The Road to Annúminas
The teenage boy whom Saradoc had rescued followed him, Celebaur, and Galenion to the tree line and waved goodbye before rushing back to the full Hillsdale inn. Then the travelers entered the forest and left the village behind. They kept on eastward for a bit, and then came across a small break that the Ranger identified as a north-turning trail—but to hobbit-eyes, it seemed little more than a space between shrubs. This route angled their progress further to the northeast, that they might meet up with the King, or more likely, his outriders.
Walking this way was not unpleasant. Indeed, if it had not been for the disturbing events in Annúminas, Saradoc would have enjoyed the journey better than any cozy pint of ale at the Green Dragon surrounded by avid listeners. The sun was shining, clear but not too hot. The woods along these hills and valleys were leafy and seemed peaceful and wholesome, despite the occasional sign of orc activity. Sara was reassured by grey Galacharn’s continued quiet. Though bushes frequently thwacked him in the face, the hobbit kept his head up, ever watchful to see what Celebaur might do next.
They made good progress that day and camped amid maples near a stream. There was no need to hunt, for Sara had gathered many provisions ere they had departed Hillsdale. Having finished their meal and enjoyed some pipeweed, they bedded down, each taking a watch—though Galenion needed not sleep and kept the hobbit company on his turn, inquiring after his homeland and reasons for travel, as well as advising him how best to comport himself before King Elessar.
The worn-out hobbit perked up a bit, his drooping eyes widening. “What’s that mean? It sounds like some form of Elvish, and not the name I’ve heard for the King in the Shire.”
“It is Quenyan, ancient tongue of my people. Elf-stone, it means, the name given the King by the Lady Galadriel, when under the golden mallorn-trees of Lothlorien she still did dwell. It is late, young one, and you need sleep lest the Ranger’s legs outstrip your own on the morrow. I shall watch the rest of the night.”
Saradoc reclined on his bedroll, pulling his blanket up over his shoulders and snuggling down to find a comfortable position. Just when he found one, he bolted upright in confusion. Celebaur was drawing his sword as he got to one knee, and moonlight shimmered off Galacharn, though the blade did not glow with a power of its own.
From above, a musical voice sounded. “What business does an elf, a man, and a hobbit have in the Branduin Valley?” In a flurry of leaves, a form dropped to the ground amid them. A fresh-faced elf, clad in green, his blond hair pulled back in ornate braids, smirked at them. “Mae govannen, adar-muindor. Well met, Uncle.”
After swift introductions (Saradoc was in awe of Legolas) and warnings of orc activity, Legolas led the others to the King’s company. First they passed some out-riding Rangers, then a company of dwarves. Galenion was a little taken aback when one dwarf shouted out to them, “I see you’ve found another elf, Legolas!” Gimli, son of Gloin, was introduced to the group, and then they continued down the column.
As they neared more Rangers, one of them with a circlet on his head, greeted Legolas from afar. Seeing the companions with him, this Ranger dismounted as they approached. Celebaur and Galenion dipped their heads in respect, and nudged Saradoc to do the same; the hobbit dropped to a knee. Aragorn greeted Celebaur, and Legolas introduced the others to him. They said they bore serious news and so Aragorn called a halt to his company so he could hear what they had to say.
The three companions told the King about the orcs and the people they had freed and taken to Hillsdale. Aragorn immediately ordered riders that way to investigate but continued questioning them. When they had had their say, he instructed the whole company to proceed to Hillsdale. Galenion informed the King he also had something for Aragorn from Círdan and handed over the still-wrapped palantír. Aragorn accepted it and slung the bag over his shoulder, under his cloak. Then he asked Saradoc if he knew how to ride. Sara admitted that he did not, not really. So Aragorn ordered a king’s man, “Fetch a pony and a hobbit who knows how to ride one.” Soon Pippin, resplendent in gear of Gondor, showed up. When he saw his cousin, he hopped down and greeted him happily.
The company formed up in Hillsdale, where Aragorn made sure to hear the prisoners’ accounts of their ordeal. At the inn, there was a council meeting. Gimli suggested they march into Annúminas and dispatch the orcs. Galenion felt some caution was needed, and that they should scout the city out first, since who knew what had happened after Celebaur’s conflagration. After the large group meeting, Aragorn talked privately with Celebaur, Galenion, and Saradoc, since they had been in the city already. He asked if they were willing to be scouts and if they wanted anyone else with them. They did not want too large a group so as not to attract attention, but Galenion thought Legolas would be a good asset. Aragorn dismissed Sara and Celebaur, but kept Galenion behind to hear what Círdan had told him about the object. After Galenion was dismissed, Aragorn took out the palantír, which was coated with a sheen of frost, and carefully placed his hands on it. After a while, he grimly removed his hands, rewrapped the palantír, and put it away.
Out in the common room, Pippin, Sara, Celebaur, and Galenion were smoking pipes and relaxing with Gimli and Legolas. Gimli related a story about a drinking contest he and Legolas had had in Edoras. Pippin also was telling stories. He and Saradoc got up on one of the tables and performed the Green Dragon drinking song. When they flopped back down, Celebaur noticed a shadow flitting across Pippin’s face. Later that night, when the others had gone to bed, the Ranger asked Pippin if everything was all right, and why he had seemed ill at ease earlier. Pippin said that that song always reminded him of how he had seen the horrible Eye, since it was on the night of the Edoras feast that he had held the palantír. Even all these years later, the thought of the Eye in his mind filled him with terror.
