What a night for the Dancing Dead
What a night though it’s one of seven
What a night for the dancing dead
What a night to be called to Heaven
What a picture to fill your head
Magnum, Les Morts Dansant
Erchirion cradled his fallen sister in his arms and cried out in grief and despair. Her eyes stared blankly at nothing and her head lolled on her broken neck. Amrothos clenched his fists and raised his eyes to the sky.
The leader of the black Elves held out a rod of gleaming metal and pointed it at the corpse. She spoke a phrase in her incomprehensible language and a beam of light shone forth from the rod and briefly illuminated Lothíriel’s face. Erchirion looked up, a frown of anger forming on his face, and opened his mouth to speak…
…and then Lothíriel squirmed in Erchirion’s arms and sat up.- - - - -
“You have a Rod of Resurrection? You kept this secret from us?” Kyoroth queried, her tone accusing. “Why did you not raise Zar’quiri, or those who fell against the Eldreth Veluuthra? And now you waste its charges on strangers.”
“I did not have it then, fool,” Laelryne snapped. “Sharlarra obtained it for me shortly before we departed from Faerûn. Now cease your prattle. We are short of time.” She used the Rod again, on one of the fallen Drow, and then on one of the fair-haired rivvin
“Stop!” Kyoroth cried. “It must be kept only for us.” She grabbed hold of Laelryne and tried to pull the Rod of Resurrection from her grasp.
A hand closed on the back of Kyoroth’s neck and lifted her up into the air. “Cease, foolish one,” Cierre growled, “or I will make you regret your actions.”
Laelryne gave Cierre a nod of thanks and at once continued with her task. She used the Rod twice more, again alternating between Drow and rivvin
dead, and then tried to use it again but failed. “It is drained,” she said. “Sharlarra warned me that it had but few charges remaining.”
“And you wasted three of them on rivvin
,” Kyoroth spat out, as she struggled futilely in Cierre’s iron grip.
“I have no time for argument,” Laelryne said. “The desert riders are hanging back for the moment, seemingly confused, but they may charge once more at any time. And they outnumber our combined forces by more than two to one.”
“Shall I snap her neck, Jabbress?” Cierre asked. Her tone was matter-of-fact, almost unemotional, and Laelryne had no doubt that if she gave her assent Cierre would kill Kyoroth upon the instant.
“No, do not harm her,” Laelryne said. “She was my friend once and I hope that she will be once again. This is not her true self.”
“As you wish,” Cierre said. She tossed Kyoroth away, sending the smaller Drow stumbling, and went back to watching the enemy horsemen.
The knights were trying to speak to Laelryne but she ignored them for the moment. “Tebolvir!” she called. “What happened to the Fireball? It had but small effect.”
“The Weave seems to be weaker here, Jabbress,” the wizard replied. “Half strength at best. What should have killed instead inflicted only surface burns.”
“Will other spells be the same? Would Cloudkill still be lethal, for instance?”
“I suspect not,” Tebolvir said. “I would estimate it would become merely Stinking Cloud.”
Laelryne grimaced. “And Stoneskin act as if it were Barkskin?”
“Very likely,” Tebolvir confirmed.
“This will necessitate a change in tactics,” Laelryne said, “and there is no time to think it through. We cannot fight cavalry in the open. We must find a defensive position.”
“The wagons,” Cierre suggested, her words overlapping with those of Laelryne saying the same thing.
Laelryne shot Cierre a brief smile and then turned to the rivvin
knights who had been trying in vain to attract her attention. “Your pardon,” she said in the darthiiri
tongue. “I will answer your questions later but right now we must move, and quickly, to the wagons.”
“She is right,” said the younger knight. “With a third of the men unhorsed we cannot match the Haradrim upon the open field.” Few of those who had lost their horses in the charge had thought to seize the mounts of their fallen foes and, by now, the remaining loose horses had galloped off to join their fellows in the main body of the Haradrim host.
“Indeed so,” said the elder knight. He barked out orders to his men and then turned to his brother. “Not you, Amrothos,” he said. “Take four men, ride back the way we came, and get help.”
“Why me?” Amrothos asked. “I should stay with you and Lothíriel.”
“Your armour gives you perhaps the best chance of getting through,” Erchirion explained.
“As does yours,” Amrothos pointed out, but then he shrugged. “I know, you must stay to command. Very well, brother, I will go. Try not to get yourself killed in my absence.” He swung himself up into the saddle of his war-horse. “Ohtar, Devorin, Déorbrand, and Baldheort, with me!” he called, naming two Swan Knights and two of the Rohirrim. “We ride west to bring the éoreds of Rohan to the aid of our fellows.”
Laelryne wanted to ask what aid they were to bring, and how far off it was to be found, but there was no time. She guessed that the departure of the riders would trigger a charge by the desert men, as would movement by the party on foot toward the wagons, and knew that the two actions must be synchronised. She issued rapid orders to her folk and stood poised to move.
“To the wagons!” Erchirion commanded. “Amrothos, ride!”
!” Laelryne shouted.
At once the two groups, Men and Drow, burst into action. Amrothos and his four chosen companions galloped west; the remaining riders moved to screen those on foot from the threat of the Haradrim horsemen. In so doing they also screened the Haradrim from the Drow crossbows and from Cierre’s deadly longbow. Meanwhile those on foot made for the wagons as fast as they could run. Cierre snatched up the pregnant Srulauthe and, holding her as easily as if she had been a small child, still managed to outdistance everyone else.
And, as Laelryne had expected, the desert men responded. Thirty of them set off in pursuit of the five who rode for help. The remainder split into two groups; one headed for the wagons, to deny their shelter to the party on foot, and the other charged to the attack. They loosed a shower of arrows as they came.
The two opposing bodies of horsemen clashed. Rohirrim and Swan Knights faced Haradrim, thirty-seven versus a hundred and twenty, and they had the worst of it for each Westerner was set upon by two or three of the Southrons. Fair-haired Riders, and armoured Men in swan-crested helms, fell from their saddles. The wings of the Haradrim enveloped the Men of the West and swept around behind them.
