The Scouring of the Ship
They awoke before dawn, having slept off the weariness of the previous day’s battle—though in this harsh, cold land, stiffness and fatigue were ever their companions. Celebaur checked his leg wound, and with a grunt, the Ranger pulled himself to his feet, determined to pay it no more heed while more serious matters required his attention. Galenion roused Saradoc, giving the hobbit a swig of miruvor. Then, with Akwaith and Dunwulf guiding them still, they resumed their trek, heading toward Arvedui’s wreckage, retracing the steps of the strange uruk-hai whose defeat had exacted such a great price.
The snow was packed deep in some places, and at times they sought higher mounds to distance themselves from the danger of cracking ice. From time to time, dark against the reflective ice, planks or pieces of mast were seen in the distance, the roiling sea having forced them from its depths and then frozen them in place. Akwaith told them that the last few winters had been especially harsh, colder than any in living memory. These ice fields would normally thaw in summer, but such had not been the case of late. Finally, a great mound of snow rising before them, Akwaith assured them that the bulk of the sea-monster’s skeleton lay on the other side.
Off in the distance, the horizon began to lighten, but to Galenion’s elf-eyes, all was not aright with the sky. Some ill feeling clung to it, as though clawing the clouds aside. He paused halfway up the slope, staring to the East.
“What is it?” the Ranger demanded of him, bow already in hand, an arrow nocked against the foe.
Indefinable shadows played across the elf’s features. “A shadow and a threat weigh heavily on my mind,” Galenion sighed. “But not idly have we come all this distance, facing the perils we have. Nor will this Winter Queen destroy all our peoples have worked to restore.” He shook his head firmly, clearing it, and resumed his climb with renewed vigor. “Come! I would see this task finished!”
As they neared the crest of the snow dune, the group heard a clanging sound carrying across the fields of snow and ice. With his bad leg, Celebaur could not drop and crawl up to look over, so he asked Galenion to do so. The elf shimmied himself to the edge and gazed across the way. In the distance, two prows were pushed up through the ice, which was broken up and frozen about them. Galenion spied uruk-hai on one of the sections of wreckage. He ducked back down to his companions, and they discussed options. They would have to get a lot closer for Celebaur’s bow to be of use, but between them and the ship fragments was naught but flat ice. Another possibility was to wait until the uruk-hai found what they sought, then attack them en route as they tried to leave with it. As they voice strategies, a loud crack resounded from the other side of the hill and the wind picked up, sending snow about. Galenion heard a voice on the wind and rushed up to see what was happening. There was a large break in the ice, closer than the wreckage infested with uruk-hai. The exposed water splashed about wildly in the wind, and another section of wreckage came crashing up to perch on the ice plain. The wild winds died down, and new ice began to solidify.
The travellers decided to approach this new wreckage, since it sheltered them from the eyes of any uruk-hai and might be worth investigating for its own sake. The snow cover on the ice was minimal, due to the recent wind. As they neared the ship, the ice grew thinner because it was still reforming. Light of foot and in reasonably good health, Galenion scouted closer, until he felt the ice was too unstable, then reported back his observations.
They waited a while longer for the ice to firm up more before the elf ventured forth again. Galenion moved as close as he could on the thin ice, then jumped up to the wreckage. He glanced around the slanting decks. There were trappings of the original owners on the ship still and rapidly hardening ice in the rooms. Galenion needed the help of the others to fully explore the wreck, so he hopped back down and rejoined his companions.
When the ice had hardened enough for the weight of Men, a third time Galenion proceeded to the wreck, this time with the entire group, using the elvish rope to climb onto the deck. The two Snowmen kept watch, while the others looked around inside the ship. As his sword was not as sturdy as Galacharn or the blade of Westernesse, Celebaur borrowed a bone ice pick from Akwaith and then descended below deck. It was difficult maneuvering for the short hobbit and the wounded Ranger and elf, but they did so without complaint, hopeful that their quest might bear fruit.
