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Aug 26, 12:00pm
The Witch of Angmar
LOTR Fan Fiction: The Witch of Angmar #6
Legacy of the Fellowship
It took Salrean, Rose and Peri nearly four days to reach the far side of the Dim Hills. A sudden change in the weather had slowed them considerably. The first signs of autumn arrived with a bite to the air, gusting winds, and storms that rumbled in from the north every afternoon before unleashing their fury on the world below.
Rose soon discovered that, despite her dreams of journeys and adventure, she was not so fond of travelling after all. True to their name, the Dim Hills were drab and grey; covered with wind-stunted trees and blackthorn. It was a dismal place, and one she and Peri were glad not to linger in. After spending the first night trying to find a comfortable spot upon a ground strewn with lumpy tree roots, followed by a windy day interspersed with showers that never allowed her clothes to dry, Rose started to sorely miss her parents’ comfortable hobbit hole, her soft mattress and goose-feather pillows. By the third morning, when she woke up sneezing, and with her limbs aching, Rose could not believe she had ever lamented the comfort and security of her old life.
Peri was right – she had known nothing of the world beyond the Shire. No wonder he had mocked her. Peri, for his part, appeared to be dealing with the discomforts of their journey more stoically than her, while Salrean hardly seemed to notice the driving rain, howling wind or wet ground they were forced to sleep on every night.
Late morning, on their third day out from Hobbiton, they encountered a village.
“This is Trill,” Salrean told them as she led the way into the settlement.
Trill appeared little more than a collection of thatch-roofed hovels scattered around a muddy clearing. A tall fence, made of sharp wooden palings, ringed the village.
“The people here are of Dúnedain blood, like me,” Salrean continued. “I stayed here on my way south. We should be safe enough while I replenish our supplies.”
“Are we staying overnight?” Rose asked with a sneeze. She blew her nose on her handkerchief and dared to hope that she could sleep once more on a real mattress. Her sniffles had deteriorated into a terrible cold. She wanted nothing more than to rest a bit.
Salrean shook her head, dashing Rose’s hopes into the mud. “There is no time. We must press north.”
The hobbits stifled their disappointment and gazed around at the village with interest – everything was so much bigger here, so much taller. Villagers came out to greet the newcomers, their gaze settling curiously on the hobbits. Rose was amazed to see that most of the children were her height. They were a tall, lean race, with the same high cheek bones as Salrean – the same long, dark hair and brooding eyes.
Yet, even Salrean stood out here. The other women wore long ankle-length tunics, cinched in at the waist with girdles. One or two wore veils over their hair. Salrean strode through the village like a man, and dressed like one, despite her long dark hair that hung in a long braid over one shoulder. The long sword she carried swung at her side as she walked.
An elderly man, obviously the village leader, greeted the ranger in the muddy central clearing.
“Salrean! What’s this?” he boomed, his keen gaze sweeping over her two companions. “Halflings! I don’t believe it.”
Salrean’s serious face blossomed into a smile. Watching her, Rose realised that it was the first real smile she had seen the ranger give since they had left the Shire.
“Believe it Wendill,” Salrean slapped him on the back. “Let me introduce Rose Fairbairn and Pericles Took – descendants of Samwise the Great and Peregrin Took.”
Wendill’s eyes widened. “Now I’ve seen everything.”
A crowd of villagers was now forming around them, and Rose felt her already flushed cheeks grow hot under their scrutiny. She was not used to being the centre of attention, or to looking different to everyone else. Beside her, Peri was starting to look a little concerned.
“Do the folk here like hobbits?” he hissed at Salrean. She turned from Wendill and looked down at him with a smile.
“The folk here have never seen a hobbit before today. They know history well enough though; that ‘twas hobbits that saved Middle Earth from Sauron. Don’t be troubled Master Took – you will come to no harm in Trill.”
