Chapter 28: A Final Bound
Once again, the company finds itself running for their lives, only this time, the entirety of the company is present. Nobody is going to be left behind.
Edyth runs with her sword unsheathed. The blade is stained with the inside of Goblin and soon it may very well be covered in Warg blood. There is no plan, no strategy. The only thing running through the minds and legs is to work as fast as possible, away from their foe. She leaps over rocks and down sharp inclines, even her Hobbit feet feeling the brunt of all the running they have been doing.
The growling becomes closer every second and out of the corner of her eye, she sees her first. Its black coat almost blending in with the trees but the yellow-white of its bared teeth giving it away to her peripheral. She watches it but the beast attacks Dori first who handles it cleanly along with Nori.
A Warg leaps over her head, but Edyth is not its target. The beast's paws land on Kili's back and the Dwarves is driven into the ground face first. He manages to spin around, swiping his sword as the Warg attempts to gnaw at his face.
Edyth leaps off a small ledge, her bone-hilted sword tightly gripped in both of her hands, the point of the blade facing downwards. She lands on the Warg's back, her weight and the momentum combined, sinking her sword right between its shoulder blades. The Warg howls, forgetting its prey underneath and scampers, shaking to throw her off. Edyth lets herself roll off to the side, taking her sword with her. The Warg growls at her, snapping its jaw but stumbles, weak from the blow.
Edyth dashes forward to Kili who is already half-way on his feet and grips his forearm, pulling him up the rest of the way and they return to sprinting with the rest of the company. Their breaths are as hard and fast as their legs are working, the world around them almost falling into a blur but soon they slow down; their path has come to an end.
Edyth spins around, looking for an escape. In one direction they are faced with a cliff, in the other, Wargs and no doubt Orcs. There is no escape on the ground. She looks around to the trees, following their trunks up which almost reach towards the sky.
Gandalf notices her upwards gaze and catches onto the forming idea. "Quick! Into the trees!" he commands. Edyth darts quicker than anybody else can react and heads towards the nearest tree, sheathing her sword. Dwarves jump up, bouncing off rocks and one another to reach the branches. Below her, Fili swings off one branch, wrapping his legs around another. Edyth leans down, one hand on a branch overhead, the other extending downwards for him to latch onto. Together, they heave him upwards, away from the approaching Orcs.
She searches the trees for him first, but she cannot see his head of hair through them, so she switches to the ground. He is below her, just on the other side of the trunk. "Fili!" she calls, capturing his attention. As soon as she feels his eyes on her, Edyth lets herself fall forwards, her arms extended as long as she can stretch them. As she turns downwards, her legs are wound over the branch, leaving her hanging upside down. "Bilbo!"
Bilbo looks up, sheathing his own weapon and immediately jumps up. They grip each other's forearms and as she hoped, a strong force pulls on the back of her vest. Fili heaves her back up straight, consequently bringing up Bilbo as well who wraps his legs around the branch, assisting himself up the rest of the way.
The Wargs hunt underneath them, snarling and snapping up at the trees where they've taken refuge. They begin circling, having enclosed their prey in a spot where they can no longer run. Edyth knows that they've only brought themselves time, not freedom.
"We're trapped," Fili mutters, on the exact same trail as her. Edyth grips his shoulder from behind, bringing his eyes to hers. She shakes her head, a silent plea to not give in to the helplessness in his voice.
The Wargs underneath them suddenly calm off their hunting form, raising their heads and ears. Edyth's eyes drift from them, up the small hill towards the rest of the hunting party. There are six or so Orcs riding Wargs, standing calmly on a natural perch. At the front of the pack is their leader, an Orc taller than she has ever seen before, pale and scared. Its left lower arm has been cut off, in its place a long blade. A literal extension of his body. The Warg he rides upon is just as pale, yellow eyes glinting in the low light.
Edyth stomach clenches.
The Pale Orc speaks in a tongue unknown to the company's ears. It drips with a confident taunt, almost a purr. The only words she can understand is Thorin's name. It is true, she realises, the Great Goblin's words from earlier. He has truly called for the Pale Orc to come claim his prize. Thorin's head. That alone sends a shard into her heart, but another cuts through it as she recalls Balin's words in his story; a promise to wipe out the line of Durin.
A Durin stands right in front of her, gripping the back of her vest, perched on the same branch as her. Her friend who she has laughed herself into tears with, kicked off a pony, snuck extra food to. Her eyes find Kili in the tree opposite. She knows in that second, there and then, that Edyth will sacrifice her last breath to make sure the line of Durin continues on.
Azog points his weapon forward, giving a final command.
The Wargs that had settled in their master's presence become ravenous once more. No longer do they just circle the trees, but the Wargs start jumping up the trunks. Their claws scratch into the bark and every time they fall back down, they manage to jump up higher. They begin to reach the lowest branches, snapping them off and leaving the Dwarves no choice but to climb higher. Fili, Edyth, and Bilbo do just that, the branch under their feet disappearing seconds later.
They are ferocious, slobber pouring out the sides of the jaws, no doubt imagining their meat in their mouths. They climb over each other, having no restraint in the efforts to reach them. Edyth unsheathes her sword once more, having it ready to face the jaws at her ankles.
The entire tree shakes under their paws, bark snapping. Edyth watches it happen to another tree before it happens to theirs. "Come on," she cries, running along to the edge of the branch. She leaps from it just as the tree begins to tip over. Fili and Bilbo bound into the tree next to her, landing on adjacent branches as their previous tree breaks through the weaker ones of their current, toppling towards the ground.
