The Road Home

Ralph Damiani

A cool, crisp morning lay over the wilds of Eregion as the sun peeked over the mountains. But the hills at the feet of the mountains were still shrouded in the final holds of night. A wet dew covered trees and grasses, which shimmered as the light grew. In the growing dawn, a dark figure moved through a dell like a shadow. The dell lay between scattered hills and was filled with birch and a thick turf covered the ground. The trees croaked as the figure passed them by, or leaned its shoulder against the smoky white bark.

A goblin of the Misty Mountains, it lumbered slowly between the trees, its back bent, and its sharp eyes darting to and fro. The woods were silent and squirrels and birds sat on branches, cleaning the dew from their fur and feathers. The goblin pressed against a tree and its leaves seemed to shudder in an absent wind. The goblin’s ears were pointed and wide; they twitched, listening across the dell. A squirrel chattered overhead and the goblin snapped its eyes up and the squirrel sprang from the tree above to another and disappeared. Looking across the dell, the goblin saw there beneath the trees a group of elves. Three of them, two men and a woman, moved about, cleaning up a campsite and packing their things.

Reaching behind, it pulled a bow from its back and knocked a black arrow to the string. One of the elves, a man clad in grey, sat upon the turf as it brought a bite of bread to its mouth. His hair was long and dark, and it fell about his shoulders. The goblin pulled the bowstring taut and lifted the bow level, closing a yellow eye. All creatures in the dell fell silent and the air was thick and wet with the morning.

Suddenly, the twang of a bowstring and the singing of an arrow broke the silence. There followed another twang and the dull thud of an arrow into wood. Birds fled at once, squawking as they fled the trees, their wings flapping heavily. The elves looked up sharply and the elf seated on the ground sprang to his feet and they all looked around in alarm. 

Aragorn walked across the thick turf and eyed the body of the slain goblin. His arrow sat in the creature’s chest and its eyes were frozen skyward. Elladan saw him across the dell, standing over the grey body; his heart was racing, but then calmed as it became clear the danger had passed. He smiled and Aragorn looked back, as Elrohir and Arwen also looked toward him. Aragorn walked back to join them as the morning lifted.

“That is another you owe him, brother,” Elrohir laughed.

“I am not keeping count,” Aragorn said.

“And you are wise not to do so,” said Elladan. “For many a creature have I slain as it approached you unawares.”

“No wonder the creature was able to sneak within sight of us,” Arwen said, lifting her pack to her shoulders. “If you do not cease arguing, I am sure we’ll encounter more of them.”

“Your sister is right,” Aragorn said with a wry smile at Elladan. “Let us continue quietly. I know the way northwards, and will lead us.”

Elladan and Elrohir nodded and said no more, falling in behind Aragorn and Arwen. They walked out of the dell, and climbed hills where the grass became thin and weathered. The land folded with gentle hills that gave way to gentle valleys, but as they moved north, it became a more wild place, without path or road, but Aragorn seemed to ever be making his way toward something, as he adjusted his course here and there, skirting around a hill, or turning eastward into a valley, then righting himself north again. For many days they walked, and the lady Arwen seemed to keep pace with Aragorn, despite his long strides and times of sudden turns. At times, Elladan and Elrohir seemed to disappear into the twilight, silently returning to them without word.

The company stopped in the night, for they had little need of haste. Aragorn sat alone against a tree, keeping watch through the night as Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir slept. Their fire burned low, and he sat just outside its light. His hood was pulled over his head and his grey eyes pierced the night for many feet around them. Few but the elves, and Aragorn, knew this land, and though there was less danger than in the mountains, or the east, the sight of the goblin archer days before left Aragorn with a feeling of unease. Though, whether it was a sense of an approaching danger, or the eagerness to return home, he could not say. His thoughts drifted to a warm, soft bed, and the bright sunlight of the valley of Imladris, and the sweet smell of flowers, and the voice of the Bruinen as it tumbled through. He could almost hear it, and he closed his eyes and a smile played across his face.

