Penumbra

Two days after the battle outside the Prancing Pony, Deverell and I passed through the southern gate of Bree-town and onto the Great East Road.  After the chill that had lingered in the days before, the newfound warmth was most welcome.  The preternatural winter had been broken for now.

I stopped Dandi to watch Deverell as she tarried by the gate for one last look before we were to away.  That the foe had reached the very doorstep of our home and nearly taken it for themselves was beyond unsettling.

Halbarad’s task for us had been to achieve what our enemy had done instead, to slip past outer lines and defenses, to strike at our foe, in places and in ways that would catch them unaware.

We instead found ourselves endeavoring just to keep pace with them, a trailing shadow on the distant edge of a powerful force…

Deverell finally turned Dancer onto the road, and we were away.

We rode through Bree-land and crossed into the Lone-lands…

…where the memory of battle still lingered, like the chill of the late-winter air surrounding us…

We found no trouble with the Eglain and pressed eastward, over the Last Bridge and into the Trollshaws…

…a land of great beauty, and great menace, and one that held a precious secret.

Memories of the time I had spent in this land in earlier days washed over me, the many friends I had come to know.

All was still and quiet…

Too quiet…

We had met no one on the road, nor the hills surrounding it where elven scouts kept watch from above…

Once we reached the forest path leading to Thorenhad, a settlement that overlooked the great road from a rise to its north, and found it abandoned, we hastened to the ford that allowed passage over the Bruinen…

…and further, onto the winding roads that led upward into the great foothills of the Misties.

By the light of the full moon we raced over hidden trails, known only to those called ally by the Lord of the secret vale.

And there, on the path leading into the vale, we met the elves heading toward us.  A great force of the Enemy has been seen gathering by the elven scouts, and it was now fast approaching.  Lord Elrond had sent his defenders to stop them at the ford of the Bruinen.

Deverell and I took up places amongst the procession and marched with them down to the water below.

The Enemy had proven more swift once again.  We would be defenders once more… 

The forces of evil had marched up to the bank of the Bruinen and waited for the sign to attack. Dark clouds rolled in as a great storm approached.  We knew if the Ford were to fall, Rivendell would not be far behind it…

I heard in my mind Hithlim’s warning once again…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Ford of Bruinen. Size: Duo. Tier: 3]

I clasped Deverell’s hand in mine and looked to her.  We both were so weary, weary of war, and of battle, and all that came with it…

But there was no rest for us now.  Battle was upon us…

Deverell nodded to me, and we then walked down the river’s bank to where the sons of Lord Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, would lead our defense of the ford.

“Come, let us meet them in the middle of the Ford and dare them to come forth!” cried Elrohir.

We came to the middle of the Ford and surveyed the enemy force.  They had siege towers from which to traverse the defenses placed on the western bank in safety.  We would battle in the shallows of the river, keeping the enemy away from the eastern bank and our archers as best we could.

The oncoming storm kept us shrouded in whatever dim light was able to pierce the clouds above while the rain soaked us through.

The leader of the enemy force stood atop the central tower, looking down upon us as he prepared his first assault…

“This Ford will become your grave!” shouted Elladan defiantly at our foe, and his brother replied in kind…

“We will not allow you to cross these waters.  Rivendell shall never fall to your kind!”

I watched as the enemy leader thrust his arm toward us, and those at the front of his forces began scaling the siege towers, dropping onto the bank before us as the rain above…

Our battle had begun…

Fiends of all sorts came forth to engage us, wooden trolls and orcs at the fore.  They met us in the waters, amongst the whipping winds and stinging rain that swirled beneath the darkened clouds above.

We battled in darkness…

…save for when lightning crashed above, turning night into day for but a brief moment before darkness settled once more…

I skulked toward an orc in battle with Elladan, striking it down as the sound of chittering and many splashes in the water came from behind…

Friend and foe alike turned to gaze upon the creature…

…as we struck down one foe, only to face another far more deadly…

We feared, yet knew not, what evils would be visited upon us that day…

As we battled the great spider, more foes leapt down from the siege towers, threatening to overwhelm us.  Elrohir signaled to the archers on the eastern bank, but their volleys could not pierce the swirling winds…

“We cannot fire through this rain!” their leader called out to us.

I glanced over to the western bank and, through the rain, I spied some orcish shamans standing before the siege towers, holding their wooden staves aloft in the air…

“The orcish sorcerers!” I shouted.  “They are strengthening the storm!”