,” Laelryne shouted, and the crossbows in the hands of her followers were raised and aimed, “lu'bneir'pak
!” A volley of bolts tore into the Haradrim riders and their horses. The momentum of their charge faltered.
Then Cierre reached Lothíriel’s carriage, set Srulauthe down, and unslung her bow. And the Haradrim learned the lesson that the Eldreth Veluuthra had learned in Faerûn; when Cierre held her bow she held also the power of life and death over all within two hundred yards.
Tebolvir sent an Ice Storm down upon the heads of those who would bar their way. A mage of his power would expect to slay several with an Ice Storm unless his targets were well protected by wards. Here none died. The balls of ice were softer, and struck with less force, than in Faerûn. Some of the targeted Haradrim fell, stunned, from their steeds; horses reared in panic, lost their footing on the icy ground, and went down with injuries to horses and riders resulting; none of the warriors, however, were slain by the spell.
Then Tebolvir’s apprentice Ridoorl followed up his master’s spell with a Fireball. Again its effect was less than lethal, at least directly, but it caused painful burns, temporarily blinded some within its area of effect, and a dozen of the Haradrim lost control of their panicked steeds and were thrown or carried off as the horses fled. Two horses collided and went down; one rider was pitched head-first into the solid wood of a wagon side and broke his neck. One of those who had fallen was trampled to death by blinded horses unable to avoid the men on the ground.
The cumulative effect of the two spells was far less deadly than it would have been in Faerûn but it was enough to achieve the desired result. The Haradrim formation was disrupted and the warriors were demoralised; once Cierre shifted her aim and slew four of them in quick succession, and the main body of the Drow passed the coach and headed for the wagons with crossbows levelled, the barring force broke and fled.
At Erchirion’s direction the dead horse was cut from the traces of the carriage and, pulled by the remaining horse and pushed from behind by the surviving wagon drivers, the coach was moved to where the wagons stood. One of the wagon teams, spooked by the spells, had broken free of their traces and fled. That wagon was left in place and the others were moved, with desperate haste, to form the other walls of a defensive circle.
Two of those injured Haradrim who had not managed to flee were seized, as they lay unconscious, and taken captive; all who tried to resist were slain on the spot.
There was then a period of respite, as the Haradrim had withdrawn in disorder, and Laelryne was able to take stock of the situation. Three of her people had fallen during the retreat to the wagons, pierced by the arrows of the desert men or cut down by their scimitars, and a few more had been wounded. The rivvin
had suffered far greater losses.
Half of those who had fought mounted, striving against three times their number, had perished. Several more had died fighting on foot. Laelryne had counted sixty armed men, including the two knights who commanded them, when she had first approached the convoy. Five had gone for help. Only twenty-seven now remained. Forty-two of the original forty-eight Drow still lived. Sixty-nine warriors in total, plus the noble rivvil
female Lothíriel and six non-combatant servants and drivers, to face – how many of the desert men?
“Cierre,” Laelryne requested, “count for me how many of our foes remain, for your eyes are sharper than mine.”
“A’dos quarth, Jabbress
,” Cierre assented. She leapt up onto a wagon bed, longbow in hand, and stared out at the horsemen. Her lips moved as she counted. “I count one hundred and sixty-six,” she declared, jumping down again, “but I saw that more than two dozen set off in pursuit of the young knight and his men. If those return then we will face at least a hundred and ninety.”
“And there were some three hundred when you first saw them,” Laelryne said. Her lips tightened. “We were outnumbered three to one then and that remains unchanged. Still, at least now we have a defensive position.”
“And we still don’t know the cause in which we are dying,” Kyoroth said, her tone one of bitterness.
“Then,” said Laelryne, turning toward where Erchirion was bending over one of the Haradrim prisoners, “let us find out.”- - - - -
“So they seek to capture the princess, believing that if they hold a knife to her throat they will be granted safe passage through your country,” Laelryne said. “Careless of them, then, to slay her in the first clash.”
“No doubt they assumed that she was safe within the carriage,” said Prince Erchirion. “Their women, to the best of my knowledge, are kept in seclusion and would not be riding with the Men. The prisoners speak the truth. Their objective is to seize my sister and use her to force King Elessar to allow them passage.”
“So,” said Laelryne, “that explains why we have not driven them off despite the losses they have suffered. They believe that their lives depend on victory.”
Erchirion shook his head. “They could have gone home at any time if they had simply surrendered,” he said. “The War is long over. All the prisoners from Harad, Khand, and Rhûn were sent back to their own countries after the fall of Barad-dûr. We took from them only their weapons. The same would have happened to these had they come openly to either the Rohirrim or the Men of Gondor. But not now, after this unprovoked attack. They have sealed their own doom.”
“No doubt their Captains have lied to them and told them that we would slay or torture them,” said Lothíriel, “and I do not think that we could convince them otherwise.”
“Then we must slay them,” said Laelryne, “or at least hold out until your fellows return with a relief force. How long will that be, do you think?”
Erchirion pursed his lips. “There was no force of Riders in the last village we passed through that could stand against the numbers that now threaten us. They will have to gather Men from several villages, I fear, or else send to Edoras where the éoreds of Éomer King’s household are stationed. Either way it will be two days, I would estimate, before we can expect help – unless they encounter an éored on patrol against the depredations of the remaining Orcs. Or another supply convoy, or a party of travellers, may come along the road and happen upon us.”
“We may be besieged for two days?” Laelryne shook her head. “We will need luck as well as skill to endure so long.”
“And we will need latrines,” said Cierre.
Laelryne laughed. “Indeed so. But it is our defences to which we must look first.” She issued a string of orders to her followers. “They could attack again at any time,” she remarked to the rivvin
commander. “In fact I am surprised that they have not done so already. By delaying they have given us valuable time to get our defences organised.”
“I suspect that they were thrown into confusion by the fire and ice that your people rained down upon them,” Erchirion said. He frowned as he saw Drow crawling under the wagons. “How will your people be able to fight from there?” he asked.