But in the night, Aragorn heard the sound of snuffling and breathing as if through clenched teeth. Through the earth he could feel heavy footsteps accompanied by many light feet, but none belonging to elves or men. He sensed their coming, and heard the faint sound of clinking steel. He sat motionless, his grey cloak covering him, like an image of the Dunedain carved in stone. The wind was in the north, and he knew they could not detect him until they were in the camp. He wondered whether he should wake Elladan and Elrohir, or wait until he could overtake those who approached with surprise. They approached from the northeast, and he sat between them and the camp. He could smell the stench of orcs and of a wild beast, undoubtedly a warg that they commanded.

At last he stood slowly and crept in the shadow of the night to another tree, putting his back to it, facing the camp. He drew Narsil from his belt and it shone in the firelight. His heart raced and suddenly his body felt cold and fear washed over him. He opened his mouth but no sound escaped, only the fog of his heavy breaths. The enemy came closer, but Aragorn’s limbs felt heavy and his heart sank. He suddenly felt the darkness of Moria, as if it crept out of the mountain’s roots and across the hills, shrouding the fire in front of him. A cold wind blew, and voices he could hear now, harsh whispers in the dark.

Then, at last he cried, “Awake! Awake!”

Immediately, Elladan and Elrohir leapt to their feet, as if they were on the verge of waking already. Their weapons near at hand, Elrohir drew his long curved sword that glinted like silver; Elladan had already knocked an arrow to his bow. In the dark they heard the clashing of swords and shields. With their keen sight, they could see a skirmish outside the firelight. Elrohir rushed toward it as Elladan let loose his arrow.

Aragorn held the goblin’s arm with his left hand; its jagged, notched sword held high, unable to come down upon him. Suddenly, an arrow flew by him with a whisper, and hit the goblin in the shoulder. It fell to the grass. Aragorn looked up in time to see Elrohir leap over a thicket and drive his knife into the fallen goblin’s chest. Elrohir cried in his native tongue and moved through the dark, his knives shining like bright stars. Aragorn followed him.

Elladan stood still by the fire, as Arwen stood with him, knife in hand. Elladan let loose another arrow, then a second, piercing the thick fur of a warg. It cried out in anguish and it turned into the darkness. Elladan saw the flashing of bright steel and another cry from the warg, then it howled no more. From the dark, a heavy, tall orc approached; a long spear in its left hand, and a broad, dented circle shield in its right. It wore a crude mockery of an elven circlet upon its head, made of leather and bone. Elladan cursed and dropped his bow, drawing his long, curved sword and standing at the ready. The orc chieftain laughed cruelly and beat its spear upon its shield.

John Stanko

Yrch,” Elladan spat. The chieftain came upon him, and Elladan parried its thrust, but his sword bounced off the shield and the orc used its heavy weight to knock Elladan back. He stumbled, and the chieftain walked slowly toward him. Elladan recovered and spun his blade in his hands, then charged. As he neared the orc, he ducked a thrust from its spear and cut low, striking its leg, the dark blood staining his sword. The chieftain seemed to notice the blow little, for it wheeled around and brought its spear down like a hammer; Elladan dropped to a knee and held his blade aloft, the spearhead crashing against it.

To their surprise, a figure moved swiftly behind the chieftain. As if floating on the wind, Arwen moved behind the chieftain and drove her knife into the back of its knee. The chieftain buckled, and Elladan jumped to his feet, holding the shaft of the orc spear, cleaving it in two with his blade. He tossed the spearhead into the dark and the chieftain staggered to its feet. It spit at Elladan and held up its shield, staggering forward with a great roar. A bow sang out over the din, and an arrow whistled, striking the orc chieftain in the side. It stumbled and Elladan leapt forward and plunged his sword into its chest as it dropped its shield.

From the dark came Aragorn and Elrohir, carrying his bow, his knives sheathed, their work done. Aragorn knelt over the body of the chieftain and turned it onto its back, looking upon the raiment and the painted red flame there on its chest.

“They came not from following our trail,” Elladan said, catching his breath.

“No, they did not,” said Aragorn quietly, kneeling over the dead chieftain.

“What do you know of them, brother?” Elrohir asked.

