It seemed to Arra that she had barely laid her head on the pack she used as a pillow before Vanyon tapped her on the shoulder to awaken her. The fire had died down to a few glowing embers. Only the faintest lightening of the eastern sky foretold the coming dawn. The night was at its coldest and she shivered as she cast her cloak off and stumbled down to the river to get some water to drink and wash her face.
From: Perth, Scotland | Registered: Jun 2001
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Fortunately the west bank of the Lhûn was easy going for the horses, the only obstacle being the occasional stream winding down from the Ered Luin. The captive Southrons had been loaded onto one of the animals, so Arra and Melyanna shared another of the beasts. When they had been riding for an hour or so, Amaranth made off westwards to find the shortest route to Shazûr-dûm with a shouted farewell.
Vanyon wished to press on with all speed, and the party of four and their captives did not halt until the sun stood overhead. The Southrons' hands were tied, so they had to be helped off their horse. They sat on the ground while Melyanna gave them a little water and food. The second captive muttered something to Rafkhîsh in their own language as they sat side by side.
'What is he saying, Rafkhîsh?' Vanyon asked.
'Ukhtîm want to know where we go, what happen to us, master,' the Southron replied reluctantly. 'Afraid Northland-men and White Demons kill us or make slave, work to death.'
'You are going to be taken before King Elessar,' the scout answered. 'King Alazaar, you understand? You need not fear ill-treatment from the King. When this trouble is over you will be allowed to return to your own land in peace, if you wish.'
'Very good, master,' Rafkhîsh replied, trying to smile in a friendly fashion, and showing a missing tooth.
'I feel almost sorry for them,' Dúathuin remarked to Vanyon out of the captives' hearing. 'They should be no trouble.'
'Indeed. It is plain that these two are no more than pawns,' the Elda replied. 'I warrant they will find better treatment among us than they ever got from the priests of Umbar, let alone this "Great Master" of theirs, but their minds are full of fears.'
'Amaranth wouldn't really have sat this Rafkhîsh in the fire would he, Vanyon?' Melyanna asked.
The Elda laughed. 'Of course not - but he didn't know that! Give them a little more water before we . .'
Vanyon suddenly broke off and looked back the way they had ridden. Dúathuin followed his glance.
'What . . ?' Arra asked.
'Quiet!' the elf said. They had halted in a small hollow on the banks of the river, and both scouts now ran to the top of the bank and peered over cautiously. The girls heard nothing but the gurgling of the Lhûn among the stones and the odd bird call in the trees. Dúathuin went a little to the left, away from the noise of the river. He laid his head to the ground. Meanwhile, Vanyon was climbing swiftly but cautiously up a gnarled pine tree at the top of the bank. Arra and Melyanna watched breathlessly. Suddenly, Arra had a thought. She whispered in her friend's ear.
'The captives! We must guard them - see they don't make a noise!'
'You're right!' Melyanna replied. 'Best get our knives out.'
The girls drew their dwarvish daggers and stood by the captives. Arra held her blade against Ukhtîm's throat and put her finger to her lips in a gesture universally understood. The Southron gulped and closed his mouth tight.
Dúathuin raised his head from the ground, glanced at the girls, nodded in approval at what they were doing, and hurried to the base of the tree Vanyon has climbed.
'Horses - a great many!' he whispered upwards.
'I see them,' Vanyon replied in a low voice. He watched for a few more moments then scrambled back down the tree, and came back down to the bottom of the hollow.
'There are some hundreds of horsemen approaching the other side of the river. No doubt they intend to cross in those shallows we passed back a-ways a little. Some of them are clad in red.'
'I see the flash of swords and lances. You, Rafkhîsh, who are the red horsemen?' he asked the captive sternly.
'Is priests of Temple of Lord of the Dark and their chief warriors, master,' the Southron replied. 'Oh master, protect us! If they know I have told anything, they will kill us and curse us to the Dark! They will . .'
'Silence! If they come this way, we will be hard put to escape,' Vanyon said.
'We will certainly have to abandon the captives,' Dúathuin said.
'Yes. But I suspect they are heading for Shazûr-dûm. The Valar speed Amaranth if they are!'
'He will probably see them following if he looks back. The land rises as one approaches the Mountains.'
'We can only hope so. Get the horses ready for instant flight. I will give the signal.'
Vanyon ran back to the lip of the hollow and scrambled back up the pine-tree. The other three stood by their horses, Dúathuin holding Vanyon's. The girls stroked their mounts' muzzles, trying to keep the horses - and themselves - calm. The waiting was terrible.
After some minutes, a distant sound of splashing could be heard faintly - the horsemen were crossing the Lhûn, only a few hundred yards away. The three below looked up at Vanyon. After what seemed hours he pointed towards the Mountains. The horsemen would pass them by! Vanyon jumped down from the tree.
'They are heading straight for the Mountains,' he said. 'I saw none turn from the path. In a few moments more, they will pass beyond sight. The fall of the land should hide us from them. Melyanna!'
'You are the lightest and the best horseman. You also know the land between here and Rivermeet. I want you to ride ahead without delay. Stop for nothing until you have warned the fort of this attack. Go! At once!'
'Yes, Vanyon!' Melyanna replied, and leapt onto her horse. She topped the edge of the little hollow, and then disappeared. The hoof-beats swiftly died away.
'We will follow with what speed we may. You two,' he said, addressing the Haradrim. 'If you truly wish not to meet your Masters again, you will do nothing to delay us.'
'No, sir,' Rafkhîsh said. 'We no trouble, no trouble.'
'Good. I am going to cut your bonds. If you try any treachery you will die swiftly. Now, get on this horse.'
'Tell your fellow there that if he wants our protection he must follow the river until he comes to a little town. He can surrender there. He is no threat to us if he does decide to make his way back to the horsemen. Tell him!'
Rafkhîsh spoke rapidly to Ukhtîm. He looked frightened.
'He is not want to be left alone in wild lands, master,' Rafkhîsh said.
'It cannot be helped. You, Ukhtîm, come here!'
The Elda took out his knife. The Southron opened his mouth to scream, but shut it again, looking foolish, when Vanyon merely cut the rope tied round his hands.
'Now on, friends,' Vanyon said. The four rode on south with all speed, leaving Ukhtîm alone to undo his bonds in the little hollow behind them. If they had looked back, they would have seen the Southerner look south then north several times before finally plumping for the path south along the riverbank, muttering to himself in a frightened voice in his own tongue.
It's amazing to think that Arra would have been 30 next year. I didn't know her as I joined over a year after she died but I know there were a few former regulars who were close to her. I often wonder how her family are doing.
From: Hades, UK | Registered: Mar 2003
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