“That is the advantage of our crossbows,” Laelryne said. “They can be operated in a space far too cramped for one to bend a bow. The disadvantage is that they lack range. But at longer ranges…” she pointed at her tall companion, “we have Cierre.”- - - - -
“Horsemen approach,” Cierre reported. She spoke in Sy’Tel’Quesiiri so that she could be understood by the rivvin
. “They are of the desert men.” Her lips moved as she counted. “Twenty-four of them, and they lead seven spare horses. One of the horses resembles those ridden by our fair-haired allies.”
“Then they are those who pursued the ones who rode seeking help,” Laelryne deduced, “and they must have caught our friends. There will be no rescue force.”
Erchirion bowed his head. “And my brother is dead.”- - - - -
“Éomer King!” The village thane stared wide-eyed at the throng of horses and Men. “Is there war once more? Shall I sound the call to arms?”
“There is no war, only an incursion by a single band of Southrons,” Éomer reassured the thane, “but we ride in pursuit of them in great haste. They intend to attack the party of Princess Lothíriel.”
“The princess? We saw her as they passed through this village,” said the thane. “There were sixty warriors with her. Are there, then, so many Southrons that they can attack so large a force?”
“Three hundred,” said Éomer, “or so we guess from their tracks.”
“Béma!” exclaimed the thane. “How did such a large body pass through Gondor? Do the Men of Mundburg keep no watch?”
“The Southrons fled north after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields,” Éomer explained, “and have been hiding, unsuspected, in the lands of the Dunlendings ever since. Now, we believe, they plan to seize the princess and use her as a hostage to buy passage back to their own country.”
“My sons and I are at your command, Éomer King,” the thane offered. “Give us but a moment to don armour and swords.”
“It is not Men that I need, but horses,” Éomer said. “We have ridden far and fast, and ride on all through the night, and we pause here only to feed and water our steeds. Some of the horses show signs of tiring. I would leave them here and take fresh horses in their stead.”
“Of course, my King,” said the thane. “Béma grant that you reach the princess in time.”- - - - -
Amrothos struggled to his feet. Searing agony shot through his head with the movement and he felt his stomach twist and protest. He fumbled with his helm and pulled it free only seconds before he began to vomit.
He felt no better once his stomach was empty. His head throbbed with piercing stabs of pain, he was dizzy, and his vision was blurred. There was pain from his lower back, too, and he reached back with a hand and discovered an arrow lodged there. It had not penetrated deeply through his armour but an attempt to pull it free resulted only in fresh agony that dropped him to his knees. After a moment to recover himself he snapped the shaft of the arrow, as close to his armour as he could manage, so that if he fell on his back he did not drive it deeper into his body. The action caused him renewed pain but removed that potentially deadly danger.
He picked up his helm, discarded when the spasms of vomiting had struck him, and examined it. The steel was scored and deeply dented. No doubt it had saved his life, turning a fatal blow into one that had merely robbed him of his senses, and the Haradrim had assumed that he was dead.
He lived but he was wounded, afoot, and many miles from aid. It seemed his mission had failed, and there would be no rescue for his sister and brother, but he had no alternative but to press on. He could only hope that the valiant Men of the escort force, and the strange black Elves who had joined with them, could hold out long enough.- - - - -
Laelryne blocked a scimitar’s slash with her shield and her sword licked out in deadly reply. The desert warrior toppled from his horse. She glanced around. Behind her Tebolvir had put up a Wall of Flame which was deterring the attackers; unfortunately it merely diverted them to other parts of the ring of wagons.
To her right one of the attackers leapt his horse over a wagon’s tongue, entering the circle, but Cierre barred the man’s path. The tall Ranger cleaved through the horse’s right front leg, sending the beast crashing to the ground, and the rider was thrown free. Cierre fell upon the man before he could rise and brought her hand-axe down in a vicious blow that shattered his skull. She then delivered a mercy blow to silence the thrashing and screaming horse and moved on to face a new opponent.
To her left Laelryne saw five desert men jumping down from their horses onto one of the wagons. A tall fair-haired rivvil
met them with sword and shield and felled one before being himself hacked down. Laelryne ran to plug the gap but saw that Kyoroth was ahead of her.
Kyoroth vaulted up onto the wagon bed and ducked under a swinging scimitar. She retaliated with an upward slash that laid her attacker open from crotch to navel. Kyoroth brought her blade down on the next man’s head, splitting his skull, and then delivered a thrust that pierced a third man’s chain hauberk and drove through into his heart. The last of the desert men launched himself at her, scimitar swinging, and died with the point of her sword in his throat.
Then, as Kyoroth stood alone on a wagon now cleared of foes, an arrow smote her in the eye and sank in deep. She dropped dead on the instant.
Laelryne wailed in anguish. Her friend had redeemed herself but died with the breach between them still unhealed. She reached the wagon and climbed atop it just as another desert warrior jumped down from his horse. The man was off balance upon landing; Laelryne gave him no chance to recover but struck before he could defend himself. For once, overcome by rage and grief, she used more than the minimum necessary effort to kill and she sent the rivvil’s
head flying from his shoulders.
She expected an immediate shower of arrows and so dropped to her knees, sheltering behind the side of the wagon, with her shield raised to protect her face. A couple of arrows whistled by but did not come close. Feet thudded onto the wood behind her and she spun, sword coming up, but held back her stroke as she saw that it was one of the knights who wore helms with swan emblems.
Laelryne looked to the front again and saw one of the horse-archers bending his bow with the arrow aimed at her. She ducked down, raising her shield, and deflected the arrow without harm. Before the rider could loose another shaft he was struck in the face by a crossbow bolt from within the wagon circle. He reeled in the saddle, dropped his bow, and spurred his horse away. A horse went down, spilling its rider in the dirt, and the man next to him wheeled his horse and galloped off.
And suddenly all the desert men were turning, abandoning their assault, and retreating. A cheer went up from the human defenders and, from the Drow, a great shout of “Ultrinnan
Laelryne picked up the body of Kyoroth, descended from the wagon, and carried Kyoroth into the centre of the circle. She laid down her fallen comrade and stood up straight. “Cierre!” she called. “Count our foes. I must know how many remain.”
“Izil dos quarth, Jabbress
,” Cierre assented, and she climbed onto the top of a wagon and looked out over the battlefield.
