But a Day from Home – Part 7
When the prow of their boat crunched against the gravel of Rantost’s shore, Celebarad had been the first over the gunwale, splashing in the shallows and helping haul the vessel onto solid purchase. The shield he had brought with him, but after some debate had left it in the boat. He had never before carried a shield, and worried it would slow him and make him clumsy when he most needed speed.
They had put to shore at the southernmost tip of the island, far from the ruin, which glowed in the distance, lit from the inside by the fires of the robbers. There had been only one man standing guard on the shore, and he had not seen them approach. One of the rangers had stood in the rocking boat, steadied by the hands of his fellows, as he put arrow to string, drew, and let fly. The man on the shore had fallen almost silently, and the rest of the Rangers in the boat had heaved-to on their oars, and now they had landed.
“Celebarad.” Orchalwe joined him, once the boat was secure, voice muffled behind a rough cloth mask. “Your sight is the sharpest. What do you see?”
It was easy to forget that men were not gifted with the same far sight as his people, and Celebarad had to take a steadying breath before he could focus. “I see no brigands,” he began, immediately troubled. “I see smoke rising from fires at the edge, but there are no men around them. I cannot see beyond the walls, but there are voices on the wind, and they echo off the stones. I do not understand. But the speaker is angry.”
“What words can you hear? Can you make anything out?”
Closing his eyes and turning his head slightly, Celebarad let out a deep breath, and listened, not inhaling again until he’d caught a few of the words that the angry voice used. “Traitors,” he repeated, brow furrowed. “Spies. What are these words?”
Orchalwe muttered something to his men in the Common Tongue, and they began to move off, arrayed in groups of three. “Traitors and spies. They may have discovered the agents of Ost Forod. How, I cannot say, for Basil Gummidge said his men were well entrenched, and had the trust of the robbers. I only hope that your halfling friend was truly who she claimed to be. Come, we must move closer.”
Celebarad let this pass, for now was not the time for educate the ranger on his friend and her virtues. The island was curiously empty–not as the Rangers had been expecting. It had been Orchalwe to whom reports of the robber’s movements on the island had come, and now it seemed that these reports were not true. Celebarad did not see the problem with a lack of foes, as it made their approach so much the easier, but he could tell the Ranger was unsettled to have things not go to plan, especially so early in the assault.
The fullness of the moon had caused a great deal of anxiety when the attack was contrived, and the clearness of the night made it no better. Celebarad was glad of it, and even as sharp as his eyes were in the dark, he did not think the Rangers had cause for concern either, for they ghosted like wraiths from shadow to shadow. Surely the men of the ruin, their eyes filled with firelight and unaccustomed to the dark, would have no easier time seeing them.
The voices were louder now–truly it was only one voice, ringing angrily off the walls, and as they drew nearer, Celebarad could see the shadows of figures against the whiteness of the stone walls.
Orchalwe whistled softly, and caught Celebarad’s arm, drawing him into the shadow of a chunk of rubble. He crouched in the dirt. “Look! Do you see the marks?”
Celebarad looked, and did, but could make no more sense of them than he could of the Common Tongue. “I do not have your learning in this kind of lore. What do they tell you?”
Orchalwe crouched and indicated certain patterns in the dirt, explaining, “You see the chain, here, and it has left its imprint. It has been used. Here, you see the print of a small hand, like a child. She lay still for much of the day, the grass has been flattened and not yet sprung back. But, eventually she rose–the marks of her feet are recent. They kept the hobbit here, but she has gone from this place, not an hour since.”
“She is not harmed!” Celebarad cried joyfully, and Orchalwe was forced to be very concerned for the stealth of their endeavor, and to shush him sternly. “My dear friend, forgive me,”he whispered, chastened, but still beaming in the dark. “But there is more hope in my heart now than there has been in what seems a lifetime.”
“Have whatever hope you wish, but have it silently!” Orchalwe answered. “Here we must part company, and your errand must be yours alone. My men await me to press the attack, and you must search for your friend. If you find yourself amidst the battle, your blade would be welcome, but I advise you to keep to the outer wall.” Orchalwe pointed northward. “The track passes towards the northeast bailey. By the reports I have been given, it is there that the leader of the robbers makes his camp–beware of him! He is a vicious man.”