As they explored, there was another loud crack, and the wind picked up again. Galenion rushed up to the main deck to see if he could discern anything about the fell voice on the wind, but all he could tell was that it seemed to have a female quality. Across the plain, another section of ice was torn asunder, a wreck forced up by wind and sea. The group reconvened, and Galenion spoke with his companions, considering what might be behind these events. They were uncertain whether the Winter Queen was throwing up these wrecks as diversions or for some other purpose.
Saradoc noticed that Galacharn, which was at his eye level, was beginning to glow more brightly. Indeed, a glance across the ice plain revealed six uruk-hai on the move toward their wreckage. The explorers decided to hide themselves on the ship and deal with the uruk-hai one on one as occasion arose. Surely Celebaur’s bow could drop them all before the creatures reached the hull; however, that would raise an alarm, which they could ill afford. Celebaur hid himself on deck intending that if any uruk-hai tried to flee, he would be in position to stop them. Everyone else chose a hiding place below.
The uruk-hai split up into pairs upon reaching the ship. After a time, Galenion heard some in the room next to his chopping away at the ice. He decided to let them tire themselves out a little. In his own room, Galenion hid himself behind an up-thrust plank. When the uruk-hai entered, they did not see him right away, giving him a chance to strike the first blow. It was a cramped fight in the close, slippery quarters. One uruk landed a solid blow to Galenion’s already injured ribs. Coughing up blood, the elf struck back, and the uruk fell. Galenion danced around the up-thrust plank, evading the other uruk until he could land a killing stroke.
Elsewhere on the ship, Saradoc heard approaching uruk-hai and decided to slip further away. He dropped through a hatch and slipped on the ice. It cracked a little, and he skittered back away from that new danger. There was part of a chair sticking out of ice, and he slid over to it, hoping for a safe perch. However, this ice was not yet fully formed, and the hobbit fell through. Twisting all about in the frigid water, he searched in vain for a break in the ice surface above him. Since there was light coming from an opening further below, he decided to try that route, figuring there must be a way out on the other side of the wall.
As Saradoc entered the next room and swam toward the light, he saw a chest sitting on the floor. He continued on to the water’s surface, reaching it with a gasp for air. Sara was dismayed to see that the light came from a small hole in the ceiling, beyond reach. He dove back under, searching for another exit or something he could use to reach the hole. There was a corpse in the murky depths, and Sara saw some rope that looked strangely untouched by time on its belt. As he pulled the rope free, he also saw keys, which he took as well. He had to leave his own gear behind, due to the size of the hole above, but once he had fashioned a loop out of the rope and tossed it up, he felt better. The elvish rope found its own hold, and the frigid hobbit began climbing upwards.
From his position on deck, Celebaur saw additional uruk-hai heading to the most recently raised wreck after there had been time for the ice to firm up around it. The Ranger was interrupted from pondering this by a cry from below deck. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his leg, he headed below following the sounds, sword in hand. He entered a room to the sight of a battered and bleeding Akwaith pinned against a wall, being strangled by a one-armed uruk-hai. A sword thunking into the wall near the Ranger pulled his attention to a second uruk. Celebaur swept his sword around, slashing across both of the creature’s legs, and it fell back. Then he stabbed at the other uruk, who dropped Akwaith and spun around, punching Celebaur right in the face. The Ranger’s head snapped back into the wall, and he stood there stunned, remaining upright by virtue of the wall at his back and the uruk sprawled in front of his feet. While the one-armed creature regained its balance and Celebaur shook off the blow, the uruk on the ground swung at the Ranger’s good leg. He slashed back at that uruk, who rolled away. The maimed uruk moved in again, but Celebaur pierced it through the heart. The other uruk landed a solid stab, impaling the Ranger’s wounded thigh and pinning him to the wall. Celebaur could not contain a cry of pain.