“Talindra! Count up our survivors, both Drow and rivvin
, and then report to me,” Laelryne commanded. There was no reply.
“Talindra is dead, Jabbress,” Tebolvir’s apprentice reported. “I shall carry out the tasks.”
Laelryne sighed and her head sagged. “Thank you, Ridoorl,” she said, straightening. “Kebella?” She waited until she received an answer before continuing. “See to the distribution of healing potions to the wounded. Both to ourselves and to the rivvin
“Usstan rothrl, Jabbress
,” Kebella replied.
The heavily pregnant Srulauthe poked her head out from the coach where Laelryne had insisted that she, together with Lothíriel and her maidservant, shelter during the attack. “I could do that, Jabbress,” Srulauthe said. “You will not let me fight but I can still contribute.”
“Indeed so,” Laelryne said. “Yes, assist Kebella. Ensure that everyone gets sufficient to heal their wound, and no more, so that the more powerful potions are conserved.”
“Usstan nym’uer lu’rothrl
.” Srulauthe descended from the coach and moved off to perform her task.
Only then did Laelryne allow her tears to flow.- - - - -
Amrothos searched the ground for his sword. The sun had dipped below the horizon and it was hard to see in the gathering gloom; his blurred vision made his search more difficult. He had cast aside his shield, to save weight, but the sword was essential in case he encountered a band of the Orcs that still sometimes came down by night from fastnesses in the Ered Nimraith.
He found a sword but it was not his own. The body of its owner, hacked by many scimitar blows, lay nearby; Ohtar, the veteran Swan Knight. The widow in Rohan would mourn for a second time. Amrothos had known the man almost all his life but there was no time now for grief. He took up Ohtar’s sword, sheathed it, and turned toward the sunset.
The pain in his head was not easing with time but was growing worse. Hardly had he gone a hundred paces when he was struck by another bout of vomiting. When it was over he set off again but found that each step was an effort.
Then he heard a sound; a familiar wicker. “Gilroch!” he called, and whistled. The wicker came again, in answer, and before long a black horse, its brow bearing a white blaze resembling a star, came into sight. “Gilroch!” Amrothos called again. His stallion came to his call, but it was limping heavily, and Amrothos saw that an arrow was protruding from its rump.
Amrothos stroked the horse’s nose, praising it for its great heart, and then went to examine the arrow wound. He grimaced, and started to shake his head, but a stab of pain halted the motion. There was no way that he would be able to withdraw the shaft without assistance; any attempt would most likely result in either causing greater injury to the horse or causing it to panic and run off. The arrow would have to remain in the wound, even though it would probably make the injury worse, and he had no option but to ride the horse despite its wound. Even lamed it would still make a better pace than he could manage on foot in his current condition.
Uninjured Amrothos could vault into the saddle, in full armour, with ease. In his present state it took him several attempts to clamber onto the horse. Once astride he turned the horse to the west and set off at the best speed the horse could manage. Perhaps he still might be able to bring aid in time.- - - - -
“Twelve dead, Jabbress,” Ridoorl reported, “seven Drow and five rivvin. Thirty-five of us live still, and twenty-two of the rivvin
warriors, but the Prince has equipped the wagon drivers with armour and weapons from the dead. There are sixty-two in total to face the foe – although that includes Srulauthe and you have said that she is not to fight.”
“We slew over forty of the desert riders,” Cierre said. “I count one hundred and forty-three of them and some of those are wounded.”
“Fewer than half of those who began the battle,” said Laelryne. “I am amazed that they have not yet given up.”
“They cannot,” said Erchirion, “for they believe that only death awaits them unless they can take Lothíriel hostage. They will attack again.”
“The sun is setting,” Laelryne observed. “If they come by night we will make them pay dearly, for those of us with white hair can see in the dark as well as you can see by day, and even those of us with black hair have eyes far sharper by night than any Men.”
“I do not think that they will launch another assault during the night,” Erchirion said, “but they may send in small groups on foot to try to slay some of our sentries.”
“Then they will fail,” Laelryne said, “and perish in the attempt.”
“No doubt,” said Erchirion. “Your people are superb fighters, and your wizards have powers great and marvellous, and you are a skilled commander.”
“Am I?” Laelryne gave a short, mirthless, laugh. “I was a junior officer, eighth in the line of command, and I never thought to be more. Kyoroth, who lies yonder, was tenth. I lead only because all those senior to me are dead. And I may have led my people to destruction. We thought only to find a safe haven, somewhere free from war, where we could live in peace. The auguries that we cast promised that this would be such a place. What a bitter jest fate has played upon us.”
“And indeed the war here is over,” Erchirion said. “The Dark Lord has fallen and the Free Peoples of the world have the chance to live in peace and harmony. Those who attack us are but a remnant of the Dark Lord’s followers, still enchained by his lies, and there are few such remaining. If we win through this fight there will be a home for you in Dol Amroth, or here in Rohan, and you will be held in great honour.”
“Thank you,” said Laelryne, “but first we must survive. I suggest that your Men sleep first. It was still morning by the time of our world when we met you, and we need less sleep than your kind, and we are not as tired as you must be. We will handle the night watch. Let your Men keep their cooking fires small lest they spoil our night vision.”
“Sound advice,” said Erchirion, “and I shall follow it.” He headed off across the circle.
Laelryne stayed where she was, bowed her head, and stared down at Kyoroth’s body.
Lothíriel climbed down from the carriage and stood beside her. “You brought me back from death, or so my brother tells me,” Lothíriel said. “Can you not do the same for the other fallen?”
Laelryne shook her head. “I used a Rod of Resurrection and it had only a limited number of charges. They are all gone and the Rod is now nothing more than a decorative piece of ivory and gold. Those who are dead now must stay dead – unless the priests of your world can perform Resurrections?”
Now it was Lothíriel’s turn to shake her head. “That you could revive me was a marvel beyond anything of which I have ever heard,” she said. “No-one in this world can bring back the dead.”
“I deduced as much from the amazement that your brothers displayed when I Raised you,” Laelryne said. “I will, then, never have the chance to make my peace with Kyoroth and to tell her how proud I was of her at the last.”
