The sun had not yet crested the horizon. Rather, the sky was clear, and the stars were still glowing bright. Far to the east, though, the first, faint blush of bluish-pink began to spread. Saradoc Took cleaned up the remains of his pre-breakfast snack, shouldered his pack, and took up his stick. His worldly goods carefully balanced on his back, the young hobbit continued north, sometimes hopping a hedge for fun, sometimes skulking under a shrub for extra adventure. “You’re going to see the Rangers, Sara!” he would remind himself periodically, but his excitement needed no vocalization for anyone to recognize it.
Sara had been on the move for days, constantly drawing closer to his destination, the ruins of the once great Seat of Kings. Hight Annúminas by Men of old, Sara’s studies of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ notes on ancient tongues had indicated that that meant West Tower. Or maybe Sunset Tower, if you were a clever linguist, which Sara liked to think he would one day be considered. But with the edge of the sky now downright rosy, Sara was more inclined to think of beginnings rather than day’s end.
“Oh, I shall have a grand time, I will!” Saradoc told the very hills and trees around him. Naught would dim the hobbit’s mood with the prospect of meeting the subjects of his lays and ballads—both past and future—drawing so nigh.
Nor did the young Took consider that the city might not be teeming with Rangers waiting to greet him and regale him with their great deeds.
Nor did the young Took suspect that his progress through the foothills surrounding Annúminas was not solitary.
Nor did the young Took imagine that the noises sounding about him were not natural woodland sounds, not scampering deer nor fluttering grouse.
Rather, Saradoc beheld in wonder the remains of the great city, its crenellated walls caved in places, standing to unimaginable—to a hobbit—heights in others; the towers, here gaping, there unbowed by time, everywhere ivy-encased; the gates, collapsed as they were, open to invite the hobbit inside.
Where he met an orc. And then another.
Having determined the ruins of Annúminas to be the focus of orc activity in the region, Celebaur and Galenion headed towards the city. They decided to approach along the lakeshore. As they got closer to the ruins, Galenion spied something floating just at the surface of the water, something that looked like cloth. Celebaur found a branch and waded a ways into the lake, using the large stick to draw the floating mass closer. Galenion noticed movement further out in the lake that was approaching. He advised Celebaur to return to shore. Celebaur caught the floating item and stepped back ashore with a mangled torso. With the water no longer disturbed, the movement further out stopped. Celebaur tested this by splashing back in a bit. Movement resumed, and the Ranger retreated. Up on the shore, away from the water’s edge, he and Galenion examined the torso. It belonged to a man of simple means, and the one arm still attached had a leather thong tied tightly to it. There were rents and bite marks from something very nasty. They paused to bury the poor soul and then continued on towards the ruins, making sure not to get too close to the water.
Meanwhile, Saradoc Took had entered Annúminas. An orc turning around the corner saw him. Another orc then bumped into the first. “‘Ey, wot we got ‘ere?” the first orc asked, at which point the wide-eyed hobbit snapped out of his freeze and ran for the nearby guard tower. Exhausted by the man-size stairs, he drew in great lungfuls of air when he reached the top, but he soon realized he was not safe yet. One orc had stayed on the ground to watch the show, but the other was running up the stairs. Sara took off along the top of the wall, which grew less and less stable as he moved eastwards. The orc, weighing more than the hobbit, was the first to suffer the ill effects of this, when the stones under him crumbled. Sara paused, gasping for breath, and turned to see what had become of the orc. Under a pile of rocks, the orc was still. He had killed an orc! With no sign of the other orc, Sara collapsed in weariness and pulled out an apple to collect himself.
The walls of Annúminas stood tall in some places and crumbled in others, particularly close to Lake Evendim. As the Ranger and the elf neared those walls, they saw some pikes mounted atop one of the taller sections, each with an impaled head. A little closer, and Celebaur recognized a less-decayed head as belonging to a fellow Ranger who had also been investigating the increased orc activity. Celebaur declared he could not leave his friend that way and proceeded to the wall to climb its vine-encrusted side. Galenion kept watch below while the Ranger carefully scaled the wall and slid over the top. Celebaur carefully glanced over the lip but saw no orcs nearby in the city below. Then he pulled up the pike and puzzled for a moment how to get back down the wall with it. Carefully, he attached it to his pack on his back, intending to then climb down. However, Galenion hissed up to him that Galacharn was glowing something fierce. From his vantage point, Celebaur himself could see movement in the woods near the wall. Galenion slipped back into those woods to conceal himself, and Celebaur prepped his bow.
