The beginning of this chapter is taken from the fic I wrote some time ago called "The Might of the Númenórean," which I'd indicated would be worked into this epic once I reached the appropriate point in the story.
They were referred to as the Númenóreans, although none could say precisely why these were so called when they were no more such than was the family of the King or, say, the Steward, or a host of other lineages of the hereditary lords of Gondor. But it was said that their own line was descended from the younger sons of Tar-Calmacil as well as the younger sister of Pharazôn, who had gone into exile in Romenna with Amandil and his family rather than to number herself among the fold of the King’s Men, and so put herself into obedience under his fell advisor, known on the Star Isle as Zigûr. Pharazôn’s sister had married a descendant of Calmacil, another Prince among the Faithful, without the benefit of her brother’s blessing—or permission. She died in childbirth a day before the King’s Men came to bring her back to the capitol, where she was to have been given to the altar in Zigûr’s temple. When they came, the King’s Men were shown her body being prepared for burial, and by it lay the still form of a newborn; in reality her son Faramir had lived and had been exchanged secretly for the stillborn daughter of a servant within Amandil’s household; only when he was eight years of age and his foster mother had died was the child reunited with his true birth-father and acknowledged within Romenna as a prince of the realm.
Faramir the Númenórean was a man grown and accounted very wise when the Faithful put to sea upon the advice of Amandil ere he sailed West to lay the griefs of the Faithful before the Valar—if they would deign to hear his petitions on behalf of the people of Númenor. Faramir's ship stayed with those of Isildur and Anárion, and he chose to settle among those who had colonized the islands off the southern coast of Middle Earth, themselves largely descended from younger sons and daughters of the line of Kings who had rather be important among the emigrants from Númenor than be merely smiled at with tolerance in the courts of the King remaining on Elenna. Here Faramir’s wisdom was honored, and he was made their Prince, and in time he built his stronghold upon the heights overlooking the Sea, near the Elven haven of Edhellond. Wide lands he governed in the names of Isildur and Anárion, and he was a frequent visitor to Osgiliath where his advice was always heeded by the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, who accounted him their close kinsman and liegeman.
And even now, when most of the remaining descendants of the Kings of Gondor squabbled petulantly with one another and held but little power in their own names, the Prince of the Southern Fiefdoms was still accounted great in the eyes of the realm and ruled second only to Eärnil and then his son Eärnur. So it was that he known as Imrazôr the Númenórean was honored more on his visits at his father Adrahil’s side to Minas Tirith than many who counted Aldamir or Telemehtar among their ancestors. Those known as the Númenoreans were yet mighty while most of the descendants of Anárion had sunk to the rank of petty lords of the realm. And Imrazôr looked upon them and shook his head at their envy and sycophancy, welcomed as he was into the personal chambers of the King while they were reduced to maneuvering against their own kindred in order to gain a seat on Eärnur’s Council!
How the mighty have fallen, he thought.
“And how long do you think we will be gone?” Imrazôr’s chief aide and friend asked him.
Imrazôr shrugged. “Who can say? The reports from the Morthond Vale indicate that many orcs have been seen there, as if they gathered for some fell purpose. Whatever purpose that might be, it will not be to the good for our lands or for those of Gondor in general. Meanwhile, those who watch the Elven haven of Edhellond tell us that they have finished one of the two ships they have constructed there, and are now seeing it outfitted. The second, greater ship is nearly finished, but has not yet been put into the water, or so they say. But many scouts have they sent north to several of the passes over the Ered Nimrais, as if they await word of the coming of some of their kind to join those already gathered, but as if they are uncertain as to which pass they might take. I believe that it would be to our advantage to do some hunting of our own toward the mountains so that we might learn what all of this portends.”
Three days later they found themselves near the Stone of Erech, and the word there was that the Oathbreakers had been restless, and that none would venture near the place once the day began to wane. A group of eight orcs common to the Ered Nimrais had been ambushed a day past, and all were dead. But another smaller group had fled up into the rocks, and spoor of at least four more groups had been found here and there.