“Perhaps… in Valinor,” Lothíriel suggested.
“That is your Afterlife?”
“For Elves, yes,” said Lothíriel.
“There will be no Afterlife for us,” Laelryne said. “Our goddess is dead and we refuse to transfer our allegiance to any other. Nothing awaits us but imprisonment in the Wall of the Faithless until our souls are destroyed.”
“Surely the Valar would not be so cruel,” Lothíriel said.
“Our gods would,” said Laelryne. “Only Eilistraee was truly good and kind – but she is dead.” She looked down at Kyoroth again, barely managing to hold back her tears, and then turned away. “I must consult with Tebolvir,” she said, and walked off.
“Sweet Valar,” Lothíriel prayed, “these Elves are your creatures too. Do not let the fallen suffer the fate Laelryne fears.”
There was, of course, no answer.- - - - -
They sang quietly, so as not to disturb those of the humans who had already settled down to sleep, and they retained some clothing as they were aware that rivvin
often had problems with nudity. Even so their dance was a joy to behold.
“It’s beautiful,” Lothíriel remarked. “What do the words mean?”
“We dance,” Laelryne translated. “The moonlight gleams on our polished swords, it gleams on our smooth black skin, and on our silver hair. In the joy of the dance we can forget our cares for the moment. Nothing matters but the dance.”
“Beautiful,” Lothíriel said again. “Dancing is important to your people?”
“It is how we honour our goddess – or did, before she died,” Laelryne said. “Now we dance to forget. So many mistakes, so many deaths, so much misery.” She heaved a sigh, paused, and then began to eat. “The food is… palatable,” she commented. “We had a halfling cook at the Promenade who could make even trail rations into a dish fit for a princess.”
“Halflings are, indeed, devoted to food,” Erchirion agreed. “They are greatly honoured here after the deeds of Frodo and Samwise, Meriadoc, and Peregrine in the Ring War.”
“I honoured Meryl greatly too, and was very fond of her,” said Laelryne. “She is dead now, of course.”
There was a lull in the conversation, with only the singing breaking the silence, and then a hideous scream sounded from outside the wagon circle.
Erchirion leapt to his feet. “What was that?” he cried.
Laelryne paused with a morsel of food half-way to her mouth. “Relax,” she said. “That was a rivvil
- a human – screaming. One of the desert people’s scouts met one of mine.”- - - - -
It was around midnight, Laelryne guessed, assuming that the lengths of day and night were the same in this world as in Toril. Most of the humans had gone to sleep while the Drow stood guard. She had ordered Tebolvir and Ridoorl to sleep, too, so that they could regain spells. There had been no activity from the Haradrim in the last couple of hours; not since Kebella and the former Vhaeraunite rogue Ilmryn had intercepted two scouts sneaking in, beheaded them, and stuck their heads upon poles.
Now Kebella approached. “Jabbress,” she reported, “there is activity to the south. A force approaches on foot.”
“Size? Composition?” Laelryne asked.
“More than there are of us, I would say, but not by a great number,” Kebella said. “Seventy or eighty, perhaps, possibly up to a hundred. They seem to be a mob rather than a disciplined force. Humanoids, probably. If they are rivvin
then they are barbarians.”
“The natives of this area are the horse-riding Rohirrim,” Laelryne said. “I think they are more likely to be humanoids. I will consult with Prince Erchirion. Inform me as soon as you know more.”
,” Kebella replied, and headed off.
Laelryne sought out the prince. He was still awake, sitting against a wheel of the coach in which his sister slept. “My scouts have detected a force on foot approaching from the south,” Laelryne told him. “I doubt, from what you have said, that they can be the Rohirrim. What else might they be in these parts?”
“Orcs!” Erchirion spat out, coming to his feet. “There are still nests of the vermin in the Ered Nimraith, lurking there, and sometimes descending to steal livestock or attack small communities. How many?”
“Kebella thinks something between seventy and a hundred,” Laelryne said.
“So many? That must be two or three bands combined,” Erchirion said. “They have observed our fight and are coming down to scavenge like buzzards.”
“And the desert men can simply ride away, leaving us as the only target for the Orcs,” said Laelryne. “So we face another fight that we cannot avoid.”
“I fear that is the case,” said Erchirion. “I shall wake my Men.”
“And I shall gather my people,” said Laelryne. “Kebella will return soon with an accurate assessment of this new foe and then we can plan the fight.”- - - - -
Amrothos slumped forward onto the horse’s neck. The pain in his head was getting even worse and he was on the verge of unconsciousness. He wrapped the reins around his hands, hoping that it would keep him from falling off if he passed out, and looked ahead for any sign of lights that might indicate a village. It was useless. His vision was so blurred that he could not tell if he did indeed see lights or if he was seeing the moon and the stars. All he could do was try to stay conscious and keep the horse moving along the road.- - - - -
“They are indeed Orcs,” Kebella reported, “and they number eighty, as closely as we can count. They move around a lot, keeping to no fixed formation, and it is hard to be precise.”
“That is sufficient,” said Laelryne. “How are they armed and armoured?”
“Some have hauberks of chain or scale, but most have only hide armour or none at all,” said Kebella. “Two, chieftains no doubt, wear plate and mail. They bear an assortment of weapons; a few pole-arms, some spears, battle-axes and scimitars. Perhaps a score of them carry bows.”
“Kill the archers first,” said Laelryne. “The prince tells me that the Orcs of this world have no such skilled leaders as Obould Many-Arrows of our world. They may not think to pick up the bows from the fallen. I want you to lead a team of ten to go out to meet them. Pick off a few, fall back, and pick off a few more. Do not get close enough to risk capture. When you are pushed back to within arrow shot of the wagons break off and come back inside as quickly as you can.”
“I understand,” Kebella said. “Am I to choose my own team?”
“Yes,” said Laelryne, “but you are not to take Cierre. I want her here in case the desert people stab us in the back as we fight the Orcs.”
“Wait,” said Erchirion. “I propose to lead a cavalry charge against the Orcs. There is moonlight enough for us to fight.”
“Is that wise?” asked Laelryne. “It could give the desert men an opening to get into the circle.”