Elrohir turned at once and began to sprint through the wind and the rain toward the shamans, but my cry stopped him…

“No, I will go!  Protect the others!” I screamed, trying to make myself heard over the blustering of the storm.

I reached the western bank where the sorcerers chanted their evil curses.  Through the wooden poles and between the siege towers of the enemy, I glimpsed the sight of a veritable army, scores of evil beings teeming just beyond reach…

I struck down the orcish shamans and the winds and rain subsided briefly, long enough for the brothers to bring down the spider with the aid of the archers.  But more wielding dark magics were soon to come in their place and bolster the storm once more.

That was one battle of the many we would face that day…

An evil man of Angmar leapt onto the Ford.  He wielded powerful magics that turned our blades away from him…

…whilst he called out to the crebain he held in thrall to harry us, allowing both his attacks, and those of his allies, to strike true…

With his magics and his thralls he mocked us, but we first drove them back, and then down into the water, where they remained still…

And hope remained with us, for we knew we did not battle alone…

…though it was by our hands that most of the foe was slain…

In the midst of the battle, I did not spy a dangerous foe skulk behind me, and the cries of my allies came too late.  Were it not for the twin blades that rose from the water and dealt death to that fiend, his blade would have found me instead.

From afar, the Lord of the Secret Vale watched over our battle, and he lent his aid to us as he was able.

The brothers gave rise to both voice and spirit…

“The ford shall never fall!”

“Rivendell shall stand forever free!”

We gathered ourselves in the scant moments we were able…

…before rushing to meet the Enemy’s unrelenting assault once more…

More orcish shamans came to strengthen the storm swirling about us.  They called to spirits long dead for aid…

Wood trolls lured into service of the Enemy from the woods of the region battled us, meaning to drive us from the Ford…

We wove between them, circling, maneuvering for the chance to make an unfettered strike…

…and while our blades found their mark often, there always came another foe to take the place of those that had fallen…

We battled on, through the cold winds and rain, fighting down terrors while fearing what the enemy general might next unleash upon us from his perch above the battle…

Ogres bounded off the siege towers that groaned and creaked beneath their weight, leaping down onto the Ford to engage us in battle, with orc and goblin kind following behind…

We wore them down, sacrificing speed to save our strength for the rest of the battle to come, hoping we would last to their end…

Elladan and I finished the last of the assault as lightning crashed above us.  More of the sorcerers had come to give life to the storm once again…

A swarm of goblins and orcs, followed by more of the wood trolls, dropped down to the Ford…

They threatened to surround us, to reach the eastern bank of the Bruinen…

…to break through the narrow, wavering line we strove to maintain, to keep those behind us safe…

All depended on us standing firm and turning the foe away.  There was no falling back to a safe place…

There could be no retreat…

It was then, as we battled the last of that assault, that I heard a sound in the distance.  Through the haze and the mist of the storm, I spied movement just beyond…

The enemy forces had stopped their advance and begun milling about behind their fortifications restlessly.  We gathered at the center of the Ford to rally ourselves while we peered westward through the storm…

“What are those?  More siege towers?” Deverell asked breathlessly.

The sound of footfalls upon the path began to grow louder and more clear.  Shrouded forms began to take shape…

“Giants!” cried Elrohir.  “They have made a pact with the giants!”

“If this place will mark their end or ours, let it be theirs!” answered Elladan.

We steeled ourselves for the enemy’s final assault as the giants stepped over the fortifications and onto the Ford…

“Archers!  Archers, bring them down!” cried Elladan.

Lightning flashed around us as some of the arrows let loose by elven archers found their mark.  But most were turned away by the storm…

More wood trolls joined the battle as we sought safely from the giants’ malicious steps…

I spied Elrohir surrounded by foes and rushed to his aid, striking at the giant that approached…

We brought him down but, in the ensuing scrum, we did not notice another approaching threat quickly enough…

“Brother!”

“Kaleigh, watch out!”

We cried out with pain as the giant’s blow sent us hurtling over the Ford, crashing down upon the far bank of the river.

