Part 131 – At the Brink
The ten boats floated toward the center of the lake of Evendim. The water was slightly choppy and the men of Trestlebridge rowing the boats faught with the current as it tried to take the boats eastward toward the Colossus, which marked the southern end of the lake, past the captured city of Annuminas.
In the center of the fleet of boats, Eleswith sat inside, waiting and preparing their eventual rush to reach the western gate of the city. As she sat, she looked at each of the men rowing the boat and wondered which were going to make it throught the assult. Darkness set on her as her fears settled on such dim thoughts. Her fears brought her to wonder if any of them would survive the assult. As she watched the rowers, her thoughts imagined them each dying on the field, moaning, crying out in pain. She had to look away and focus on the distant hills. Such a dark place she went to she feared whether she was going to survive the assult, whether they would even succeed at their mission. She closed her eyes to block out all the thoughts of failure that were flooding into her head.
She thought back to the thoughts she had in Dale. Her fear that they were depending too much on the dwarves and elves forced her to leave. Now she wanted the help from those of whom she assumed Dale had depended too much on. It was such an ironic twist that she gave a slight chuckle. The lighthearted laugh brought her out of the dispare she was so deeply in that she then realized that her fears were pushing her to panic. She breathed in deeply and breathed out as much as she could. The dispare she felt left with her exhaling breath and she then focused on the task that she had at hand.
With the explosions that were to take place in the lower level, she needed to push herself and her men and women from Trestlebridge into the city, much the same path that she did with Theomin the first time they reclaimed the city. Instead of taking each of the courts, though, she needed to push into the upper levels to stop the high-priests from summoning Morgoth. She only hoped that Eotheron and his men would still be alive to aid them in killing the priests. She knew that they would not be able to retake the city without a larger number. She hoped that a retreat would be possible after killing the priests.
Their retreat from the slaying of the priests started to play in her mind. What would such a retreat look like? How could they retreat from such a terribly occupied city? Would they be able to go back the way they came? If they could, how could they retreat using the boats? Such a feat would be difficult under nonstressful circumstances. How would it look when being chased by trolls and orcs and Angmarim? She wondered while still looking at the men rowing the boats. The looked so ready. They looked so determined as if they had no outword look of fear of what they were about to do. She envied them as stoic as they looked. Perhaps they knew not what peril they were to face. They just rowed the boat, determined, ready, and poised. She then looked at the city of Annuminas as its dark shape had grown larger in front of the backdrop of stars.
The rangers drew themselves into the tunnel of Orthrond Thurin. Before jumping down into the hole, Eotheron took one last look at the city. He remembered the many days he spent on that hilltop looking down on the city, thinking only about his friend, Theomin. He gave a small grin as he hoped that this task was the last of one before they departed for home. He remembered it fondly as home was not on his mind for a very long time. He was then ready to return to the present and go about his duty.
One by one they each dropped with Eotheron aiding them for their safety. Eotheron held on to a long item clothed in black that he had on his horse. He carried it from the slopes just beneath the city of Ost Forod all the way up to the hatch that lead to Orthrond Thurin.
At last, with twenty rangers in all, they all had finally dropped into the tunnel and Eotheron lead the small force down through the cave. At their feet, the many bones of animals deeply littered the floor. So thick, in fact, that they could hear the cracks of those very bones snapping far below their feet as the many rangers weighted down all the bones.
Eotheron then led the twenty rangers down only a little way unitl they came to torches with a basin of dark pitch. They lit a few of the torches ablaze and continued the only way throught the dark corridor of the tunnel. They slowly walked for a way as they looked this way and that. Each had an inquisitive look as they piered at the walls. The walls had no finished look to them. It was as if the tunnel was worked on for a while and then the ones who constructed it suddenly stopped.
Some of the rangers ran their hands along the walls of the tunnel. They were quite impressed as some of the rangers had heard of the tunnels Ortrond Thurin but most where unaware of such a tunnel. Most of them did not even know of the tunnels that joined many of the ancient structures of the north. Only those who were knowledgable in the lore of Eriador knew of the tunnel, and even they believed them as rumores, nothing more.
It was a while until the rangers reached a part of the tunnel that fell sharply. It was as if the path led down sharply with no places to step like a set of stares. “What is this?” Eotheron asked. “How do we traverse this?”
A few of the other rangers looked down the slope as it looked as though it descended into darkness. “This must be the slew that connected the topside to the bottom where the people lived,” a ranger said. He threw his torch down the slope and it fell quickly down the slide and followed the slide to the right, out of sight. “I believe it was quite safe back then. I cannot see why it would not be now.”
“It is safe,” Saeredan said. “I sent Theomin down this tunnel. He made it out safely. We should fear not as there is no other path we can take.”
“Who would like to drop down there first?” Eotheron asked.
“I can go,” the ranger who dropped the torch said. “I have faith that those who constructed this tunnel did not do it to hurt those who decided to traverse it.” With that, the ranger sat down with his feet on facing down the slide. He then pushed himself down the slide and continued down the curve. A few seconds passed and they heard a sudden “Whoo!” from the ranger followed by a splash. Moments later, they heard a yelp of excitement and, “Come, it’s quite safe!”
