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Leafblade

Somewhere Up In The Night (part 7 by Leafblade)

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Somewhere Up In The Night

 

“I know I can't ask you to bring back my daughter,” Leafblade said. He looked down for a moment, adjusting his gloves unnecessarily as words caught in his throat. Andwuld and Dams stood nearby at the gate in Thangulhad. The Golden Host had amassed all its strength and moved out some hours ago, clearing the nearby forest of enemies and filtering through the darkness toward various strike points around the dark fortress of Dol Guldur. In moments, the Order of the Tower Guard would move out to play its role in the assault upon Barad Guldur and the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. To challenge the might of the Nazgul directly and all the dangers held within the dark tower would require the greatest skill and surpassing good fortune for any hope of success. Focus upon the goal was of paramount importance. During such undertakings, hard decisions often had to be made. He knew that his fellow members of the Order could not waste time and energy looking out for his daughter. To do so would compromise their chances for success. One simply did not ask that of his fellows.

 

He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly through quiet, exhaled words, “But please bring her back.”

 

“Leeeaf,” Dams replied in a mock chiding tone while hefting a mighty guardian's shield crafted almost as elaborately as his hair . “It's called a shield wall, mate. She'll be back in no time a'tall.” Dams gave Leaf a playful bump with the shield and stalked toward the gate where their horses awaited. With sheathed sword at his waist, guardian's shield at his side, mighty battleaxe strapped to his back, elf-crafted Mallorn bow slung over the other shoulder, knives and pouches at his belt along with the full suit of heavy armor, Dams looked like a storm of battle ready to be unleashed upon the enemy.

Andwuld placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “We'll bring back Faenel too.” Leaf looked to the mannish champion and longtime friend to see him winking as he turned away to follow Dams. Leafblade looked down for a moment, ashamed to have breached the warrior etiquette in making his request but knowing his mates understood. He turned to check the saddle on his steed again when Andwuld's voice sounded again.

 

“And whatever you're doing with that horse that you shouldn't be...”

 

Leafblade looked over his shoulder at Andwuld to see him looking over his as he walked away and heard him say, “Be careful.”

 

Andwuld was right. Leafblade was in no condition to enter battle. He could walk on his leg, but walking and engaging an enemy in melee were two different things. He simply was not capable of at the moment without falling to the ground at the first hint of a twist or pivot on the damaged knee. But staying in Ost Galad or back in Lothlorien while the Order undertook it's greatest challenge was out of the question. And so he would do what he could. It had taken an angry reminder to Dundurion of the Golden Host that it was Leafblade who had rescued him at the Haunted Inn when the wraiths had closed in. Only then did the elf relent and agree to the captain attaching himself to their strike in through the front gate.

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His parting words for his daughter had been difficult. The unspoken concern they would not see each other again had hung in the air between them like a dreadful morning mist. He spoke of after and moving back over the mountains and south into Rohan with Order. Of her opportunity to see the fabulous horses found there. Lastly he spoke to her of the coming battle. Instructed her to be decisive, for indecision had lost many a battle, stay near to Dams and take no chances. Antwanette had heard it all before but listened dutifully as her father gave the instructions that were more about a father saying I love you to a daughter than a captain preparing a loremaster for battle. She hugged her father, promising to follow his directions so they could go see the horses in Rohan together. Before the night was over, being decisive was the only promise she would keep.

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Banneratthegate.jpg?t=1391286417

 

He planted the banner in front of the main gate. The gate beckoned to him, standing open and unguarded. The Lieutenant of Dol Guldur had an ego. Long dead, or trapped between life and death, the Nazgul was once a proud man from the far eastern lands. His pride endured even when many of his other human facets had vanished with his descent into darkness and servitude to the Dark Lord of the Rings. So he had, Leafblade judged, allowed his fortress to breathe. To inhale challengers and exhale death. The gates had been opened in bold challenge to the Free Peoples when spies reported intrusion into the forest. Nowhere had it been more apparent than the Sword Halls. Leafblade thought he was to die that hour when he strode boldly into the Sword Halls only to see the Nazgul. He survived only because the Black Rider, the Nazgul, the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur had laughed and sent forth champions as challengers to he and his companions. When they had answered the challenge and triumphed over the morroval, the uruks and the troll, they had been allowed to leave Dol Guldur. Fortune favored the foolish that day. But Leafblade had learned something about the Nazgul that day as well. The pride of the Lieutenant clouded his judgment. And it would cost him. Gorothul, his own lieutenant, had been slain by Dams and the Order in a strike that would have been nearly impossible if the gates of the fortress had been closed. Yet still, the gates remained open in challenge.