Our foes advanced upon us…

But we raced back over the Ford to engage them. halting their advance.  With great effort, we then drove them slowly back to their own bank, fighting with all our strength for every inch of ground we gained…

…only to lose that ground once again…

…in but a matter of moments…

As we battled on, surrounded on all sides by our foe, the swirling winds, and the stinging rain alike, the little hope that I held in my heart began to grow dark.  I feared the Enemy was too strong for us to hold back…

Even as we struck down their forces, more came in their place, with no end to them in sight.  The storm cast all beyond the banks of the river into impenetrable shadow…

We were besieged on all sides, battling moment to moment just to remain standing, all the while witness to feats of strength wrought by the giants that were beyond reckoning…

While rushing to aid Elrohir, one of the giants unknowingly caught me with the backswing of his next strike, lifting me off my feet and flinging me toward the sharpened wooden pikes that formed the barricade protecting the enemy’s forces…

In the smallest of moments, I twisted myself in mid-air to avoid the pikes…

…pushing off of them to catch and right myself, before leaping down to the ford to engage the enemy once more…

We battled, aware that our end might come at any moment.  Despair gripped my heart, and my strength waned…

My vision was clouded, my eyes stinging from the water splashed and kicked up by the giants, and the wet gave weight to all that I bore upon me…

Slowly, I lumbered to engage more of the wood trolls that had joined the battle.  They struck at me with their branches and spat their bitter sap, slowing me further…

I heard Deverell cry out, but her voice was carried away on the storm.  My vision had narrowed to what stood just before me, alone…

I drove the wood troll down into the water, nearly falling in with him.  I caught myself and slowly rose up once more…

They battered me senseless…

…and I was near, more near than I had ever come before…

As I waited for my end, the foes before me began to buckle, from behind…

Lightning flashed, illuminating all around us,  The shroud of shadow was lifted, and we could finally see…

“These are their last!” cried Elrohir.

“Rally!  Rally and make this their end!” answered Elladan.

The stillness beyond the enemy barricade stirred me, and the brothers’ cries gave rise to my heart…

We were within reach of routing the entire enemy force…

We battled what remained of the enemy, quickly gaining the upper hand…

The enemy general shouted vile curses upon us, as he witnessed the end of his army from the top of his tower…

We toppled the last vestiges of the great threat we had thwarted, then turned to face the one who had led them…

…and watched in astonishment, as he let out a strangled cry before leaping from his tower down to the Ford and engaged us in battle…

As we moved to encircle the uruk, he bellowed deeply.  From the western bank of the Bruinen, we saw an enormous troll emerge from the rock and stone that sheltered the river.

As the troll raced toward us, the river frothed near the falls to our north.  From the water arose a herd of galloping horses that raced by, spraying us with foam.

“Father!  Father aides us!” cried Elrohir.

The uruk looked toward me as I approached.  I felt a chill as he raised his first and spoke dark, dark words.  An icy hand grasped at my heart…

Night brightened to day for a brief moment as lightning pierced the sky.  The uruk set his troll upon me while he faced the others…

I shuddered as I heard my friends cry out in pain.  The uruk had cast a ring of fire about them from which he did battle, as I endeavored to keep the troll away.

I held it at bay but just barely.  My legs were heavy and my mind slowed by the mark upon me and all that had come before that day…

Then the moment I was holding on for came.  I breathed in deeply and braced myself, as the troll readied to let loose a fearsome strike…

The water rushed over us.  I felt my body nearly twist itself apart as I collapsed onto myself to avoid the troll’s fist and the force of the galloping host that leapt over me.

The troll toppled, crashing down onto the Ford and into rubble that was carried away by the river…

I lifted myself from the ground and raced over to where the others battled the uruk general.  His mark upon me had failed, as did the circle of fire he had cast before.  His dark magics were at their end…

But one yet remained whose powers were true.  From behind the uruk, I spied ripples in the water.  Twin blades arose…

I set myself for a moment and then charged forward, taking the uruk by surprise.  He stepped back, ready to meet me with his axe…

The twin blades swung upward, cutting the uruk’s legs from under him.  He fell backward into the water and was no more…

The four of us stood silently over the body of the enemy general as we gathered ourselves and the sky brightened around us.  We looked to one another as the enormity of what we had achieved began to set in…

“Rivendell will long remember those who came to her aid in her time of greatest need. Your deeds shall not soon be forgotten,” Elladan said softly.

“Today will be marked as a great victory… one we would not have made without your help. Rivendell thanks you,” said Elrohir.

Deverell embraced me from behind, and I clasped her arm.  Tears welled in my eyes, for they were all I had left to give that day…

I was battling, battling, battling… to surface…

…to claw my way from the darkness…

…back into the light…

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