Aragorn sighed and his shoulders sank. Elladan placed a hand on his shoulder. “These come from Moria, that much I know. I saw many orcs with such a sigil when I passed the Drimrill-gate nigh on two months ago. But, how they have come this far without us knowing, is a mystery to me. They did not follow our trail, as you said, Elladan, for you watched that way with care since we left the mountain pass. Perhaps there is some seam in the mountain near here, further north from that place, where they may come west. A door in the stone. As I watched, they approached from the north and east.”

“So our road may be guarded by more of them, though this seemed to be their chief,” Arwen said.

“Indeed,” Aragorn nodded. “If this was their captain, then they would look for his return. An absence would not go unnoticed, and they may come out in greater number, seeking vengeance.”

Elladan spat, “Let them come. Only one did I take this night.”

“Steady, brother,” Elrohir said. “We may fare well against a few, but even we four cannot stand against a company without preparation.”

Aragorn stood and looked at them. A fire burned within Elladan’s eyes and his face was grim; Elrohir looked calm, but no less fierce; and Arwen looked upon Aragorn, searching his face knowingly. Aragorn turned his eyes away from her and at length said, “I think we should move with greater speed, now. I am anxious to get home, and I would not oppose an uneventful road from here. Though I know your fires burn bright.”

Elladan and Elrohir knew that Aragorn was right, and they were not ranging to protect the fences of Imladris, but seeking passage home. They said no more. Arwen settled in and Aragorn sat by the dwindling fire, staring into the embers as the brothers bid him to rest until the dawn. They moved the fallen orcs and kept watch silently. Aragorn held his pipe to his lips, but could not light it. He caught his trembling hand and looked up to see Arwen lying across the camp, looking at him. He put his pipe down and smiled, and nodded his head and lay down, seeking sleep, staring up at the leaves and the faint warm glow of the fire upon them, and the stars and dark sky beyond. Sleep would not come.

Two days on from the attack, Aragorn led them north through the hills and hollows. He moved at a greater pace, though it was difficult to travel as no footpath had been carved through this land for many thousands of years. But, he knew it well, and they stopped rarely, even at night. His back grew weary, but the elves in his company seemed not troubled at all. They would sit for a few hours at night and eat, while Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir could manage the waking sleep of elves and be refreshed in moments. Aragorn, however, found little time to sleep, and his mind was foggy, and ever the cold memory of Moria lay upon him since the night attack.

As the afternoon wore on, Aragorn stopped the company. Arwen sat beneath a tree and Elladan with her, but Elrohir and Aragorn wandered ahead and eastward, checking the road. As they walked alone, the elf softly spoke, “I am concerned for you, brother, for this run looks to have taken an unnatural toll upon you.”

Aragorn looked at him and could not hide his truth any longer. He sighed heavily. “I admit that I am weary, but it is not my legs that grow weak.” He paused, then said at length, “A shadow has laid upon my heart for many months, since I was in Moria. I had hoped that my stay in Lothlorien would lift it, but it was not so. I am eager to return home and speak with my mother, and your father.”

“What happened in Moria?” asked Elrohir.

“I went in foolishly, and unprepared,” Aragorn said. Elrohir noticed Aragorn’s hand resting on the ancient blade at his side. “I tested myself; and failed.”

“A harsh assessment, and one that I am not sure is warranted, brother. Though you are young, your strength is greater than many I have known. I do not think you should dismiss the stoutness of your heart so easily.”

“Perhaps, but before, I did not possess the knowledge that I do now, nor the weight that gives me a heavy heart.” His finger scratched at the hilt of Narsil in its sheath, and Elrohir looked at him knowingly, his eyes full of pity. But Aragorn ever looked ahead, his eyes searching, and they came upon a great spine of rock that trailed out from the mountains, between hills, forming a ridge that faced the south. Thick bushes covered its foot and haggard and dying vines and limbs grew from its face. Aragorn stopped and knelt down, as did Elrohir beside him. They looked ahead and Aragorn peered through the thickets, but Elrohir’s keen sight detected it first.

Nick Deligaris

“We have found the goblin’s door,” he whispered. Nearly hidden by the thickets and overhanging branches, a cleft in the rock face stood darkly, but they could see the earth at its mouth was trampled and no grass grew there.

