Thurindir is the first to notice that something is amiss. Another storm is gathering in the East. As if things were not bad enough already! Our ragtag group has weathered one fearsome storm and we barely escaping unscathed. It seems a cruel fate, to be barraged with a second such onslaught with scant days to catch our breath. The Dúnadan and I were sent by the Grey Company to seek allies in the fight against the Dark Lord in the wild lands of the South. Many in Gondor still think this desperate errand a folly, but eyes in the White Tower have oft look inward, especially of late. Wisdom and hope bleed out of the line of Men on the battlefields of the Rammas and Osgiliath, Ithilien and the Outlands. A sense of hopelessness pervades the world of men, and the aim of our quest is as much to bring hope as to affect strategic advantage.
Fortunately, not all have turned a blind eye to potential allies – anything to turn the tide in this war against tyranny and oppression. Elrond, ever one to see a future shrouded in uncertainty, has sent Arwen and the mighty Glorfindel of his house. We are happy to be joined by the Eldar, who bring a wisdom and stalwart courage that is welcome in these dire times. Together our band of Elves and Men has met with and befriended Kahliel, the proud leader of a Haradrim tribe. Marching North, our goal is to join the Free People of Middle-earth, even now locked in an existential struggle with evil.
The Noldor are no strangers to the plight of refugees, and Arwen and Glorfindel can only nod wistfully to see the Haradrim diaspora. It’s a slow trickle at first: a clutch of refugees wanders into camp just as my watch ends. Drenched with water and carrying their entire lives in colorful sacks on their backs, the newcomers refuse to make eye contact. As the storm intensifies, so too the stream of the dispossessed.
A band of Kahliel’s tribesmen, out to reconnoiter the surrounding foothills for a safe path North, return early in the morning. Bloodied, their clothing in tatters, they apparently fell victim to ambush by hungry wargs. The inclement weather has manifested a ferocity in the wolves of the South unknown to us from Eriador. The faces of the scouts barely belie their losses. Kahliel names the fallen, sotto voce, a solemn elegy for those brave souls.
The gravity of the scouts sacrifice is not lost on any of us, those who would risk and ultimately spend their lives to keep others safe must never be forgotten. At the noon meal, Arwen sings a haunting lay in the Sindar tongue and the light of her people is upon her. Though I speak little of that blessed language, I understand its meaning plainly enough. The sun breaks through a gap in gray clouds for one hopeful moment. As we sit and eat, clumped in groups for protection and warmth among the foothills, all look to the sun as to our hope and our hearts are lifted. The moment for peace and thought is fleeting. Arwen’s song ends as the sun hides anew. Camp is broken in haste and all in the company can sense the coming of the storm. The air is filled with an anxious intensity, a buzz which sets the nerves on edge.
In defiance of the earth and wind itself, Kahliel dons his headdress and calls to his people. Some in the North may think him a savage, and no doubt dismiss our quest of alliance as a fool’s errand. Their arrogance is the true foolishness, and seeing Kahliel rally his tribesman I can’t help but recall stories of the Númenórean kings of old. Their captain’s wisdom is plain, though some would be blinded of this by ignorance and suspicion. Though the afternoon march is grueling, we have formed a bond through hardship and the fight for survival. This shared experience provides us reserves of willpower, redoubling our efforts to outpace the storm. At sundown, the storm comes.
Gales gust like the wingbeats of a dragon, pulling our cloaks away from our faces and dragging the unwary off their feet. Rain pelts at an aggressive diagonal, seemingly coming from everywhere. It starts as a distinct ping, ping, ping sound on our armor but quickly intensifies. Soon, it is falling like the hoofbeats of the Rohirrim – a chaotic cacophony of noise without coherence. The storm assaults our senses and staggers even the most determined of steps. All forward progress is ground to a halt by volley upon volley from a numberless and unseen foe. We are helpless before the onslaught.
Still our group soldiers on, reduced to crawling on hands and knees in search of shelter and safety from the untamed and untamable beast of nature’s wrath. The bravery that I see this night will remain etched in my memory forever. Jubayr selflessly steps in front of a clutch of refugees, deflecting a tree branch which has torn lose and would have decapitated lesser men. Firyal, despite the worsening conditions, continues to serve in the vanguard and is the first to sight the forest fire running amok just over the ridge-line. His quick wits save us all from certain disaster as he hastily discovers an alternate route. When the wargs come again, heedless in their half-starved desperation, it is Yazan who saves us. His first shot pierces the eye of the leader and gives the others pause. His second shot follows immediately, pinning another warg to the ground by its throat and scattering the remnants of the pack.
If only those arrogant “nobles” in their White Tower could see us struggle, could appreciate what it means to rally around a common cause. Ours is not a battle of petty nationalism. Ours is not an obsession over the differences in language, culture, or the color of our skin. We join each other in the oldest and most basic struggle of all – the struggle of life against death. We fight and die for each other, and many acts of selfless sacrifice will sadly go uncounted and unnoticed.
In the end, the storm takes its toll. Some have drowned in the deluge, others burned in the freak fires caused by lightening strikes. More are lost in the wilderness, scattered while confusion overcame us. In the coming days, we slowly accept that they will never be seen again. All wear our wounds without shame.
Kahliel weeps openly at the sight of the devastation. Far from disdain, we only respect him more for his honesty and the knowledge that he has sacrificed alongside each of us. For many the trauma of this night will take years to overcome, but those who have survived are forged with a certainty that this alliance is vital. Having passed through the ravages of the storm, we do not fear the armies of the enemy. Any force of the dark lord that would oppose us should be wary; we of this brave band have defeated fiercer foes.
I did not think that I would be writing about storms again so soon after Harvey. Sadly, it appears that the storm season is only intensifying. One record-breaking storm followed by another. For any who are free to give, I encourage you to do so. You can find the deck for this story at RingsDB. Stay safe, everyone!