The Dark Trail

Asmalinde looked down upon the dark canyon. Her elf eyes were unable to penetrate the veil of darkness below her. It had been a difficult trek making it this far. Asmalinde’s arms and legs ached from the exertion of climbing. She had found a large crack in the granite surface of the mountain. The elleth had used handholds, finger grooves and natural depressions in the unyielding surface to make her way up. Twice she almost fell, scraping her skin and knees with contusions. Despite the challenge Asma rolled herself over into a deep wind hollowed out depression on the side of the cliff wall. For what seemed like hours she lay there. Chest heaving with exertion. Finally, she got to her feet and peered into the chasm below.

The messenger had been caught out, delivering notes and dispatches to the advance party of dwarfs beginning to explore the approaches to Gundabad Mountain. King Thorin the Third had asked her to do this as a personal favor. Asmalinde should have known the way the king had treated her after her arrival from Lothlorien bearing news of the enemy's encroachment throughout Middle Earth.

She was led to the richest of quarters in Erebor. The type used for honored guests and close kin to the King. Asma was even given her own guide and body servant while she rested and refitted for her journey to Imladris. ‘Do not worry.’ he said.

‘It is not too far out of your way. Our scouts have reported a minimum of danger betwixt The Mountain and Annak-Khurfu.’

Thorin was right. Her journey to the outpost at the foot of Mount Gundabad was as easy as a ride across the farms of the Shire. Not even a wolf or a goblin crossed her path. Even the weather was mild. Summer had waned gently into Fall with puffy clouds and sunshine. In the night she was guided by Varda’s creation, Alcarinque, the brightest star in the Middle Earth sky. Asmalinde delivered the orders from King Thorin to the small garrison at Annak-Khurfu. Threw herself on a pallet in front of where the dwarfs were digging out rediscovered chambers of long ago and was back on her horse bound for Imladris the next day.

Asmalinde’s journey had been so easy she decided it was worth the risk to make for the gap of Car Bronach and into Angmar instead of traveling back the way she had come through Skarhald then South through Atyamar, The Vales of Anduin. Why the ancient name came unbidden to her mind she did not understand. Although she could not remember her life before waking in Lord Elrond’s house of rest. She held onto the language and place names of the firstborn of which she was one.

Just on the other side of the pass of Car Bronach they almost got her. She was riding loosely. Foolishly thinking of the visions of her past she only lived through dreams. Asmalinde did not see the party of Angmarim bowmen, priests and hillmen lingering on the trail just as she crested the long peak of the hill. She heard the black speech before she saw them and immediately set spurs to her horse. She did not draw her sword, speed, not might, would win the day for her here. The elleth  heard shouts of surprise and loud orders called for her pursuit. She felt the cold deathwind of the arrows whistling past her ears and felt the tug of one in her hauberk. Asma heard the priests begin their incantations and then she was racing down the hill as fast as her fleet, muscular steed could take her.

Before the horse had traveled half a league she began to stagger. Hit by one of the darts of one of the enemy archers.. Looking back over the flank of her steed, Asma could see the arrow jutting from the hindquarters of the animal. Not a lethal wound but soon the foul poison of the Angmarim began working its way through the veins of the horse and she began to weaken. Asma urged the horse on knowing she and the steed were living on borrowed time. The elleth had not seen horses among the Angmarim but she could see a cloud of dust on her back trail meaning they were marching after her. 

Just to the south a small cut off the rocky, downward slope of the trail opened up. She guided the horse in between the rocks and into a small glen with withered trees and foliage. Foul water bubbled from the earth as if the ground was ejecting its waste. Suddenly, the horse gave out and fell to her knees. Asmalinde leapt off the animal before it could fall on her and alighted nimbly on the ground. The elleth stripped her arms and shield from the saddle and grabbed the dispatch satchel loaded with messages and lembas bread. She grabbed the water skin and tied it to the satchel. She strapped it over her shoulder and seated her shield in its normal place on her back along with her arrows. Rapidly she strung her bow. 

Her horse was breathing its last and she said a short prayer to Elbereth, thankful she would not have to end the animal’s suffering herself. Asmalinde could see the alarms of trail dust rising in the air indicating her pursuers were adamant about catching her. Her mouth was dry so she took a drink from her waterskin. There was only one other way out of the glen and without a single look back she flung herself through the scrub grass and up the broken and rotten rocks of the long forgotten trail.

Wearily she came back to the present,  pushed herself to her feet and began to take note of her surroundings. The messenger could see quite well for the light of the moon peered into the winds carved ledge where she stood. Her foot moved across something hard and crumbly, seemingly out of place among the dirt and debris of the ancient pass. Squatting down she could discern broken bits of pottery in mounds of rubble. Asma retrieved a jagged remainder of some pot or vase. She spit in her hand and wiped some of the dust away revealing an intricate design and exquisite craftsmanship. ‘What tale is this?’ she thought.