A handful of orcs were approaching the ruined city dragging a man. As soon as some orcs cleared the cover of the trees, Celebaur’s arrows dropped the two holding the man, who fell cowering to the ground. Galenion moved in on the orcs still in the trees, dispatching them easily. The other orcs ran towards the wall, trying to get out their own bows, but they failed to do so in time to get a shot off at Celebaur. The last arrow the Ranger launched was fired almost straight down the wall at the orc below, requiring him to stand upright on the top of the wall. He was just about to lower his bow when he felt something forcefully punch him in the back, which knocked him forward over the crenellations. He had presence of mind enough to catch a vine, but his bow fell the rest of the way. Taking a moment to steady himself, he climbed the rest of the way down.
Galenion helped the prisoner up and gave him some miruvor to calm him, then retrieved Celebaur’s bow. The Ranger and the elf advised the prisoner that it would be safer for him to flee the area, going along the lake but not too close to the water. Inspired by their serious demeanor, the man pulled himself together, picked up an orc bow and quiver, and headed out. Galenion then took the opportunity to pull the orc crossbow bolt from where it had embedded itself in the quiver on Celebaur’s back, piercing it through-and-through and the cloak beneath, but not cutting the Ranger himself. They buried the remains of the other Ranger and then slipped into the city.
Elsewhere, Saradoc surveyed the city trying to decide where he would be most likely to find Rangers. There was one building, taller than all the others, that looked well preserved. Sara figured that Rangers would probably be there, so he carefully continued down the crumbly wall and made his way in that direction. Occasionally he would see an orc and have to hide, but he managed to get far into the city without being spotted again. As he neared one stone house with a slightly crumbly roof, he heard voices. They were not harsh enough to be orc voices, so he figured they must be Rangers. Through the open door to the building, he could see a rough-hewn pike leaning against the wall but naught else. Carefully, he stood on tiptoes and took a quick glance through the window. The room was empty except for the pike and crumbs of maggoty bread below it. The voices seemed to be coming from behind a latched wooden door at the back of the room. They sounded upset.
Steadying himself with the mantra, “What would Pippin do?” Sara entered the building and listened closer at the door. He could hear a girl crying and a boy telling her to be quiet. Sara slipped the latch and opened the door a crack. He saw the little girl shaking a man lying on the ground. She was begging him to get up. Sara opened the door the rest of the way. The girl and the man were on the left, a teenaged boy sat at the back of the room trying to hush her, and two beaten, dazed men leaned against the right wall. They were all bound hand and foot with tight leather thongs. The girl shrieked when he entered, and Sara tried to calm her, “It’s all right! I’m not an orc!” The boy seemed to have the most wits of everyone there, so after closing the door most of the way, Saradoc approached him with an offer to cut his bonds.
The boy stared at him and whispered, “Are you a halfling?” Sara acknowledged it with an aye and carefully slipped his knife between the boy’s wrists and ankles. “Have you got another one of them daggers?” the boy asked. Though reluctant to give up his own protection, Sara handed one of his knives to the boy and gestured for him to cut free the men on the right. Sara cautiously approached the girl and got her calm enough to let him release her. She was complaining that her daddy would not wake up. Sara could see that the man was dead, his skull caved in.
Just then, there was a clatter in the main room. Sara skittered across the room to the far corner, where he would not be visible if the door were opened partway. The boy asked what they should do, and Sara told him to get back in position and hide the knife, then resumed cowering. Through the door, they heard, “‘Ey… wot’s dat about, now?” The door was flung open, and an orc stood there holding the pike. He looked first at the girl and her father, then at the boy, then at the men, then at the hobbit. His eyes narrowed and his fingers moved for a while, seeming to count to five and then have one more. “Wot you doing here, den?”
The orc did not get any further than that, as Sara flung his knife at him, catching him squarely in the throat. The orc fell over backwards, into the main room, and Sara ran out to retrieve the knife. “It’s safe now; we can go!” he called back to the prisoners.
Celebaur and Galenion moved carefully through the city, avoiding orcs where they could and generally assessing the site. They had to duck into a building to avoid a passing group, and Celebaur took note of the door. It was made of wood, and thus had to be a recent addition to the centuries-abandoned stone building. And there was a latch on the outside. He opened it and examined the room beyond. There were bloodstains only a few days old. Grimly, the Ranger and the elf continued through the city. Not long after, Galenion heard a noise and carefully glanced through a nearby window. He was indeed startled by what he saw, a hobbit pulling a knife from the throat of an orc. The elf entered the building to offer his help to Saradoc and the rescued prisoner. He asked what a hobbit was doing in Annúminas alone, and Sara said he was looking for Rangers. “Well, I think you’ve found one,” Galenion commented as Celebaur entered.
Sara was already amazed at seeing an elf, but when Celebaur came in, he could say nothing but, “Are you… are you a Ranger?” Celebaur nodded, puzzled why a hobbit would be in such a dangerous place. However, seeing that Galenion had things in hand, he moved back to a watchful position in the street. Sara caught sight of the distinctive pattern of tears and patches along the Ranger’s cloak. Though it was scarcely possible, Sara’s jaw dropped further. This was not just any Ranger: it was Patch-Cloak, the subject of his tales!