“True,” said Erchirion, “but I think they will stay clear of the fight except perhaps to loose arrows at both sides. It would be to their advantage to hang back and let us be weakened with no cost to themselves. And nothing else will drive off the Orcs as fast as cavalry. It will be only a single charge and then an immediate withdrawal. I will not allow my Men to become embroiled in a sustained fight. If the Orcs maintain a close formation then we will not charge.”
“If they keep in a tight body then Tebolvir can drop spells upon them and wreak havoc,” Laelryne said. “Very well, then. Kebella, you must break to the sides to leave a road for the horsemen.”
“I understand,” said Kebella. “Usstan zhal xun ’zil dos quarth
“I have an idea,” said Erchirion. “I shall detail a single rider to break away, as we retire from the charge, and ride for help. The Haradrim may not notice him, or be too far away to pursue successfully, and he might well get clear. Their numbers are so reduced now that if he could bring even twenty or thirty Riders from the village that would bolster our forces sufficiently for us to be sure of holding out. A messenger from the village could ride for Edoras to bring a larger force to destroy or drive off the Haradrim and break the siege.”
“A worthwhile idea indeed,” said Laelryne. “How soon then might we expect help?”
“Between mid-morning and noon, I would estimate,” Erchirion said, “if there are enough Riders at the village to form a relief force. If there are too few, though, we will have to wait longer. A mere handful would perish to no purpose. I did not count the Men when we passed through the village, and none of the Rohirrim in the escort hail from this area, so I can only guess at how many there might be. We can but hope.”
“And act,” said Laelryne, “and our first action must be to kill the Orcs.”- - - - -
A volley of crossbow bolts, and shafts loosed by the human archers, tore into the advancing Orcs and they wavered. Men heaved aside a wagon, opening a gateway, and Erchirion led his riders thundering forth. Their levelled spears smote home, Orcs were struck through, and the Men drew swords in place of the spears. The horsemen cut a swath through the Orcs, and emerged from the rear of the formation, but they did not make their passage unscathed. Two horses and three riders went down.
“Turn about!” Erchirion ordered. “Dúnhere, ride west!” The formation wheeled around. Dúnhere, the Rohir designated to ride for help, split off and galloped away.
“The desert men charge!” Cierre’s voice rang out in warning.
“Erchirion!” Laelryne shouted as loudly as she could. “The Haradrim charge! Return quickly!” She turned to the rear. “Cierre, slow them as much as you can. Tebolvir, the rivvin
are a greater threat than the remaining Orcs. Go to the north side of the circle and reinforce Ridoorl. Dau’ne, Jhanil, Bhaerl, go with him.”
A fresh volley from the Drow crossbows raked the Orcs and then the cavalry struck again. They sliced through the Orcs, mowing them down, and this time only one rider fell. The Orcs were slaughtered. The few survivors, scarcely more than a dozen, fled to the south. The cavalry rode back at speed.
And then the Haradrim unleashed a storm of arrows that rained down within the circled wagons. Several defenders, caught in the open, were struck and fell dead.
One of them was Tebolvir.- - - - -
“Nine more Drow dead,” Laelryne said, “and seven Men. One Man has left to seek help. That leaves… forty-four combatants. Twenty-five Drow, and nineteen Men, plus Princess Lothíriel, Srulauthe, and Lothíriel’s maidservant. And Tebolvir’s death has taken away much of our ability to inflict damage on many of the foe at once. His spells were less deadly here than back in Faerûn but were still the best weapon we had.” She clenched her teeth tightly together before speaking again. “And I have lost another dear friend.”
“He was your… lover?” Lothíriel asked.
Laelryne shook her head. “Just a good friend,” she replied. “I had not known him for very long. Until a short time ago we would have been enemies. But I soon came to respect him greatly for his intelligence and wisdom and I learned that the differences between us were of no importance.” She heaved a sigh. “Oh, Lady Silverhair, why did you kill your brother? Had you reconciled with him instead then everything would have been so much better.”
Lothíriel and Erchirion stared at her, their eyebrows raised, and then Lothíriel opened her mouth to speak. A shout from the eastern edge of the circle interrupted her.
“The rider returns! He is pursued!”
“Cierre!” Laelryne shouted. “Loose at the pursuers! Give him protection.”
“Usstan rothrl, Jabbress
,” Cierre replied, and raced off to find a vantage point.
“Open the gate,” Erchirion commanded. The wagon was shoved aside once more and, a short time later, the rider galloped into the circle.
“I have failed you, Erchirion Prince,” Dúnhere reported. “There were eight Southrons encamped on the road to the east. They were already mounting their steeds as I approached and I could not get past them. They moved to stay ahead of me, loosing arrows, and then more emerged from the main body and came towards me from behind. I saw no choice but to return before I was cut off and slain. I am sorry.”
He was wounded. His beard was red with blood from a gash that ran across his cheek. An arrow was lodged in his right shoulder; another was sticking out of his shield.
“You did not fail,” Erchirion said. “You did all that you could. To fight and die would have been pointless. We needed to know that you had not got through. You did the right thing by returning.”
“What did he say?” Laelryne asked, for the Rohir had spoken in Westron and she had not understood. Erchirion translated into Sindarin. “Ah,” Laelryne said. “A picket outpost to give them warning if a relief force approaches.”
“Indeed so,” said Erchirion. “I should have known. No doubt there is one to the east as well.” He stared out into the darkness. “Perhaps I should have sent more Men. Five, perhaps, might have managed to break through.”
“To send more would have weakened us too much,” said Laelryne. “A single rider was the right choice. Had the pickets been asleep it would have worked.”
“If they were, no doubt the noise from the fight with the Orcs awakened them,” said Erchirion. “Damn those Orcs! They did us little harm themselves but their attack has still cost us dear.”
“We will be spread thinly now,” Laelryne said. She saw Cierre nearby and summoned the Ranger over. “How many of the enemy did you slay, Cierre?”