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To the south, at the base of the volcanic mountain upon which Dol Guldur was built, the small band from the Order and the Golden Host had entered the hidden cave once used by Gandalf long ago. Their ascent through the shadowy bowels of Amon Lanc had begun.

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The orc camps at Hongoi, Lugdump and Burzkala were already in flames to the north. The siege engines atop Kufuzg were burning brightly. There was little time to think now. The strike force of the Golden Host was approaching from behind. He brought the horn to his lips. Each action he would take would play a role in distracting the enemy from the main thrust of the attack. It was turning the enemy's focus away from his daughter and to himself. Leafblade blew into the captain's horn, signalling the charge and the challenge to the forces of Dol Guldur. He yanked his standard from the ground and held it high as he rode at a gallop in through the open gates of Dol Guldur. The elves of Lorien rushed in with him or struck from the shadows inside.

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Inside Dol Guldur, Edinellion spearheaded the Order's charge through a gauntlet of uruks and wargs that barred entry into the tower proper. The fiercest of the Lieutenant's minions were terrors to behold, but within those narrow halls and stairs, face to face with the might of the Order, they were swept aside.

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With the many forays of the Free Peoples into the sprawling vastness of Dol Guldur, the layout of the castle was well known. The Golden Host struck swiftly and in many places. When captains of the enemy emptied their barracks and pens and dark holes to answer the challenge, they struck at an enemy that was no longer there.

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Inside the tower, while the shields of Dams and Edinellion held the armored shade of Durchest at bay, the sword of Andwuld swept the winged helm from its shoulders.

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Leafblade rode down another orc scout and slowed his horse looking for other enemies. The forces of Dol Guldur raged to and fro but were confounded by the elusive nature of their enemy. In and out of courtyards, behind screens of smoke and flame, in shadows and moonlight, the Golden Host struck and withdrew, delayed and deflected, one attempt after another of the enemy to bring the weight of their superior forces into a crushing confrontation.

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High above, the alchemy of Casandir and melodic tones of Faenel countered the deadly fires and waves of fear that swept over the members of the Order as they faced Cargaraf and Morgaraf, the Twins of Fire and Shadow. The tainted spirit of Morgaraf passed into darkness, his last sight the point of Nocona's dagger erupting from his chest. The shrill, tortured wail of Cargaraf at the sight of her brother's fall brought some to their knees in agony, but was cut short by the final warden spear thrust of Scary.

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Leafblade exited an inner courtyard, leading a pursuing company of orcs into a ruinous ambush from archers of the Golden Host concealed in the shadows outside. The portcullis was dropped, blocking the escape of a greater host from within, but trolls were coming and the gate would soon be raised...or broken down. Dundurion led them to the next strike point, but as they moved, Leaf could see ire of the Dol Guldur was aroused. Horns were sounding, orcs and wargs emerging from unseen sally ports, and room to play the game of war was vanishing. The Golden Host was playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse and the jaws of the enemy were threatening to close.

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Near the peak of the dark tower, the Order emerged into the night only to be faced by an advancing sea of shimmering wights. Dams and Edinellion raised shields and prepared to fight to the last, but the valor of the Order might have failed if not for the brilliant fighting retreat called for and orchestrated by Nocona. The retreat back down the ramps kept the members of the Order alive and brought the minions of death into firing range time and again. The rain of silver arrows from Eldiraen and Artemir, the hurled fires of Casandir and Antwanette, and the lightning runes of Scillari whittled away the enemy ranks until all were left in ruin. The Order regrouped and moved to the tower's peak once more. One final challenge remained. Keiros planted the banner with the emblems of the Order upon the summit of the dark tower.

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Far below, the storm of war was growing around Leafblade. He had led a flanking attack that dispersed a group of orcs gathering to block an exit gate. Dundurion's force pursued the remnants of the enemy fleeing down slopes that Leaf's steed could not go. There he paused, planted his banner, and surveyed.