That was enough to convince the group of rangers to go one by one down the shoot, each enjoying their ride down the slide and splashing into the water down below. Each gave a “whoo!” as they flew into their air and splashed into the water.
By the time the last of the rangers flew down into the water, most had already made it to the dry island not far from where each had splashed down. They then saw three strange creatures, slain on the side of the cave. Not much could be seen as the water snuffed out the torches the rangers were holding. Though the light was out, there was a small hole in the ceiling that allowed light to come in, but the light was very dim. It was light enough to barely see.
Eotheron had already looked around for an exit. “Look for an exit,” Eotheron commanded the rangers. “There has to be one around here someplace.”
The rangers looked around, all spred out throughout the cave, each thoroughly checking out the walls and around the ruined buildings inside the cave. They looked all around the small as they found strange dead animals, all rotting for quite some time.
“Could this have been Theomin?” Eotheron asked.
“I cannot see who else it could have been,” Saeredan said.
Another ranger came to a small journal. He crouched down and picked it up. He looked at the waterlogged book and flipped through it as he then looked up. “What a strange item to be sitting down here in this cave.”
“What is it?” Eotheron asked as Saeredan came up beside him.
“That was the journal of Thanncen,” Saeredan took the journal in his hand. A sudden feeling came over Saeredan as he remembered Thanncen holding the book. He remembered his friend for many years as flashes of their happy times faded into the distant past. “Why did Theomin just cast it aside?” he asked in shock.
“I know not,” Eotheron said. “Do you believe he was unhappy with its contents?”
“I cannot guess,” Saeredan said. “I cannot place myself in his shoes.” Saeredan held the journal tight to his chest. “But I will hold it. Thanncen was a good friend of mine and I hate to allow such an item to be left aside like some useless trinket.”
A sudden call from a ranger came from the other end of the cave, “I found the pass.” The rest of the rangers came to the ranger’s beckon call. “It continues down into the water.”
The ranger began to descend into the water but Saeredan pulled him to stop. “Hold,” he said. “There are many passes in these chambers. By the look of this room, it looks as though it should have not been flooded.” He went to a fellow ranger and took a rope he was holding. “Take this. We will hold this on to this end. Descend into the water, follow the path to the right. From what I remember from the lore, the passes into the cities are always to the right. Now go,” Saeredan patted the ranger on the shoulder as the ranger descended into the water.
The rest of the rangers waited on the chamber as Eotheron held on to one end of the rope. The rangers began to start conversations as Saeredan held tightly to the journal. It looked as though he was staving himself off reading it because he would look at it, then hold it close to his chest again.
“Why do you ask such a question?” Sergee questioned. The elves, rangers and the small number of men from Ost Forod crossed over bridge at the base of the Colossus. The rangers aided the men from Ost Forod as the elves tried to hold back in the rear of the group. Estonethiel and Sergee headed the group over the bridge and westward toward the pass of Men Erian.
“I have a strange feeling of mortality,” she said, “Something I have not yet felt.”
“Do you remember the days after the Valley of the Worms?” Sergee asked. “I remember them as good days. Those were days that even though I was in terrible pain, I had joy because I felt close to you.” He looked at Estonethiel, “That was when I began to have feelings for you.”
“I never told you, but I did as well,” she said. “Every moment we had alone was a moment I cherished. It all seems so long ago.”
“Even for you?” Sergee asked. “I thought you had not that feeling of time.”
“I never before did,” she said, “but now I feel it as if it is a thing that will end.” She shook her head, “I cannot explain it. It is only a feeling.” Sergee just held her tightly as they began to come around the corner and march the path of Men Erain.
The pinical spires of the city came into focus as the early day was breaking on the lands of Evendim. The peaks of Ost Elendil shone the bright firey light of the sun first as time continued on and the light from the sun ran lower and lower on the spires of Ost Elendil and then all throughout the city and the surrounding hills.
“This is where we will stop,” Sergee said. “We will need to hold here just out of sight from the rest of Annuminas.” He looked at Basil and drew in a deep breath, “You are sure you want to do this?”
Sergee patted Basil on the shoulder, “Then good luck to you.” He looked at all the folk of Ost Forod, “Good luck to all of you.”
“Thank you,” Basil said. “Then let’s get this over with, shall we?” He pulled the cart along with his men from Ost Forod, slowly pulling them out of sight away from small group of rangers and elves. With Basil leading the way, they made a slow dreadful march toward the city.
A tug on the rope pushed Eotheron into concousness as his mind began to wander. “He made it,” Eotheron called out to the rest of the men in the cave. “At least I hope he did.”
“As do I,” Saeredan said. Saeredan’s response did not sit too well with Eotheron but he pushed the comment to the side. He gave the end of the rope to a ranger. “I will go to the other end first. If it is a trap, I will pull on the rope three times.”
“Sounds good,” Saeredan said.
