At Osgiliath, there was a large flat-bottomed boat ready to take us, propelled by huge sweeps, across the wide river to the equally ruined other side. I surveyed the broken bridge with interest, for part of what Gimli had agreed to do was for we Dwarves to survey all the bridges between here and the Long Bridge at Morgul Vale and make recommendations about their repair. Again, this one would have to wait until a future time.
We had dismounted to lead our horses aboard in the first of two parties. Silma stood near the prow with Rhylla, gazing eagerly at the Ephel Dûath, now becoming green for the first time in centuries; I knew it was a source of wonder for many Gondorians.
Ashore and disembarked, I had turned to watch the ferry heading back across the river with the rest of our party, and to look at the bridge, when I heard the familiar whine of an arrow, followed almost immediately by a cry from Legolas: “’Ware!”
Snatching out my axe, I whirled. Master Tuor was gaping open-mouthed at an arrow embedded in the side of his document box, just before Caic pulled him down. Marfel cried out, and so did Severion; the two of them dropped to the ground. Horses were plunging and screaming, Men shouted and cursed, and I could not see Silma and Rhylla.
Heedless of the arrows, I sprang to the top of a fallen block near the one where Legolas stood cooly shooting arrow after arrow with devastating effect. To my horror, I saw the two women’s lighter cloaks in the midst of a group of orcs and Men in dark clothing, all riding off while others covered their retreat.
Tuor was still staring at his box. “This is government property!”
“Forget the stupid box!” I snapped. “They’ve got her!”
Tamperion was rapidly writing something on a pad he had pulled from his pouch, rolling it up, grabbing a pigeon and affixing it to a small cylinder on its leg; a moment later, the bird was winging back to the city. “I told Lord Húrin what happened and that we’re following,” he said, swinging up on his horse and leading Agate over to me.
I took the reins and went over to the three boys. Severion and Marfel were white-faced, blood dripping from arrow wounds. Already, Caic was wrapping an improvised bandage around Marfel’s leg, while the other lad kept both hands clamped on Severion’s arm.
Beregond, swearing, was doing the same for one of the Rangers; the others who had crossed with us were dead, as apparently were all of the Guardsmen on this side of the river who were not seriously wounded.
Legolas was methodically checking to see that the eight foes he had downed were in fact dead, and retrieving what arrows could be reused.
I went over to the boys. “Good, Caic!”
“I guess this ends the trip for me,” Marfel said regretfully.
“I can still ride, though,” Severion said stoutly.
“Marfel is facing facts, lad, and so must you. But I need you both to report to the King, Lord Faramir, and Gimli for me. After you see to it that these others go at once to the Houses,” I added emphatically. They nodded.
“Do you think you can keep up with us, Caic?” I asked.
He nodded. “Aye, my lord.” By now, he had finished with Marfel and was deftly binding up Severion’s arm and shoulder with his cloak.
“Rinse off your hands and mount,” I said, and strode over to Beregond.
He looked up at me. “We’ll get her back.”
“Them,” corrected Tamperion tightly.
The Captain nodded at him. “Them. Sorry.”
Legolas joined us. “Captain, I think that we three can travel faster.”
“Why are you still standing here?” Tuor asked crossly.
“Lord Dalf!” Caic called.
I headed over, breaking into a run when I saw he knelt by Rimbor. “Merciful Valar!”
The poor dog was lying half under one of the downed enemy’s mounts, whining and struggling to wiggle out.
“Good dog!—Legolas, I know she gives him commands in Quenya,” I said.
He spoke a few words, and the dog quieted. In a few moments, I had worked out a way for us to lift the horse enough for Tuor to slide him out—but the Gondorian balked.
“Why don’t you just put the beast out of his misery?” he asked.
“Lord Dalf, no!” cried Caic in dismay.
I put a hand on his shoulder. “Because he is valuable,” I growled, putting it in terms the fool might understand. “And because I would not want to be the one having to tell her I did not do all I could.”
“And because if you do not, one of us will hurt you,” Legolas added. The rest of us nodded.
Glumly, he crouched down; at my word we lifted and he pulled Rimbor out. The dog whined, but wagged his tail a little.
Legolas felt over him carefully. “There may be some muscle strains, but I see no wounds,” he said at last, and I sighed with relief.