“I emptied eight saddles when they attacked as you fought the Orcs,” Cierre reported, “and I slew a further three of those who pursued the messenger.” She switched to Drow. “It is a shame that the fair-haired rivvin
do not speak the darthiiri
tongue. I would like to fuck one of them – or, indeed, three or four of them – but having to explain what I mean by gesturing with my hands would be too laborious.”
Laelryne laughed. “Is this really the right time for that?”
Cierre shrugged. “We might die in a few hours,” she said. “I might as well enjoy myself first.”
“You would tire out the rivvin
males and leave them in no shape to fight,” Laelryne said. “Wait until we have defeated the enemy. I am sure that you will be able to find plenty of admiring males who are more than willing to satisfy you.”
“No doubt,” Cierre said. “Well, if I am not to fuck, I will check my weapons and armour ready for the next fight.”
“She is a remarkable archer,” Erchirion commented, as Cierre walked off. “Perhaps even a match for the renowned Legolas Greenleaf. I would dearly like to see a match between them.”
“We must defeat our foes before we can think of entertainment,” said Laelryne, “as I was just saying to Cierre. Although the entertainment she had in mind was not an archery contest. My people have a saying ‘From victory to an inn’. First we must win the battle, and then we can celebrate.”
“Winning will not be easy,” Erchirion said. “They will attack in the morning. Probably not at dawn, as I believe they will want to assess our remaining strength first, although it would be wise for us to be prepared for an immediate attack. But they will not delay long.”
“When they see how few of us remain they will set upon us at once,” Laelryne said. “Perhaps we can deceive them and thus deter them for a time.”
“How so?” asked Erchirion. “Can your remaining wizard conjure up troops out of nothing?”
“Tebolvir could have done, back in Faerûn, and indeed Ridoorl might do so here, but the summonings would be too weak and stay for too short a time to be of any help,” Laelryne answered. “No, I have a simpler solution. We use the dead.”- - - - -
The silence of the sleeping village was broken as a horse whickered. Gilroch whinnied in answer, announcing to the horses of Rohan that a stallion of Dol Amroth was here, and the local horses replied.
“Men of Rohan!” Amrothos called; or tried to. Barely a whisper came out. He untangled his wrists from the reins and descended from the saddle, more in a fall than in a dismount, and he hit the ground hard. He gathered his strength and clambered to his feet.
“Men of Rohan,” he called again, “a friend needs help.” He stumbled toward the nearest house, felt his way along the wall until he found the door, and hammered upon it with his mailed fist. Dogs in some of the other houses began to bark.
The door was pulled open to reveal a tall Man, clad in a night-shirt, but holding a sword and with a shield on his arm. “Hwæt
?” he demanded. “Hwa eart þu
Amrothos slumped to his knees, overcome by a fresh wave of dizziness, and croaked out a few words.
The householder bent over him. “He hafað awierdnese
!” he exclaimed. “Eadgith, cum her
!” He helped Amrothos to his feet and into the house.
A woman, also night-shirt clad, came to join him and peered at Amrothos’ head. The two spoke to each other, concern apparent in their voices, but he understood not a word. He tried to explain what had happened but it was obvious that they didn’t understand him.
Men emerged from other houses, holding swords and with hauberks pulled on over night-shirts, and came over. Some of them spoke Westron. Amrothos tried to relate his tale but, by now, he was on the verge of unconsciousness and found it difficult to speak coherently. By the time the village thane arrived Amrothos had passed out.
“It is the young Prince of Dol Amroth,” said the thane. “What has happened to him?”
“I think his skull is cracked,” said one Man. “He has an arrow wound, too.”
“Yes, but how?” said the thane.
“He says his party was attacked,” someone answered. “I think he said by black Elves.”
“Black Elves? I have never heard of such things,” said the thane, “and all the Elves who have come to the Riddermark, such as Legolas the mighty archer, have been our friends. But that is not the important thing. The travellers were attacked, that is certain, and there must have been many attackers; there were some forty Riders of the Mark in the escort when they passed through here, and twenty of the knights of Dol Amroth, and only a great number of foes could have troubled them so.”
“His horse was also struck by an arrow,” a Man called from outside.
The thane stroked his beard. “I do not think the young prince would have fled from a fight,” he said. “The Men of Dol Amroth fought valiantly at the Pelennor Fields and saved the lives of many Riders by their actions. No, the elder prince sent this one to fetch aid, I am sure, and we must not fail him. Yet we can muster only…” his lips moved as he counted, “…twenty-two Riders. That would not be enough, against an enemy that would attack sixty, and we cannot leave the village undefended. No, we must ourselves send for help.”
“The prince needs a healer,” said the Man who had been examining him.
“Indeed. Éadmód, fetch Sigeburh to tend to him. Then fetch Baldfara to see to the horse.”
“I am here already,” Baldfara spoke up from outside the horse. “It was I who saw that the prince’s steed is wounded. The arrow must be removed at once. Already there may be lasting damage and that would be a shame for this is a truly noble stallion.”
“Do so, then,” said the thane. “Bregdan, arm yourself and then ride for Aethelinga. Tell them to send whatever Riders they can muster here, without delay, and also send messengers to Edoras to inform the King. Guthred, take five Men and ride east. Render aid if you can but do not throw your lives away against great numbers. Bring me back word of what you find out.”
Amrothos stirred. “Must get help,” he mumbled. “Onward, Gilroch, onward. Too slow… too late.” His mutterings became inaudible and he passed once more into unconsciousness.- - - - -
“Eventually they will realise that only half of the crossbows under the wagons are loosing shafts,” said Laelryne, “but hopefully not too soon.”
“I see the logic behind this,” said Erchirion, “but I do not think I could have done the same. It seems to… dishonour the dead.”
“Perhaps it does,” said Laelryne, “but it is… necessary. The living are more important than the bodies of the dead.” She changed the subject abruptly. “I want to get rid of the horses before we fight again.”
“Get rid of the horses? But why?” asked Erchirion.
“They take up too much space inside the circle,” said Laelryne. “There is little room to manoeuvre. We may have to rush to reinforce a point on the perimeter, if the defenders there are slain, and the horses hamper our movement. Also they may… stampede – is that the word? – if they are injured by arrows. In the first assault some of my people’s injuries were caused by the horses. We are unused to them.”
