to the ground and lightning struck the uruk as it fell to its death beside its fallen brethren.
Theomin came to the Dunlandings with a long overdue heartfelt glee. “What brought you here?”
“Eva did,” Tomos said. “She saw the sparks from Galtrev and summoned us to it. She knew it was your doing and so brought us to this spot where you were. We hid out of sight and listened to the speech from this creature.” He came to Theomin with regret, “I am sorry to have doubted you, Devodiad. But I am glad I did not doubt you for too long. It would seem time is too short for debate.” Tomos looked at Eva and then looked at Mari and then to his men. “Pack for a long journey. We will fight alongside Theomin. We fight not to take land, but to preserve our people.” He looked at Theomin, “We fight for our people and our children.”
Theomin gave a nod of acceptance, “I am honored to have the aid of the Dunlandings.”
“Then let us part,” Tomos said. “Much work we have yet to do.” The Dunlandings parted from the tower.
Theomin turned to the fallen enemy. He needed to see who the mysterious man was who left his trail of blood upon the ground. And as he came to the one bleeding, it was not a man at all. The one on the ground, barely clinging to life, was one of the elves from the Twilight Company who had twice saved Theomin’s life. It was Sylderan.