Seated at a long table in front of a glowing fire pit in Wendill’s hall, Rose took a spoonful of mutton broth and sighed contentedly. The hot liquid was a soothing balm on her scratchy throat; its heat seeping through her aching limbs and easing the discomfort of her cold. Beside her, Peri ripped off a piece of bread from one of the huge loaves in the centre of the table and took a bite. Chewing hungrily, Peri watched Wendill and Salrean converse at the opposite end of the table.
“Don’t you trust her?” Rose asked Peri, upon seeing the direction of his gaze.
Peri shook his head and began to butter his bread.
“Has she given me reason to?”
“She’s looked after us well enough so far.”
Peri shrugged, before frowning. “Trust is earned.”
Rose returned to her broth and caught a few sentences of Wendill and Salrean’s conversation.
“Any news from the north?” Salrean asked. “Has my father sent word of the witch’s movements?”
Wendill shook his head. “Nay, but we have had increasing problems with goblins in the past week or so. Two raids since I saw you last – the biggest bands yet.”
Salrean’s face darkened. “Did you lose any warriors?”
“A few – men we could not afford to lose.”
Salrean looked troubled. “They are growing bold.”
“Aye, and with good reason. ‘Tis true then that Morwyn plans to march south?”
Wendill’s face grew grave. There was no need to mention what would happen if Morwyn’s army of hillmen and goblins managed to reach Trill, or of the thousands who would have already perished in Farnost if the Witch of Angmar’s plans were successful.
“You will send word?” he asked quietly, “If it comes to that, you will give me a chance to get my people to safety?”
“Of course,” Salrean replied, before her face hardened. “Yet, I believe it will not come to pass. A great distance still lies between here and Angmar. Arnor has been rebuilt. ‘Tis true these lands are not as powerful as the kingdoms of old, but with Farnost and Annúminas rebuilt, there is hope. There is courage.”
“Of course lass,” Wendill smiled. “Our people have known so much bloodshed over the years, such fear, that it has tempered us like blades. The long peace seemed merely a blink of an eye to us.”
“Peace will come again,” Salrean replied with such conviction that Rose, still listening, believed her. “Darkness will not prevail.”
They left Trill in the early afternoon, walking north into the gently falling rain. Wendill had given Salrean plenty of food to last them for the next leg of their journey – two loaves of bread, cured ham, hard cheese and a bag of apples. It was another four days to Annúminas and Salrean informed them that there would be no another villages en-route.
The hot meal had done Rose much good, and she set off in much higher spirits than she had started the day in. Around her, the rain fell in a silent mist. The wind that had battered them for the last couple of days had died and not a whisper of a breeze stirred the trees around them.
They walked through a rugged landscape of sparse woods and rocky valleys; a land far removed from the rolling green of the Shire. The foreignness of it gave Rose yet another pang of homesickness for her home in the Tower Hills. It was so untamed out here, and forgotten. At times, it felt as if they were the only three beings alive in Middle Earth.
The light gradually faded and the grey day slipped into a gloomy dusk.
Salrean was leading them down the side of a wooded ravine, in search of a suitable campsite for the night, when Peri, who had been trailing behind Rose, called out.
“Rose, your sword! It’s glowing.”
Rose stopped, turning back to Peri with a frown.
“What are you talking about?”
Rose looked down at where Sting hung in its scabbard around her hips. A faint blue glow emanated from the top of the scabbard.
“Draw your sword Rose,” Salrean instructed. Peri’s words had caused her to retrace her steps back to where the two hobbits stood.
Rose slowly did as asked; sharply inhaling as the beautifully crafted blade shone blue in the dusk.
“Why does it glow so?” Salrean asked, genuinely mystified.
“‘Tis a warning,” Peri replied, his voice suddenly brittle. Peri knew – all hobbits did – what Sting’s blade glowing blue meant. They had all heard the tales from the Red Book enough times to never forget it. “Goblins are about.”
At that moment, three silhouettes burst from the trees ahead.
Rose’s breath caught in her throat. She only had to take one look at the three shapes, even at this distance, to know that they were not men. They did not move like men. They were smaller than the warriors Rose had seen in Trill. They bent forward and had an odd, shambling, scampering gait.