In the morning, Legolas, Celebaur, Galenion, and Saradoc headed to Annúminas. The rest of the company took up a position south of the city so that they could move in when signaled. Before they parted ways, Gimli told Legolas to leave some orcs behind for him. Not yet quite at the city walls, the four encountered some slain Black Fang orcs, but there were only orc tracks around them. Celebaur took the orc arrows and gave some to Legolas, advising that they should only shoot those for the time being, so as not to give away their presence. The group then entered the ruins and split up to go down parallel streets, checking for orcs and trying to ascertain the status quo. Everyone passed dead orcs of the three different tribes in various places, and Galenion moved by the orc that had died at the wall while chasing Saradoc. Celebaur saw a live orc running at the end of an alley and shot him. He collapsed and a couple more orcs ran up to him, laughing. These were Red Bolt orcs. Celebaur took them down, too. Galenion also encountered orcs, and though he came under bowfire, he despatched his enemies. Saradoc, for his part, skirted around the orcs on his route.
As they got closer to the great tower, the scouts reconvened and compared observations. It seemed that Red Snake and Black Fang orcs were trying to leave the city, and Red Bolt orcs were stopping them from doing so, at the point of a sword. Closer to the tower there were occasional patrols of Red Bolt orcs. Near the tower was an old guildhall that seemed to be the locus of Red Bolt orc activity. There were several score orcs around there.
The group proceeded to scout out the tower together. A canal passed through the arched entrance at the bottom, and there were mounds and mounds of crumbled masonry. Looking up inside the tower, it was apparent that the floors of the tower had caved in. However, the top floor had to still be intact because the windows at the top were not visible from within the tower’s base. Galenion was really curious about what was up there and resolved to climb the vines up to the window. Celebaur would go with him, while Saradoc and Legolas kept watch from a nearby rooftop. It was a long climb, and Galenion soon questioned his decision, but they finally made it up. At the top of the tower was an abandoned room. There was a layer of dust over everything, with no footprints anywhere. In the center was a pedestal with a golden stand on top. Galenion noted that it was the right dimensions for holding a palantír. There was a staircase leading down from the room, but it only went a short ways before ending jaggedly, with a drop before it.
Down on his roof, Saradoc saw orcs approaching and notified Legolas, who quickly took care of them. However, a bit later more orcs saw them and started heading to the building. They had archers with them and were taking shots as Legolas fired back. Saradoc picked up crumbled roof pieces and hurled them down at the orcs trying to climb up to the roof. From the tower, Celebaur and Galenion saw the fight and descended with great haste. Celebaur climbed to an adjacent roof and shot arrows from there. Galenion waded in with his sword, slashing down orcs and occasionally taking a gauntleted fist to the face. Legolas ran out of arrows and jumped down with his two long knives.
Eventually the orcs were defeated and the group took a moment to consider their options. They could signal the troops to enter, but Galenion wanted to know what was in the guildhall. Celebaur volunteered to create a diversion so Galenion could sneak around the back and peer in. They decided to have Legolas and Saradoc station themselves on rooftops once again. Celebaur would brazenly go be a Ranger and shoot at the orcs in the guildhall. When they gave chase he would lead them to the trap.
And so Celebaur opened fire on the orcs with his own arrows, including shooting through some windows to try to get orcs from inside to pursue. A horde of thirtysome orcs pursued him. He ran, sometimes turning around to send off another shot. The orcs also had bows, and Celebaur took an arrow in the flesh of his left arm. When the orcs were in the gauntlet, Saradoc let loose a barrage of rocks on them while Legolas peppered them with arrows. They stopped chasing Celebaur and started shooting up at those on the roofs. Celebaur skidded around a corner and paused to break off the arrow and then push it out of his arm. He quickly tied a strip of cloth around it and then climbed up to a roof to continue his attack.
Meanwhile, Galenion checked out the guildhall. On the main floor there was a mess room of sorts with remains of some deceased humans. A large throne-type chair sat at one end upon which rested a big orc and with other orc attendants hanging around as well. Having determined the purpose of the building, Galenion skirted around to help his companions. When those orcs were all dealt with, they decided they had done enough on their own, especially since Celebaur was hurt. Legolas let fly a flaming arrow, and Aragorn’s forces moved in, quickly dealing with the remaining orcs.
Once things had settled down, the scouts met with Aragorn. When they entered his tent they were greeted by an invigorating smell, a bowl of water with athelas floating in it. Aragorn used it to cleanse Celebaur’s wound, and the Ranger felt much better. Celebaur and Galenion informed Aragorn of the room at the top of the tower. They suggested that whoever was controlling the orcs had been looking for the palantír in the ruins at the bottom of the tower, without knowing that it was long gone.
Aragorn told them that according to lore he had learned at Imladris, that palantír and the one from Amon Sûl were lost in the far north. However, he had also thought the third one there, but it turned out that Círdan had been sheltering it. Aragorn reported that when he had touched the palantír from Círdan, he had felt another presence and a great cold. He announced that he had decided to send out many parties to the north to see if any trace of the fate of the other two palantíri could be discovered, because he feared at least one was in the hands of a threat, granting it knowledge of the Free Peoples to use against them. He reminded Galenion and Saradoc that they owed him no particular bond, but still he asked if they were interested in participating in this effort. They both agreed to do what they could to help.