“Can you get up, boy?” Caic asked, and he wobbled to his feet, took a couple of steps, shook himself, and barked imperatively.
Legolas spoke to him in Quenya; I caught Silma’s name. Rimbor bounded to the edge of the nearby woods where we had last seen our foes, and looked back at us with another woof. Legolas, Tamperion and Caic were already in the saddle; I mounted and looked down at the attorney. “Mount up, Tuor. You’re coming with us.”
“I? But I’m no warrior!”
“Nor am I, nor is Caic,” I replied. “But I think you are coming anyway. Now, Tuor!” I stared at him until he scrambled up on his horse, and reaching over, I clipped a lead-line onto his bridle, winding the other end around my pommel. “Oh, and don’t fall off—we aren’t stopping for a while,” I added, before kneeing Agate to a trot. Perforce, his lurched into one as well, and ignoring his protests, I rode after the others.
Tamperion glared at him. “Why is he coming?” he demanded.
“Call it a hunch,” I said. I could not have explained in more detail, but it felt right; I only hoped I did not regret it.
One moment we were waiting as the others disembarked from the ferry, and I was on the bank gazing at the mountains, the next an arrow flashed between Rhylla and me, Legolas called out, and I pushed Rhylla down. Orcs and Southrons shouted warcries, screams of pain rent the air, and chaos erupted as I darted for Apple. Grabbing his reins, I reached out to the packhorse carrying my things, and pulled Orcsbane’s belt from its loop over the pack-saddle. I could almost hear Ėowyn’s caustic remarks about the usefulness of a bonded blade that I wasn’t wearing—but it had never occurred to me that I might need it even before we were on the Harad-Ithilien Road! Truth to tell, the thought of wearing a sword publicly still embarrassed me; I had had a long discussion with Andrahar about its being a magnet for some men who could not abide the notion of a woman defending herself. Ah, well, at least I had it in my hand now. Hastily buckling the belt, I drew it just in time to slash at an orc with his hand reaching for Rhylla. He pulled back with a yell, blood spurting from the stump of his wrist.
“Get on your horse!” I snapped at her, as I stepped up onto Apple—just before an Orc ran at me, his barbed sword swinging. I could see a black oily mark along the edge; no doubt but it was poisoned.
Rhylla crowded Swallow in between us, her belt-knife in her hand, sinking it into his neck. They both were screaming, and I yanked at Swallow’s bridle to pull her away. For a moment it was very confusing as we struggled with a crowd of foes, and then she slumped from a mace-blow. I managed to keep her from falling but lost my reins, and then we were being borne away in their midst.
I managed a swift glance backwards; up on a stone, Legolas was shooting as fast as he could nock his arrows, and Dalf was just jumping up or down from one, his axe flashing in the sun. Then a blow to my head half-dazed me, and a Man in an odd-shaped helmet snarled at me, “Just ride, woman!”
Rhylla was half-conscious, and I concentrated on holding her upright as we galloped and the Orcs ran.
By the time they turned south instead of north on the road, I managed to drop a small bandage from my satchel, and another a few feet away, for if they lived, I was confident that Legolas, Dalf and Rimbor at least would be tracking us, and probably Tamperion as well.
“We need to stop,” I called out to the large Man in the lead. “My friend is hurt.”
“Open your yap again and we’ll shut it,” an orc grunted at me. It seemed best to obey.
However, I did manage to check her pulse and felt her head. Thank the Valar for the thickness of her hair, for I could not detect any crack or fracture under it!
It was almost dusk when we finally stopped. I slid down before I could be pulled off, and caught Rhylla as she slid. One of the Men loomed over us. “This way.”
“Can you walk, Rhylla?” I asked her softly.
She nodded mutely, and straightened slightly. A few yards farther, I saw a Man sitting on a fallen log, his long black hair stirred by the evening breeze. He was obviously a warrior in his prime, his olive face scarred, black eyes cold as he sat with his sword unsheathed across his knees. “Who you?”
“Lindisilma Kuranya, Lady Cormallen, “ I answered. “This is Rhylla, daughter of Rimperion, of Minas Tirith.”
“Her maid,” Rhylla spoke up clearly.
“And she is injured,” I added.
“You are lady of Gondor? Why so differ a group on this side of the river? Where going?” I could barely understand his accent, even listening closely.