“None of these groups is particularly large,” commented the Lord of the Morthond Vale, “but to see so many so close together is ominous.”
Imrazôr and his men had to agree.
They courteously declined the offer of hospitality made by the Lord of the Morthond Vale, and worked north and east into the foothills of the mountains before making camp, near the southern end of one pass over which travelers might be expected to venture. Nightfall might be several hours hence, but the day was darkening. Clouds hung low, obscuring the ridges and peaks above them; and to the south dark clouds were beginning to form out over the distant Sea. “I’d not like to be crossing over the mountains this day,” commented one of Imrazôr’s companions. “It would make for damp traveling, and enemies might lie hidden until one is on top of them.”
“I know,” agreed the aide, looking up from the tent peg he was seeking to pound into stony ground, his eyes following the faint trail until it was lost amidst the stones and obscuring mist.
Soon enough their camp was set, and they gathered about their small campfire where a number of quail were sizzling on a spit and root vegetables seethed in a pot of broth. Now and then they would hear pebbles rolling down the slope, or the furtive movements of the small creatures that slipped out of their holes in the more obscure hours to feed on insects or what grasses were hardy enough to take root in such stony ground. A few birds huddled in the branches of the one nearby tree, stunted as it was, murmuring softly to one another as if commenting on the unseasonably cool dampness of the weather.
“We might have been more comfortable had we camped closer to the forest, there a mile north of us,” commented one of the men who knew the lands thereabouts somewhat better than the rest.
“Perhaps,” Imrazôr said, “except that no trails lead down into it from the heights. No, if we would learn what the orcs are up to, we will do so better here.”
“As if,” muttered another, “we wished to face the creatures ourselves.”
The aide shook his head. “Are we to avoid them and allow them to molest others unhindered?”
The other, chastened, dropped his gaze to his tin plate and eating knife, wisely keeping his counsel.
As the hidden Sun dropped further to the west the mist thickened into a full fog, and all sound seemed somehow deadened. When an owl swept low across their camp all were startled, then shared low, nervous laughter at the false alarm. The watch was set, and Imrazôr retreated into his tent while most of the rest withdrew to their bedrolls.
It was about midnight that they awoke to the sounds of fighting above them in the pass, and all were out with their swords drawn in moments. Imrazôr led the way up the slope, but they could not seem to come to the aid of those who sought to defend themselves against the orcs whose growls they could plainly hear. The fog was, if anything, even thicker, and played tricks, it seemed, with the echoes. Imrazôr sought to lead his men to the left, only it appeared that once again he had chosen the wrong direction. He found himself suddenly in the midst of spare evergreens, their branches widely spaced and with but little underbrush beneath their boughs, perhaps due to the fact that during the day they would receive but little sunlight, what with the narrow gully in which they grew.
He turned back to inquire if any of his followers believed himself to be more certain of the direction of the battle they’d been pursuing, and realized that he was alone.
He heard a cry of surprise and an orc’s grunt of challenge, then what appeared to be a woman’s voice calling out in defiance. There was a crashing as something heavy came rolling down the slope, and he had to shield his face from flying pebbles. At last he saw a shadowed mass come to rest against a tree trunk to his right, and he went forward to find the body of an orc, one arm held to the body by a few sinews, its face distorted by agony and fury, its ebon blood pooling about the roots of the tree, which appeared to be seeking to crowd away from the befoulment. There was another clash of arms, it sounded to be right above him, then the woman’s voice off to his left.
Suddenly he realized that the wind was beginning to blow, and it quickly began rising, blowing over the ridge behind him and tearing at the tops of the trees. Quickly the fog was thinning, torn by the moving airs, and he peered upwards toward the mountain slopes ahead of him. He could see a faint deer track, or so he judged it, and began making his way upwards, following it as it turned to follow a ledge to the left, hoping to come to the woman’s assistance. A male voice called out in challenge, and an orc’s harsh tones answered, and again there was a terrible clash of weapons, then a woman’s voice calling encouragement in Sindarin for someone else to run. How fair that voice! Almost he forgot to move in the enchantment it wrought over him, but a fall of stones down the slope awoke him to the need to keep moving. Again he worked his way along the ledge, which now went at a distinct upward slope. Now and then he’d need to use one hand to catch at the roots of trees growing above him on the slope to steady himself, and never, it seemed, did he come up to the fighting, which sounded quite fierce. One woman’s voice could be heard calling its challenge in the distance, while a second one, the one he’d found himself responding to, shouted encouragement to another. Two fights he could now hear, and then a cry of abject pain.