The Ranger and the elf took counsel together and decided they needed to move the prisoners to a safer location and then see if they could find any others to take from the city. They decided to put the group in the original holding cell they had found. Since it was empty, no one would look for them there. Galenion led the group, while Saradoc stayed in the back with Celebaur. Along the way, the Ranger paused and let off a shot down an alley, taking out an orc who had laid eyes on him. The group continued on, and Sara, noting that Celebaur was lingering behind, hovered between the prisoners and the Ranger, uncertain. When no alarm was raised from down the alley, Celebaur rejoined the hobbit and continued with the others.
Once everyone was at the new location, Galenion asked Saradoc to watch the prisoners, saying, “You are stout of heart, but short of leg.” He drew out a finely wrought scabbard and presented it to Saradoc, for him to use in defense of the prisoners.
Sara received with awe the Dúnedain blade that Círdan had given Galenion in the Grey Havens. The hobbit remained behind with the prisoners, taking his job seriously. He calmed them, assuring them, “Patch-Cloak and the elf lord will return for us soon.”
In the meantime, the elf and the Ranger sought others prisoners to free. They climbed to the roofs of some nearby buildings upon hearing a loud roaring noise. There was a gathering of Red Bolt, Black Fang, and Red Snake orcs at the base of the tall tower. Celebaur and Galenion saw some prisoners being pushed into a channel by an orc chieftain of the Red Bolt clan. A large creature with sharp teeth and long tentacles devoured the prisoners. Further up the channel, inside the tower, Celebaur could see other Red Bolt orcs struggling to move large blocks of stone into the channel where it passed through the tower. There was nothing that could be done to save the prisoners from this distance, much as it disturbed the pair. After a while the chieftain shouted, “Halt!” in orc-speak. The raucous orcs continued their cheering, but the orcs in the tower stopped work and hurried away from the channel. The creature in the water eventually calmed, and it appeared as though soon the group would disperse.
Celebaur and Galenion swiftly returned to work. They brought about a dozen more prisoners back with them to the original group. Fortunately, one of them was the mother of the distraught girl. Then they led the prisoners to the west side of the city, where they had defeated the party of orcs. Here, they armed the people with weaponry and hid them in the woods. Their intention was then to rescue more people. Sara asked who he should stay with, and they agreed he could come back into the city with them, since the prisoners now had some means to defend themselves. The young boy gave Sara back his knife, as he now had an orc blade to use.
They made several forays into the city, and freeing more prisoners and taking them to the staging point. As the day grew later day, and the trio returned to the ruins once more. The cheering noise started again, and Celebaur said he would not abide it when there was something he could do about it. He explained that he would rush over to the east side and pepper the orcs with flaming arrows to disrupt their celebrations. Galenion and Saradoc could keep an eye on the proceedings, but they should not take action unless necessary, as there were hundreds of orcs, and they still had a duty to escort the rescued prisoners to safety. If things went poorly, Celebaur advised them to head west and take the prisoners around to the south of the city, where Saradoc had told them the forest was free of orcs. Celebaur would meet them there. With these words, he sped away from them, several quivers of recovered orc arrows over his shoulder.
So it was, from a rooftop vantage point, that Saradoc and Galenion beheld the work of Celebaur the Ranger. As the Red Bolt chieftain moved to grab a prisoner, a flaming orc arrow pierced his side, then two more stuck in him. Clothes aflame, the great orc staggered about but could not recover himself in time before a tentacle snatched him up and moved him to the water creature’s mouth. The Red Bolt orcs grew angry, but the other clans cheered all the louder at the entertainment. Celebaur started targeting large groupings of orcs, which happened to be Red Bolt orcs. Fighting broke out, with the Red Bolt orcs attacking the other two clans. More orcs fell victim to the water monster as well, since it grabbed whomever it could reach. There was complete chaos below. Some Red Bolt orcs broke through the line of their perceived enemies and headed toward the source of the arrows. With a satisfied grimace, Celebaur abandoned his position and headed off to meet his companions.
They escorted the freed prisoners safely to the settlement of Hillsdale, south of Annúminas. In the small inn there, Celebaur and Galenion discussed their plans to set out eastwards to meet up with the King, so as to give a full report on what they had uncovered. Saradoc was awed at the prospect of meeting the King. It was by this point rather understood by all that he wanted to go with them. Galenion advised him that the best rule for court behavior was to not speak unless spoken to. He gave the hobbit some money to use for restocking provisions, since all of Sara’s food had gone to the half-starved prisoners. The starry-eyed hobbit took the money, amazed at everything that had happened that day and looking forward to what the morrow might bring.