As they drew close, Salrean drew forth her sword in one sweeping arc and strode forward to meet them.
“Get back,” she shouted to Rose and Peri. Not needing to be told twice, the two hobbits clung together and scrambled back up the ravine.
Rose caught a glimpse of the goblins as they drew closer, and her limbs turned to jelly. These three were dressed for battle, encased in scavenged pieces of leather and plate armour. They had large pointed ears, and their skin was pale with a green tinge, as if they never saw daylight. Bulbous, staring eyes with pinprick pupils, fastened on the hobbits. One of them fixed its gaze upon Rose. Then it smiled, revealing a mouth full of sharp, rotting teeth.
“Halflings,” it crowed in obvious glee. “So far from home.”
With that, the goblin raised its curved sword and rushed straight for Rose.
Salrean leaped to intercept it; her long blade slicing into the goblin’s abdomen. It crumpled with a blood-curdling scream that echoed down the ravine. Not pausing, Salrean stepped over the fallen goblin and engaged its two companions, her cloak billowing behind her as she moved.
The goblins fought savagely, but without Salrean’s grace or skill. Still, it was two against one, and the fight dragged out, the sound of clashing steel ringing in Rose ears.
Yet, she and Peri were so intent on watching Salrean fight that they did not notice the wounded goblin crawling along the ground towards them. It was only when Peri heard the rattle of its breath that he glanced down. The goblin was just a few feet away from them, and it was reaching towards Rose’s ankle. Seeing Peri’s gaze upon it, the goblin staggered to its feet, clutching his grievously-wounded mid-section.
“Rose!” Peri shouted.
It came at her, maddened; swinging its lethal blade like a scythe.
Without thinking, Rose raised Sting before her. The goblin’s staring eyes fastened on the blade, its face freezing.
“An elf blade!” it shrieked, shrinking back, its face twisting.
The moment of hesitation was all Rose had. She knew that if she did not act, the goblin would skewer her; Salrean would never reach her in time.
She rushed forward, gripping Sting’s hilt with both hands, and plunged the blade into the base of its neck.
The goblin dropped its sword and fell gurgling. Horrified, Rose dropped Sting and scrambled backwards, before losing her footing and falling onto her bottom.
Salrean dispatched the third goblin and wiped her blade clean on a bed of ferns. Then, she turned to her companions. She saw Rose sitting, wide-eyed on the ground, next to a goblin – the goblin she had thought she had already killed.
Sting lay on the ground next to the fallen goblin. As Salrean watched, the blade’s pale-blue fire faded.
Salrean sheathed her sword and strode over to Rose, helping her to her feet. Then, she picked up Sting and examined the blade.
“An Elvish long knife,” she murmured, her gaze tracing the writing that curved along the flat of the blade. “I cannot read Elvish, what does it say?”
“Maegnas aen estar nin dagnir in yngyl im,” Rose replied, “Sting is my name; I am the spider's bane”. Tears welled in her eyes then. “My father used to recite it to me.”
Salrean wiped Sting’s blade clean on the undergrowth and handed the weapon back to Rose. “Few weapons remain that were crafted by the Elves. ‘Tis a beautiful blade, and a very useful one to carry with you in a land crawling with goblins. Keep it safe.”
Rose nodded and sheathed Sting without comment.
“Are you both unhurt?” Salrean’s gaze swept over the hobbits pale faces, relieved to see that even though the skirmish had given them a fright, they were not cowed. She had read that despite their rosy-cheeked, gentle appearance, hobbits were made of sterner stuff than other races gave them credit for. She was glad to see the stories were indeed true.
“Yes,” Peri replied, “a bit shaken but well enough.”
“Come,” she said with a brief, tight smile. “These three will be scouts – there’s bound to be a larger band nearby. We should move on, and quickly.”
Needing no encouragement, Rose and Peri followed Salrean down the wooded slope, and into the gathering dusk.