“This is undoubtedly where they left the mountain. It is likely a doorway for them, one of many, but I would guess it is one of the few so close to Imladris,” Aragorn said.

“Night will fall soon, and maybe more will venture forth. Should we move on through the night?”

“I believe that would be wise,” said Aragorn. Before he could speak more, they heard the loud, sharp cry of a bird, and another answering. They looked up, searching for it, for the call was the foul crow of Crebain out of Dunland, or Fangorn. Quietly they listened, and heard the beating wings approaching. Aragorn looked to Elrohir, “Seek cover,” he said.

They each lay under a nearby thicket as a thick flock of black birds wheeled overhead and settled in trees near the goblin gate. They squawked eagerly, and Aragorn lay still, watching them. He wished not to move as they sat in the trees ahead, but dusk fell and shadows lengthened. Slowly he began to crawl back out of the thicket and away from the birds and the gate. But Elrohir hissed through his teeth and Aragorn stopped. Ahead, a goblin emerged from the gate and walking in the shadow of the ridge, it looked around, then up at the Crebain noisy in the trees. Behind the goblin, a large black uruk appeared from the cleft in the ridge.

“Oy, why do those birds squawk,” it growled at the other goblin. They each looked around curiously, but on edge.

“They have seen something. They bring news,” the other goblin said in a voice more shaky and higher than its uruk companion.

“Snurg has not returned with his party,” the uruk said. “Perhaps that is the news they bring. He has fallen.”

The other goblin spit at him, “Do not speak such foul lies! Snurg, Chieftain of the Pit, would not fall in such a place.”

Laughing, the Uruk shoved the smaller goblin, “You fool. If Snurg falls, you could claim Chieftain. But you do not see it. You could be no captain!”

Aragorn and Elrohir looked at one another, and as the goblin and uruk argued, they slipped out of the thicket and knelt behind it, watching the gate, still. Before they could fly, the uruk grabbed the goblin with a heavy hand and stopped the argument. He turned his flat nose to the air and sniffed. Elrohir silently drew one of his long knives and Aragorn looked at him, but Elrohir’s eyes were fixed upon the uruk, burning brightly.

“What do you smell?” The goblin asked nervously.

“The wind is changed. And I smell danger near at hand,” the uruk said. “Come, let us look around, if you have the spine for it.” The goblin gnashed its teeth and the pair walked slowly forward, weapons drawn.

Aragorn knew they had no choice now, and he drew his blade as well, and as the uruk and goblin approached, he nodded to Elrohir. Suddenly, Elrohir sprang from the thicket and at the same time, drew his other knife. He whirled and cut down the goblin with ease as it trembled and stumbled backwards. But the uruk roared and turned. Aragorn was upon it quickly, its attention now paid to Elrohir. Aragorn drove the broken blade into the uruk’s back, and it wheeled around, and Aragorn barely ducked beneath the swing of its broad sword. He fell on his back and the uruk brought its sword up, over its head and stumbled forward, ready to bring it down on Aragorn, but Elrohir moved as swiftly as the wind and cut the uruk down. It dropped its blade and fell forward next to Aragorn.

Elrohir extended a hand and helped Aragorn to his feet. Aragorn breathed heavily. They looked to the goblin gate, now, but nothing came forth, noise or movement. “We should leave, and move through the night. If we go at speed, we shall reach Imladris maybe by the next night,” Elrohir said. Aragorn nodded and Elrohir lifted Narsil from the ground and handed it to him. Hesitating, Aragorn looked at the blade in his brother’s hand, and took it, returning it to its sheath. Elrohir laid a hand on his shoulder and Aragorn straightened his back and slowed his breathing. “Do not fear,” Elrohir said. “Together we will reach Imladris, and there, the safety of home will restore your strength.”

Noah Bradley

Aragorn looked at Elrohir and forced a smile. The elf’s eyes were no longer blazing with fire and fury, but the stars were in them still, and the light was welcoming and gentle. He knew that Elrohir understood and judged him not. He put his own hand upon Elrohir’s shoulder and they returned to Arwen and Elladan. With great speed the four flew north through the night, and the next days, until at last their home lay before them.

The story continues in the Against the Shadow cycle