 

The Golden Host's splintered forces had successfully drawn away the attention of the enemy and drawn out the forces of the Lieutenant. One large force had been led out of the fortress entirely by Fuirgam's company as they made for Thangulhad. But there was now a very real danger that the Golden Host would be a victim of its own success. Rodolleth's company had struck deep inside the fortress and was now retreating down from the high road to the tower. Handelen's horn had sounded, signalling that they were being pushed out the southern gate. Ningloril and Sigilith's groups were retreating to the gates or walls but more and more were having to cut their way through the enemy. But with Anglu and the others of the Golden Host inside the dark tower with the Order, they fought on rather than abandon their allies who faced far deadlier foes.

 

All of this and more Leafblade could see with growing dread from his perch atop a promontory below the high road leading up to the tower. His horse was tiring. His injured knee was rebelling at the things being asked of it. His shoulder burned from an arrow that had found a niche between pauldron and breastplate. As he sat there awaiting Dundurion's return, he looked up for some hopeful sign from above. Instead, a wave of fear washed over him as he saw the distinctive shape of a fell beast and rider swooping down. One of the eldar in Dundurion's group was plucked from the ground in the claws of the beast as it flew low across the ground and was released only when the beast had glided out over the high wall to drop his prey down the side of the mountain. Others of Dundurion's force scattered.

 

So it was that the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur came to land on the ground not far in front of Leafblade, alone and without hope of aid. He could not move. His eyes stared wide in mute awe at the Nazgul. His horse must have been affected similarly for it stood very still but breathed heavily and rapidly.

 

“Fool!” hissed the Lieutenant in anger. “You dare show your banner in my tower!”

 

Leaf could not respond. His mind raced. His first thought was this had not been part of the plan. It was Dams, Ed, Casandir and those great elves that were supposed to fight the Lieutenant up in the tower, not he alone here on the ground. Then Leaf wondered, 'why would the Nazgul, with all this battle raging about, take the time to bother with a solitary man?' The Lieutenant had come forth from his tower to organize the defense of the castle and counterattack against the forces within. With his ability to survey the field from high above and issue orders, the retreat of the Golden Host would quickly turn into a deadly rout. Yet here he was leaving his forces scattered and seeking direction while he took time to confront a captain alone. And then Leafblade understood. Pride.

 

The sight of his war banner planted in the ground beside him reflecting the light of the moon and the fires of battle was a dagger into the pride of the Lieutenant. Leafblade drew a deep breath. The fear was receding from him. The creature before him was suddenly diminished in stature. It occurred to him that while it was here, it was not up in the tower threatening his daughter. If only he could find some way to do what needed to be done here, she would not need to face this danger. He almost could have chuckled at himself for even thinking such a thing. But perhaps if he stayed still, showed himself to be paralyzed in fear, the Nazgul may step within reach of his halberd and-

 

A hint of off color light buffeted the two figures as they faced one another. Both turned their gazes skyward to find the source. There, at the peak of the tower high above, was the glowing figure of the two trees of Valinor. Casandir had foreseen the possibility of the Nazgul being away. And so they beckoned to him with fireworks. Of all things, a child's festival toy: fireworks. And not just fireworks, but symbols of the trees, perched atop the Lieutenant's own tower in the night sky for all to see.

 

Topofthetower.jpg

 

It worked. The Lieutenant let loose with the piercing cry of the Nazgul. The fell beast raised its wings and forced itself up off the ground, gliding away from the promontory near Leaf and gliding out over the wall before gaining altitude and beginning a forced ascent upward. Again and again the Nazgul cried in angry challenge at the Order awaiting him atop his tower. The light of the firework trees faded but the piercing shriek from the Lieutenant did not.

 

Leafblade was left alone again. Incomprehensibly, he was alive. The challenge of the Order from high above had spared him from the blade of the Nazgul. But while his body sagged with weary relief as the shadow of fear from the presence of the evil passed, alarms rang loud in his mind like the bells ringing in Dale when Smaug had attacked. His daughter. The Nazgul was climbing higher into the sky intent upon slaying all those that awaited him atop the tower.

 

Again the Nazgul's pride played against him, Leaf thought. If he had just gathered a force of trolls and reentered the tower and made his way to the top, those of the Order and the Golden Host inside would have been destroyed. But pride cannot be dismissed. Almost a thousand years before, the last king of Gondor, Earnur, had ridden from Minas Tirith with but a few men to Minas Morgul to accept a challenge of single combat from the Witch-King. There he had perished and Gondor had been ruled by stewards ever since.