Eotheron descended into the water as he held on tightly to the rope. He followed it for a long way. It twisted around corners and past what looked like side tunnels. He was glad he did not go first as he continued along the way and pulled himself toward the other side. He had a sudden wish that he took in a deeper breath as his breath began to pant as air was running out. He pulled harder toward the other end but no sooner than he felt a panic he ascended out of the water. The other ranger pulled him out toward the other end. “Thank you,” was all Eotheron said. He saw no enemies around so he only pulled on the rope once.
One by one, the rangers came to the other side of the water, slowly filling the other end of the cave as the last ranger made his escape from the water. The rangers then moved to the other end and up to a hatch that looked as though it continued up to the city.
“I will lift the hatch,” Eotheron said. “If there is any enemy, shoot its head. We want this to go as quietly as possible.”
Eotheron placed an arm on the hatch as two rangers readied their bows. They occupied two ends of Eotheron as he pushed open the hatch. As Eotheron pushed open the hatch, only one of the rangers quickly fired his bow as they quickly climbed their way out of the tunnel. Those who first exited the tunnel dragged the dead body of the Angmarim out of sight as each of the men found their way topside.
It was daylight with the sun only beginning to beat down on the surrounding hills. The city seemed quite calm as it seemed as though they were not quite ready for an onslaught of invaders. Only a couple more Angmarim were taken down and moved stealthfully out of sight as Eotheron, Saeredan and another ranger moved quietly toward a nearby grate that was placed as a gate. They looked down and saw a perfect view of the lower portion of the city. That was where they were to shoot the carts of bombs. Eotheron removed some flint from his pocked and passed it to the rangers.
“This is it,” Eotheron said as he placed the long rod he was carrying down next to the grate. “Now we wait for the carts.”
The sun was already beating down on the city when Eleswith looked at the city of Annuminas. It was so beautiful in the backdrop of the rising sun. It was such a pity, she felt, that it may be the end of their lives. She then looked at Ariel. She was in a boat not far from Eleswith just looking at the city. What could she be thinking? Was she planning revenge? Was she fearful that she might not make it to see the end of the day?
The shore was coming close, not but a few hundred yards away. But something caught the sight of the men in the boat. “Look,” one said, “on the shore.”
Eleswith pulled herself up to take a look. At first, she was fearful it was a part of orcs or Angmarim. Or even a troll. But it was not that at all. Standing in a group at the shore of the lake, there were about two dozen dwarves. They stood in a on the shore, waiting for the group of men and women to reach the shore. And there at the front was Krovrin and his small hobbit companion.
As Eleswith looked at the welcome sight, she felt a sudden warmth that she had not felt since Helesdir last held her in his arms. The feeling was that all would be okay. That feeling wrapped around her like familiar comforting arms. It felt as if dispare was over and the day would not end in tragedy.
They reached the shore and Krovrin pulled up the boats as he employed the other dwarves to do the same, “Hello, lady of Dale. It is about time you showed up. We wondered if you would even come at all. Here we are, thirty dwarves ready to fight along side you. Dwarves from Othrikar and even some from Breeland that we were able to get together. Worry not sister in arms, we have your back as you have ours.” He called up a dwarf as he brought her a suit of armor. “And we will cover your front as well,” laughed as he enjoyed his joke. The dwarf then turned to his kin under his charge. “Today we fight. We fight not for ourselves but for this earth.”
“Today we will triumph,” Sergee said to Estonethiel as he held her hand tightly, “with the might of Ereador and the strength of heart, we will succeed this day. No matter the fear we feel inside of us, we will put aside that fear and we will go forth.” They stood close to each other, holding hands and looking at the light of day tracking down the peak of the tower of Ost Elendil as they waited for their que for battle to start.
“Sharp and steady will win the day,” Eotheron said to the ranger beside him as they aimed down toward the carts as they just came in and slowly wheeled their way on the first level of the city. “One of us is worth a hundred of theirs. I believe that because it is true. Because of the conviction of heart that even if it takes until my very last breath, I will fight for you and you will for me. Though I come from Rohan, you are all my bretheren and I fight for you. Not only for me. We are a family and will not let my family fall.”
“This is a good day,” Krovrin continued. “Because this day we make our stand against evil. We end it here and now. Today, we take our first steps with our friends, our allies, our family of Eriador. We will not let evil come. Not this day. We will not back down. We will not flee nor will we give up this day. Such duties may not be recorded in books or made into song, but that does not take away the fact that what we do this day, we do it for all on this green earth. We stand at the precipice of battle. As we stand here, we stand for all of Eriador. We stand for all Middle Earth. We stand together, tall and proud. Brothers and sisters, let us join together and stand together this day. To victory!”
The dwarves all rang out in a cry of “Baruk Khazad!” as the men and women from Ost Forod cheered out with “Victory!” as Eleswith looked at the city of Annuminas. A sudden impulse in the moment drove her arm up and cried out for victory as her heart began to sing loudly the feeling of triumph.
“Today will be a good day,” she said to herself.