“No!” he heard as he sought to scramble straight up the side of the steep slope to his right. At last he reached the top, and saw an orc bending over a kneeling figure, leaning over to cut an exposed throat. He attacked the orc from the rear, but only just too late to save the embattled person the orc had sought to slay. The horrible creature turned, and the Man managed to run his sword into the side of its chest. He could see the expression of surprise and denial upon its features ere it fell, and he quickly freed his blade, seeking to come to the aid of the woman he could hear desperately fighting somewhere in the dark.
The wind was now tearing at his cloak, and the sky was darkened as the storm clouds swept in from the Sea. Lightning suddenly lit the scene, and he realized that some of what he’d taken for stones were the corpses of orcs, and was that figure there indeed one of the Rhûnim? But of the unknown woman and her adversary he could see nothing as the dark swept back in on him and his ears were deafened by the thunder that followed the streak of light. He raised his arms against his ears, and blinked, hoping his eyes would adjust swiftly.
Then rain was falling about him, and within minutes he was soaked. It was hard to see through the trees to tell if the movements he saw might be enemies or those in danger, or merely the dance of the tops of the trees below him on the slopes, swaying rapidly in the growing tempest.
He could no longer tell the sound of combat from the louder roaring of the wind and the increasing rolls of thunder, and at last he took shelter amidst an outcrop of overhanging stone. Here he huddled for hours, until at last the storm began to dissipate northward and growing greyness indicated that the dawn was approaching. He appeared to doze, and startled to awareness when he heard the sound of weeping. He cautiously came out of his shelter, such as it had proven, and followed the sound of the wordless lament, until he realized he was hearing also the rush of water down a slope, then a distant roar below him of a falling cataract.
He moved with even greater care, and as the Sun’s light finally could be seen clearly he found himself looking down at a mossy ledge but a few feet below him, and there the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, her hair dark as ebony, torn from its plaits by the winds that had buffeted her and the rain that had poured over her, her face cradled in her arms, obviously in grief beyond telling. The head of an orc rested nearby, its nose pointing toward the sea, and to his right he saw the body from which the head had been hewn.
By her knee where she crouched lay discarded the fairest sword he’d ever seen, its blade notched and stained black with the ichor of the orcs she’d fought.
And before her he saw the torn edge of a precipice where someone had apparently fallen with the rush of a stream as it poured down into the depths below them.
It was late in the day that he managed to find his men, all of them as wet and fouled with mud as was he, but none wounded that he could tell. They gave cries of relief at the sight of him, followed immediately by questions as they caught sight of his companion. It had taken some time to convince the woman to come away with him, and he carried her damaged sword in his free hand as he drew her along, his left arm about her shoulders protectively. Her face was blank, and she’d not spoken any word since he’d found her, walking as if her body responded merely to his will rather than her own.
“Who is she?” demanded his aide.
“I know not. I know only that she is in grief. Someone she loved dearly appears to have plunged to his—or her—death from the brink of a waterfall, and she is yet suffering the shock of that loss.”
“A lover, perhaps?” suggested one of his men.
“Or perhaps the lord of her people.”
“Or her lady,” Imrazôr hazarded. “I heard two women calling out in defiance. Perhaps they were sisters, or closest of friends.”
“She is an Elf,” noted the aide.
“Aye, that she is,” Imrazôr agreed. “And never have I seen any woman to equal her in beauty.”
For the first time she turned voluntarily to look at him, her white face finally aware as her grey eyes, deep with sorrow and the ghost of interest, searched his, her mouth moving silently for a moment before the grief took her again. But he’d brought her back, if only for an instant, and he vowed that he would do so again!