Celebarad nodded, and bowed to Orchalwe. And with that, he left the Ranger to slip through the dark and rejoin his men. For the first time, he was alone in his purpose. Celebarad felt a fleeting regret for his impatience and his restlessness with the Rangers, for truly they had made his cause their own. He did not have the words–though he meant to acquire them as soon as it were possible–to thank them as thoroughly as he wished he could, and in their own tongue, as only seemed fitting. Even with their suspicious minds and their guarded natures, they were good men, and true, and they had brought him as far as they were able.
Now he ran along the track Orchalwe had shown him–he saw it now, like a silver thread at his feet in the moonlight. The silence of the night was punctured only by the shouts of the man in the ruin, still angry. Celebarad wondered what he was angry about, as he slipped silently between the tumbled white walls, making for the bailey. A fire still burned in the hollow of the walls. The emptiness of the island seemed eerie now, as he passed by empty tents and abandoned campfires.
There was a break in the wall of the bailey, and Celebarad passed through it, sword drawn. He was drawn taut with tension, and he felt his heart skip a beat as he approached the campfire, and saw the same signs of Brassica that Orchalwe had read, the small hand and footprints, the scuff marks in the dirt. But she was nowhere to be found, even as he paced the bailey anxiously. There was a fire, yes, and though it had been banked, it had not yet dimmed to embers. The camp itself was untidy–nothing like the camps that the Lady Beldrieth laid. Broken pottery littered the corners, the ashes of a previous fire were kicked across the sandy dirt, and uneaten food lay congealing on a tin plate near the entrance of a tent.
A low horn call sounded in the dark, at first hovering at the very bottom of hearing, then arcing into a note that shattered the stillness, and silenced the angry man. And then chaos descended. The Rangers had begun their attack.
The inside of the ruin seemed to erupt with shadows; all Celebarad could see, dancing across the high white walls of Rantost. Steel rang on steel and grated on stone, and screams and cries echoed from within the ruin. Transfixed by the suddenness of the noise, Celebarad stood, listening intently for familiar voices–occasionally he heard one of the Rangers cry “Elendil!” or “Annuminas!” but the small, female voice he listened for was not to be heard in the clamor–and the only other voice he knew, that of the angry man, was curiously absent as well.
He almost failed to notice the figure, rounding the corner of one of the smaller keeps, higher up on the stairs of the ruin. It seemed as though one of the robbers had escaped the fighting. Celebarad didn’t know what to do, other than to watch the man as he ran nimbly along the ledge outside the outer wall of the small keep. He had something bundled in his arms, and as he dropped nimbly to the ground, he slung it over his shoulder. Celebarad could see that it was wrapped in some swath of fabric–the robber’s cloak, he realized. Celebarad realized with a start that the man was splashing across the shallows of the river and making for the crumbled bailey where he waited.
Almost too late, Celebarad slipped through another break in the wall and pressed his back against the exterior of the structure’s northern face. And he didn’t know why he’d done it. His heart railed against the action–hiding, like a coward. But he had no idea how he was meant to engage the fleeing robber, and he had felt the same shadows of dread that gripped his heart on the shores of Tinnudir stealing inside him once more. As the man sloshed out of the river and up the hill, Celebarad heard him spitting curses and recognized his voice as that of the angry man.
“Wicked little liar! The moon, you said, it would keep them from these shores this night! Well, I will take you from these shores, and to the knives and spellcraft of Angmar! There’s truth in you to be had, and they shall have it.”
There was the rumpled sound of fabric unfurling, and a muffled thump on the ground. And then the night seemed to still around the sound of a soft, brokenhearted sobbing. And this pierced every layer of fear and doubt that had fallen on Celebarad’s heart, and a calm came over him, like turning from flesh to steel. The horn of the Rangers rang once more in the night, above the chaos. Sword in hand, Celebarad stepped back through the wall, into the bailey, to stand between his friend and the bandit leader.