In a very un-elvish manner she wiped her hand on the side of her breeches and stood up. The back of the ledge was cloaked in the shadow cast by the moon on the ceiling above her. Still holding the shard of the pot in her hand Asmalinde crept towards the darkness with all of her senses alert. A cool breeze from the canyon blew her hair across her ethereal face. Another step revealed the ledge was deeper than she expected and as the moon rose higher in the night sky its light revealed a small dwelling built of  rocks and shale from the mountain side. Carved wooden timbers of what must have been the roof lay open to the sky. A crumbled open doorway faced outward toward the cliffside edge.

Clouds enveloped the moon and what light Asmalinde had vanished. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She backed herself in the corner of the ruins and slid herself down to the floor. She hunched her shoulders into it to make herself comfortable. Asma pulled her satchel over her shoulder and opened it, She reached in and pulled a flask of elvish liquor. The elleth uncorked the tip and drank deeply. The miruvor spread through her body with a blanket of warmth and comfort. She unwrapped a small stack of elvish waybread. Breaking one in half she tied the rest and returned it to her satchel. ‘There’ she thought. ‘Morning will bring new light.’

 Asmalinde tucked into her small repast. When she finished she placed her sword and shield within easy reach, snuggled into her corner and dozed until first light. 

Upon waking, Asma stood to her feet and stretched, yawning the last of the sleep out of her eyes. She retrieved her sword and strapped it onto her belt. Her shield she flipped over onto her back with her arrows and her bow she carried before her, like boys playing at war. The satchel with its dispatches and supply of lembas and miruvor went over her shoulder. Asma took a moment to adjust her armor, sword and her equipment then had a look around at what daylight brought to her refuge.

The morning air was radiantly crisp and clear. The light of the sun was not yet sullied by the taint of the foul land of Angmar. As the sun rose, brilliant light flared into the wind carved, natural cliff alcove. Above her the ceiling rose to its height several feet above her head angling down into the recess  of the cave-like structure. Unknowingly, in the dark, the Messenger had climbed right into an ancient temple of some sort. It appeared to be some kind of safe haven with a small doorway into an ante-room. Asma peered into the half-collapsed doorway stooping low to see through. As the light climbed outside with the rising sun, suddenly it burst through an aperture in the outerwall and a solid beam of illumination in the shape of a key-hole spread out onto the inner wall. Hundreds of colors flared into a kaleidoscope of tints and hues in the clear air of the refuge. 

Asmalinde followed the light to the wall where a beautifully realistic mosaic made of thousands of tiny stones illuminated the room. It illustrated a dwarf looking out onto a horizon with three peaks. ‘Durin!’ The memory came unbidden from the recesses of her mind, ‘The Three Peaks!’ 

The venerable first born of the dwarfs was standing on a hilltop and beheld the three peaks of  Mount Gundabad. Glorious color portrayed an artform long lost to history. Each piece of stone and color created the likeness like no painter ever could. The elleth gazed in wonder. As she looked closer she noticed the blood red hearthstone on Durin’s breast was missing. Asmalinde moved closer for a better look. Suddenly, the light rose past the aperture and the vision faded. Asma squatted, staring at the wall. Where there had once been a work of majestic art there was only stone. She ran her hands over where the mosaic had been. The wall was smooth! 

Asmalinde shook her head and searched the ruins. Nothing else was revealed. Only ruined stone and scorched earth remained. Shaking her head she began to search for a way out of her hiding place. Surely the dwarfs would have an escape route she thought. She followed the cavern where it began to close to the north. The elleth felt the stone of the mountain, nothing. She lifted her hand and felt higher for any kind of depression she could use to climb. There was ought but the grit of rotten granite. Asma stooped and moved through the ante-room door. The rotted old ceiling beams had collapsed and part of it lay on the floor. The other was partially still connected to the sanctuary. She looked behind and around it not finding any path nor way out of the mountainside crevasse. The morning breeze had ceased and the fetid air of Angmar rose from the canyon floor. With it, she heard the sounds of Angmarim shouting as they discovered the horse they brought down with their poison. The elleth uttered an oath she had learned during her time with the Three Graces. One of anger and frustration. Aggravated, she looked skyward and beheld her salvation.

She grinned and looked at the collapsed beam. Where it was connected to the top of the crevasse was some kind of indention in the rock. Hand over hand she crawled lightly up the beam taking care to not jar it in anyway. When she reached the top she could see the rotted rope that once held it into place beginning to give way with her weight on the beam. Nimbly she leapt from the beam to the rock which jutted out over the crevasse. The rotten rope snapped and with a tremendous jarring sound the beam joined its mate on the floor of the cavern.

Looking up she could see ingenious indentions on the side of the mountain moving upward. She had to adjust the way she climbed to the stature of a dwarf and began making her way up the cliff. Asma could feel the heat of the sun on her back as she moved upward. Her back began to ache with the hunched way she had to climb. Suddenly, the cliffed curved and rolled out onto a mesa. The table topped flat of the mountain. Looking down below she could see the men and women of the Angmarim milling around like ants about the remains of her horse. Their eyes would not reach so far even if they had thought to look skyward. She gave a quiet shout of triumph and began making her way southwest towards the secret hideout of Gath Forthnir.