“You were in the battle before the Black Gates?” I asked, although I was fairly certain of the answer. All of them looked much the worse for wear, all five Men and seven Orcs. Three of the Orcs were uruk-hai, I noted uneasily.
“What you know of it?”
“I know that Sauron was defeated and disembodied,” I replied.
“He not defeated!” snarled one of the urak-hai.
Rhylla audibly swallowed. I had had ample time to think, but was becoming angry. “Look at the Mountains of Shadow. Sniff the air; you will breathe the scent of growing things as its slopes green for the first time in a thousand years. Mordor has fallen, and so has he.” I kept my voice matter-of-fact, rather than haughty. Rhylla’s hand was trembling in mine, but I firmed my knees and prayed she would not collapse completely. “I know that Minas Morgul is fearsomely polluted—“ all the Men except him shuddered “—and Cirith Ungol is blocked. If you want to go around the Mountains of Morgul, you are headed in the wrong direction.”
“Why you think we go there?” the leader of the Men with them countered.
“Because you are speaking a dialect based on Logathig,” I answered in that tongue, hoping I was not causing our deaths by not playing stupid. Logathig is a Mannish tongue, of the Lintadorin-descended langauge of the Dorwindrim, itself the parent of dialects spoken by the Easterlings, including Balchoth, Wainriders, and Sagath. I could see the language “tree” in my mind as I spoke.
“Why you not think we Southrons?”
“I did at first, before you spoke, Their accents are different.”
He stared at me for a long time, his face unreadable. He said something too fast for me to understand, and one of the men slipped into the shadows, returning with my satchel. “What this? Shaman magic!” He opened it, another of his men shining the light of a shielded lantern on it. “Why you have it?”
I reverted to Westron. “As you see, my Healer’s satchel. I would like to use it to make a tea for my maid.”
“It new, shiny.” He touched one of the scalpels.
“’Twas give t’ her by the Masters o’ the Houses of Healing, ‘cos she’s so good,” Rhylla said angrily. “You give that back t’ her, you! The King ‘isself give her part o’ it!”
“Gondor has Steward.”
“We were ruled by a Steward,” I agreed. “Lord Denethor died before Sauron fell—“ I judged that this foreigner did not need to know of his madness “—and while his younger son, Prince Faramir who is now Prince of Ithilien, is Steward of Gondor, Elessar is the King Returned, king of both Arnor and Gondor, fulfilling ancient prophecies. There is a new Age, friend.”
“’Friend’? You kill some my Men.”
“You attacked us first,” I pointed out, and he barked a laugh, speaking again in his own tongue, and the men chuckled. Back to me, “What care we new Age?”
“Do you doubt that there are changes in the world?” I asked. “King Elessar is a remarkable Man, warrior as well as Healer, and widely travelled. He does not wish constant warfare, unless to defend what we have. Are you not weary of war and loss, of orphaned children and weeping widows? Would not honourable peace be a good thing? I would rather call you friend—I don’t know your name.”
“Bah! She puts spell!” grunted one of the Orcs.
“I tell truth, Orc,” I said in the Black Speech. “Your master ‘s dead; best run find another.”
“I kill you now!” he snarled.
Orcsbane seemed to leap into my hand; he laughed gratingly and grabbed at it. Blue light arced from the blade to his fingers, crisping them to ash, and he howled, convulsing.
One of the others, not one of the uruk-hai, laughed.
The uruk standing next to him drove his axe into his head, cleaving through the ill-fitting helmet. In seconds, it was a confused melee; someone grabbed me, tossed me over a shoulder, and wrested Orcsbane from my hand. Whichever Man it was held me firmly, no matter how I kicked, squirmed and tried to hit out with my fists as he ran bruisingly to a horse, threw me onto it in front of him, and galloped. I could hear other hoof beats around us.
All too much time later, more than enough time for me to feel thoroughly bruised, I was pulled upright. In the wavering moonlight, I could see that I was riding in front of one of the men, and their leader was riding with someone else, heavily cloaked, in front of him, while yet another carried Rhylla—who was clinging grimly to my satchel. “Are you all right, m’lady?” she hissed at me.
“Yes,” I whispered back. We were headed steeply uphill, circling east and north.
After a while, I slept.