 

Leaf lurched into panicked breathing. He had to act. He could not let the same death befall his daughter, even if it was the Nazgul this time that rashly responded to a challenge. He lifted his standard out of the ground and raised it in the air, shouting the loudest challenge he could muster out of instinct but it went unheard. He looked around. The battle seem to have slowed as the forces of the enemy heard the wails of their commander and watched him ascend the high airs. Rodolleth's forces were given a needed reprieve and continued their retreat into the lower part of the fortress. Others of the Golden Host regrouped. But none were a source of aid. There was nothing to be done. His standard fell from his hand and clattered to the rocky ground beneath him.

 

SomewhereUpInTheNight.jpg

 

Leafblade turned his gaze skyward. Somewhere up in the night, his daughter was facing the Nazgul. Faenel was facing the Nazgul. The people who had counted on him to protect them were facing this danger without him. His knee. His damned knee had kept him from being there. Had betrayed him when he was most needed by others. He had failed them. His mind filled with visions of them falling under the sword of the Lieutenant; being tossed from the tower by the fell beast just as the elf had earlier and falling to their deaths; perishing in the jaws of the steed of the Nazgul; wounded as Frodo had been and their spirits sinking into darkness and arising as wraiths.

 

He would act. He moved to dismount and grab his standard. He would hold it high, he would sound his horn, and he would get to his family and friends and he would not let them die. He would act. Dangers be damned, he would act.

 

The simple act of dismounting proved too much strain for his injured knee, however. It exploded in pain and then he was crashing into the ground and knocked nearly senseless by the impact. He regained full awareness only to have his breath taken away by the shock of pain hitting him from his knee. He screamed. Anger. Frustration. Pain. Fear for those he loved.

 

He forced himself to roll over. He grasped his standard in one hand. He grasped his halberd that had fallen to the ground in his other hand. He pushed up off the ground with his hands and almost fell again as pain went through him like a lightning bolt from his knee. He held on to standard and weapon like crutches and hobbled to his horse. He growled through the pain, pulled himself up into the saddle. He set the foot below his injured left knee into the stirrup with guidance from his hand. But he could not push or steady himself. Each attempt brought forth a gasp of agony.

 

He took some deep breaths and steeled himself. He looked around, hoping to find some of the Golden Host ready to follow him. But there were none.

 

Dundurion and his force were still scattered. Horns sounded from the others. They had seen the two trees. The sign that Casandir had said would signal the challenge to the Nazgul. The sign that the Golden Host had done its part and should leave Dol Guldur for there was nothing left to do. They signalled now for all to retreat while the enemy still wavered in absence of their leader.

 

Looking up, he saw three massive trolls emerging from the upper gate and starting down the high road toward the lower gates, not far from where he now stood. They were followed by a host of orcs.

 

Common sense took hold. He was not Fingolfin, High Lord of the Elves in the First Age, riding through all the lands of enemy with eyes glittering like stars and scattering them in fear before him, assaulting the gates of the fortress of Morgoth with his fists and challenging the Dark Lord to personal combat. He was a simple man from Bree who had not wielded anything more menacing than a garden hoe until the Black Riders had shown up in Bree and Archet had burned.

 

He was helpless. He looked up into the night again. Flashes of light showed dimly from the tower high above. The Order battled the Lieutenant. Visions of ghastly fates befalling his loved ones filled the captain's mind again. Tired, wounded, alone, weakened by confrontation with the Nazgul, he was overcome. He slumped forward, closed his eyes, and let forth a single sob into the mane of his horse. It shift uneasily under him, still aware of battle and evil not far away. For a moment, the night was quiet.

 

“Leafblade! Are you injured?” The voice was Rodelleth's. The elf champion of the Golden Host was leading her force in retreat and making for the gates, having seen the trees and heard the horns of the others.

 

He picked his head up slowly and looked to Rodelleth, still some hundred feet distant. The force of elves behind her seemed much smaller than he remembered. Just like my family, Leaf thought. He looked skyward once more. Many colors of light still flashed from the tower summit. Could they prevail?

 

He pulled his horn to his lips and sounded it in response to the others of the Golden Host. Dundurion emerged from the slope below with some of his company. Not many were left. They joined Rodelleth and made for the west gate. Leafblade looked skyward once more, hoping for some report. Still the light flashed. Was that Scillari's lightning rune? Was that Casandir's lightning storm? His daughter's?