Galenion heard a cry and the sounds of combat and so moved up through the ship toward them to lend aid. He entered a room where Dunwulf was being hard-pressed to defend himself from an uruk-hai. Another lay at his feet already, but the Snowman was badly injured and could not take much more. Galenion dispatched the uruk, and hearing more battle, helped Dunwulf to move along through the ship with him.
Celebaur stabbed down at the uruk assaulting him, and the creature fell back, pulling its sword with it. The Ranger slid to the floor, unable to hold himself upright. Across the room, Akwaith leaned against another wall, unmoving. Celebaur hurled his knife at the uruk, and though it hit, it did not daunt the creature. Another loud crack sounded outside the ship, and this time the deck shifted. Celebaur tried to pull himself up, but his leg would not support him. He fell back to his knee, landing painfully. The uruk closed in again. Celebaur parried, but the uruk pressed in, piercing the Ranger’s shoulder. With his offhand, Celebaur drew the bone ice pick he had from the Snowmen and swung at the uruk, but its tip merely scraped across the creature’s armor.
Galenion entered the room to witness this. The elf grabbed at the uruk’s shoulder, wrenching it back away from his injured friend. The uruk turned with the force, punching Galenion soundly in the face. The elf spit out blood and attacked, landing a killing stroke just as Celebaur’s bone ice pick thunked into the side of the uruk’s head. There were a few more thunderous cracks, and the deck lurched again. Galenion confirmed that Akwaith was dead, then scooped up Celebaur over his shoulders, urging Dunwulf up through the ship to the main deck.
Far below them, Saradoc struggled up a rope. He, too, heard the noises beyond the hull and felt the ship’s movement. He was moving up through the next room, getting ready to throw the rope, when water began pouring through the opening he had just come from. The hobbit climbed faster, but the ship shuddered and shifted, and he suddenly found himself underwater again. Trying to use buoyancy to his advantage, the hobbit pressed on, pulling himself out of the flooded room and heading towards higher ground.
When they got to the main deck of the ship, Galenion, Celebaur, and Dunwulf were dismayed to see the ice breaking up all around their ship. Indeed, the other raised hulls were also slipping below the water. There was no way to get back to solid land, certainly, nor even stable ice plains. Galenion used his elvish rope to catch an ice floe. The ship lurched again, and he handed the rope off to Celebaur and Dunwulf, injured as they were, in order to go find the hobbit. The Ranger and the Snowman began pulling the ice floe in close, Celebaur pausing to tightly bind his leg again.
Saradoc reached another room, gasping and shivering, but was pleased to hear Galenion shouting his name. He called back weakly. Galenion appeared and helped Saradoc out of his current room. The hobbit stuttered about finding a chest three rooms directly below and pressed the keyring into Galenion’s hand. The elf urged Sara to head to the main deck. Then he tied off his rope, took a breath, and dove into the room below. He swam down, searching for openings. Finally he squeezed himself into the last room, encountering the corpse and then the chest that the hobbit had described. He opened it and found it contained a heavy round object in a velvet sack. Galenion swam back up through the ship as quickly as he could with the prize.
On deck, Sara joined Celebaur and Dunwulf, dismayed at their condition. The Ranger did not give the hobbit a chance to think, immediately asking him to help tie off the rope that had dragged the ice floe in. Those three carefully transferred themselves over to the ice raft. Galenion emerged from below-decks, ran down the rope, and then gave a yank to untie it. As they drifted away from the ship of old, the elf checked the injuries of Dunwulf, whose condition seemed to be worsening. Celebaur meanwhile ordered Sara out of his soaking clothes. Once in the Ranger’s spare shirt, with a bedroll wrapped around him and a few swallows of miruvor coursing through his veins, the hobbit’s shivering finally slowed. When all injuries were bandaged as well as possible, Galenion peered carefully into the sack, relieved to see the large blue sphere of a palantír.
Across the water from them, the last piece of wreckage slipped below the roiling seas, the waves forcing their safe haven roughly away, far from safety, far from land.