“Surely you are not suggesting that we kill the horses,” said Erchirion. “The Rohirrim would never permit it.”
“Kill them? No, certainly not. Cierre would not permit it either; as a Ranger, ill-treatment of animals is anathema to her. No, I propose only to drive them out of the wagon circle to fend for themselves. You can always… round them up – I think that is the expression – later.”
“I would rather take my Men out to fight the Haradrim from horseback,” Erchirion said, and then he heaved a sigh. “But I know that if we did they would concentrate on us, until we were all slain, then turn their full force on you. Very well, I shall do as you say. But let us leave it as late as possible.”
“Not too late,” Laelryne cautioned. “It would not be good for there to be a gap in the wagon wall as the desert people make their charge.”
“Then at dawn,” said Erchirion. “It might be possible for a Man to sneak out on one of the horses, I suppose, but the risks would be too high.”
“True,” said Laelryne, “but perhaps we could make the Haradrim think that such an attempt was being made. If one of the horses bore a corpse, tied into the saddle, then they would waste time pursuing it.”
“No,” said Erchirion, “that I will not permit. If they did not catch the horse it could wander for days with a dead Man tied to its back. Such disrespect for the dead would dishearten my Men so much that it would far outweigh any advantage we gained by your strategy.”
“Very well,” said Laelryne, “the horses shall run free without dead riders. Now I shall rest, for a while, and I suggest that you do the same. The morning will test us all to the limit.”- - - - -
“Éomer King! What good fortune to meet you, and with the hosts of Eorlingas at your back!” The messenger smiled broadly as he bowed his head to the king.
“What news do you bring?” asked Éomer.
“The young prince of Dol Amroth arrived at our village, not an hour past, wounded by arrow and by a blow upon the head,” the messenger replied. “Before he fell senseless he spoke of an attack upon his party by Black Elves.”
“Black Elves?” Éomer’s astonishment was plain. “We have ridden out because we learned that a large force of Southrons was following on the trail of the party from Dol Amroth. Whence came these Black Elves?”
“I know not, my King,” the messenger replied. “The young lord was grievously hurt, and his speech was hard to understand, but that is what he seemed to say.”
The conversation had been in Rohirric; Éomer translated it, for the benefit of Legolas and Gimli, and then asked “Have you ever heard of Black Elves, friend Legolas?”
Legolas shook his head. “I know of Dark Elves, the Moriquendi
, but that is only a name given by the Noldor to my ancestors because we did not go to Valinor during the Age of the Trees. If there are such things as Black Elves they must have sundered from the rest of the Elves many long Ages ago. I would think that it was a mistaken reference to Orcs but Imrahil’s sons are thoroughly familiar with Orcs, and with Elves, and would not make such an error.”
“I know not who these Black Elves might be,” said Éomer, gathering his reins in his hands and preparing to urge his horse forward, “or how they relate to the Southrons, but if they have harmed Lothíriel then we shall destroy them. Forth Eorlingas!”- - - - -
“They are coming,” said Erchirion. “You must get back into the coach, Lothíriel.”
“If I had known how many deaths would result from this,” said Lothíriel, “I would have given myself up to the Southrons. Perhaps I still should. It would spare the rest of you.”
“Had you surrendered yourself at the start they would have taken it as a sign of weakness,” Laelryne said, “and attacked anyway. It is likely that the same would apply now. Even if they did not attack I would wager that they would try to use threats of harm to you to force us to hand over some of our number; Cierre for one, I am sure, for she has slain many of them and they must burn for revenge. No, we fight and either we die or we win. There is no other way. Now, do as your brother says and get back in the carriage. You too, Srulauthe.”
“Very well,” said Lothíriel. “And, for all you have done for us, I thank you.”
“Usstan rothrl, Jabbress
,” Srulauthe said. She cocked her crossbow and followed Lothíriel into the coach.
The Haradrim advanced but the main body stopped short of arrow range. A detachment some twenty strong continued to advance, at a trot, and began to ride in a circle around the wagons loosing arrows as they rode. Their circle tightened and they drew gradually closer to the wagons.
“What are they doing?” Erchirion wondered.
“They test the range of our crossbows, I think,” Laelryne answered. “And, in the process, they will discover our deception with the dead bodies.” She raised her voice in command. “Loose no shafts until they are close enough that you cannot miss,” she ordered, speaking in Drow. “Leave them to Cierre.” She then gave Erchirion a translation.
“The bows of the Rohirrim cannot match theirs for range,” Erchirion said, “but we have acquired a number of Haradrim bows from their dead and some of my Men will be able to strike back.” He shouted commands and Rohirrim archers began to loose shafts. The range was yet long and none managed to score hits upon the moving targets.
Cierre, however, was well within her effective range. She slew three of the horse-archers in short order. Then the main body of the Haradrim resumed their advance, spurring their horses on at a canter, and the circling group came to a halt. Cierre killed another of them.
“And now they attack,” said Erchirion. “Men, stand ready!” Men and Drow prepared themselves for the coming assault.
The Haradrim did not charge home. Instead they halted and unleashed a volley of a hundred arrows all aimed at a single target.
Cierre.Glossary of Drow Phrases
’ = ‘human’ (plural/singular)
’ = ‘Commander’ (female)
’ = ‘Surface Elf’
’ = ‘Elves/Elven’
’ = ‘Move’
• ‘Plynn lindith
’ = ‘Take aim’
’ = ‘and shoot’
• ‘A’dos quarth
’ = ‘At your command’
’ = ‘Victory’
• ‘Izil dos quarth/’zil dos quarth
’ = ‘As you command’
• ‘Usstan rothrl
’ = ‘I obey’
• ‘Usstan nym’uer lu’rothrl
’ = ‘I hear and obey’
• ‘Usstan zhal xun ’zil dos quarth
’ = ‘I shall do as you command’
’ (Rohirric) = ‘What is it?’
• ‘Hwa eart þu?
’ (Rohirric) = ‘Who are you?’
• ‘He hafað awierdnese
’ (Rohirric) = ‘He is wounded’
• ‘cum her
’ (Rohirric) = ‘Come here’