The ground started to rumble. A distant report of the trolls lumbering down the road. It was time to go. There was nothing left to do but make for the hidden cave and hope the Order would emerge. Hope his daughter would walk out of the darkness. Hope to see Faenel's eyes twinkle at him in smile again.

 

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Thangulhad was overrun. Rumors said a large force was heading toward Ost Galadh and it would have to be abandoned. Wargs were howling in the woods and searching. The lights from the peak of Dol Guldur had stopped not long after Leafblade and the Golden Host had escaped the fortress and made for secret trails into the forest. Now they waited outside the cave. Rodelleth had taken a group to the orc camps near the Ashenslades in hopes that battle and flame would keep scouts away from hidden cave at Sad Doldur.

 

Hours passed. Dawn was threatening to come. Elf and man wondered if their sacrifice in attacking Dol Guldur had not been in vain. No greater torment had Leafblade, now a veteran of many terrible quests and campaigns, ever known. What would he do if his family and friends were gone? If they had perished up in that tower?

 

As it happened, the only act to have been in vain was his concern. Emerging from the shadowy cave and bearing torches were Dams and Edinellion. Between them walked Casandir. Behind them came the rest of the Order and many of the Golden Host that had invaded the tower together. Wanting to get a closer look, Leafblade urged his horse forward. Splashing through the water toward the cave, his horse surged up the bank and between two huge old trees. For a moment, his heart raced in fear when he did not see either of the two that he looked for most. Weary, not without wounds of their own, they saw Leafblade before he saw them. They saw the panicked, hopeful look in his eyes reflected in the light of the torches held by nearby members of the Golden Host as he searched for them.

 

“He looks worried,” Antwanette said. “I think he's worried we might not have made it.”

 

Faenel chuckled, “I think he's worried that his daughter might not have followed his instructions to take no chances.”

 

“Yes,” Dams said, “and for good reason.” Antwanette glanced wonderingly up at Dams but the elf only winked at her in response. They had all agreed to let Antwanette tell her father in her own time about the battle atop the tower with the Lieutenant. To tell him how in the Order's moment of need, when the battle was in doubt, she had stepped forward to face down the fell beast. When she used her skill with animals, blinding flashes, and with steeds to distract, mount and ride the fell beast in circles. Allowed Dams to duel the Witch-King and allowed the rest of the order to vanquish the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur and give Lothlorien needed time to prepare for the inevitable assault.

 

They saw Leafblade take in a deep breath, his face break into an unrestrained smile, and let out a cry of elation upon seeing them. The horse responded from the sound with a wild rearing up on hind legs.

 

Rear.jpg

 

They moved around Dams and moved toward Leafblade ahead of the others. “Wow!” Antwanette said, “Yes,” Faenel agreed. “I didn't know your Dad could make a horse rear like that.”

“Neither did I,” responded Antwanette.

 

The two of them then winced and heard some mutters and chuckles from the Order behind them. Faenel chuckled as well. “Did you know he could fall off the back of a horse like that?”

 

“Yes,” Antwanette responded, “THAT I did know.” The two chuckled and started to hurry forward to help him up.

 

The End

 

(And this is where the story ended.  As happens, plans for the story to continue were cut short by our own 'breaking of the fellowship', if you will.  Many of us went separate ways and life got busy.  Returning to the writing seemed difficult even though I pondered many ways in which I could return to the story without dredging up references to the tension that had led to the splintering of the group.  Writing and creating is difficult without inspiration.  I couldn't muster enough to type again and thus have left it here.  It's desperately in need of revising and editing but such things take time and as is often the case, I got it to a point where I could tolerate others seeing it and then abandoned it.  I do look forward to opportunities to write again though.)

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Epic! Thanks for posting it. It really captures the triumph of a successful raid. Heroic!

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Thanks, Brrokk.  It was fun writing.  As you can tell in many of the stories, the goal was to have a little fun with my friends rather than achieve 'high fantasy' status.  The notion of a loremaster riding a fell beast is of course almost as absurd as Indiana Jones surviving an nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator.  But my daughter is a great lover of horses and rides regularly, so as you can imagine for her the ending was an epic conclusion (no RK pun intended).

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