They don't even last thirty seconds on the second tree as three Wargs pounce at its base and the trunk begins to crumble and crack. Edyth already prepares herself to jump to the third, sheathing her sword yet again. She isn't given much choice as to when she can as their second tree snaps. She jumps, hands out in front as the branches scratch at her face and arms. With closed eyes, she can only hope that her arms find something.
Her chest does, running into a thick branch which she holds under her arms but Edyth lets go in favour of the one below. Landing with a quick thud, she grips the branch above, not having access to the trunk as another Dwarf shares the same branch.
This is the last tree.
Edyth climbs closer to the trunk, her side knocking into Kili's. The prince glances down at her and Edyth catches his eye in a chance moment. Neither says anything and Edyth keeps glancing around at the Orcs before returning to him. This may be it, she realises. "Can you teach me some archery one day?"
Kili's chest caves for a moment. He swallows, nodding hastily with a small but true smile. "I think you'd be good at it. Especially if I'm teaching you."
Edyth smiles, biting her lip and shaking her head as she looks back to the Wargs below. Teasing, even in a time like this. Though she supposes she is as well.
Something small but alight falls down from the branches above, catching their attention. The small object lands on the ground, the small flames sparking and bursting into a fire that lights the dry grass around it. The Wargs scamper away from the fire like any natural beast does to a flame.
Gandalf drops another lit pinecone down to the blonde prince who bounces it in his hand, lighting up one in Bilbo's before tossing it down below. Kili releases the branch, catching one and Edyth reaches out for her own, holding it against Kili's to be lit. Having no desire to hold it in her hands any longer, she retracts her arm before throwing it as far as she can. A cruel satisfaction overwhelms her as it lands on a Warg's back, lighting his fur up.
The pinecones keep coming and the ground beneath them becomes almost engulfed in fire. The Wargs cower away and even the Pale Orcs mount becomes unsettled underneath him. The Dwarves begin to cheer and Edyth lets herself smile but by now she has learnt her lesson – never to celebrate too early. Kili's hand latches onto her shoulder as he cheers, encouraging her to do the same but she shakes her head.
A second later, the tree bends, a horrible cracking sound echoing up the trunk. Her second arm begins to raise to find the branch above but an arm wraps around her waist as the tree begins to topple. She is shimmed over Kili's body to his other side, her stomach collapsing onto the trunk. As the tree falls, Edyth counts herself as lucky, and fortunate, for his actions as she straddles the bark, upright and secure.
Many aren't as lucky, hanging from branches with their feet dangling below. Edyth glances down. The ground is hundreds of feet below. Kili is hugging a small branch, also upright but not completely safe and he pants hard.
Edyth keeps her legs firmly wrapped around the tree, leaning to the side and grips Kili's arms. She doesn't have the strength to pull him all the way up, but it is enough to act as extra security if his grip is to falter. "Please," she grunts through gritted teeth. "Just hold on."
"Same to you, sweetheart." Edyth chokes on a chuckle, dipping her forehead to rest against his. Edyth makes a quick glance over her shoulder, considering her back is to the Orc pack but what she sees stuns her. She lifts her head away from Kili's, eyes wide as an owl as Thorin strides down the trunk just in front of her, his sword in hand.
"What is he doing?"
Their leader runs alone through the branches and into the forest of flames alone to face his lifetime enemy. Reluctantly, she slowly lets Kili's arms go as she rises to her feet, balancing on the wood.
Edyth walks forward as Thorin runs towards Azog, wondering what on earth he could be planning. He's tired, worn down from the previous day's hard trek and Stone Giants. They've been running from Goblins for who knows how long and now Orcs? Dwarves are stubborn, that she knows, but stupid?
Her right-hand lay on the hilt of her sword as she approaches the base of the tree. Azog has his arms open wide, welcoming the Dwarf king's attack. There is no stopping either of them. As Thorin nears, Azog returns his arms to his side, the pale Warg leaping off the stone perch. Orc and Warg soar through the air, his paws smashing into Thorin's chest, sending him to the ground without a chance to counter the attack.
The Warg circles around as Thorin pushes to his feet.
Fear stops Edyth's feet. What is she to do? How could she help?
Azog the Defiler raises his mace once again, riding forward. Thorin doesn't react in time and the mace strikes him in the chest.
Edyth doesn't know how she has gotten there. One moment she is at the base of the tree, the next, she is a mere two meters away from a great foe. But her feet don't let her run. Azog, with Thorin barely moving on the ground, turns his attention to her. She can see it in his eyes; the desire and lust for blood. She can also see how little he thinks she is. A small Hobbit, standing with a sword, that is barely a sword, in front of a Gundabag Orc whose reputation can rattle bones by name alone.
Edyth digs her heels into the ground, gripping her weapon's hilt with both hands as she crouches slightly. "No," she growls. Azog tips his chin upwards as the Orc prances on its front paws, eager to move. Edyth takes a step to the side, standing closer to Thorin's body. She can swear Azog smiles.
The Orc pulls back his mace and Edyth's eyes trace its movements, but she knows that there is no plan in her head. No plan of attack nor defence. She just couldn't let Thorin stand alone and that is all she knows. The mace swings through the air and it almost comes towards her as though time has slowed down.
She can see every spike on the metal baton clearly, tints of blood already coating the ends. It comes towards her own chest but before it reaches her, something hard hits her in the back of her ankles, sending Edyth backwards.
The mace flies over the top of her, her back landing against the hard ground. Thorin groans next to her and she realises what he's done. Azog's mace comes down at her again, frustrated that he missed his first blow but Edyth now knows she has to act. Rolling out of the way, the mace slams into the ground between the Dwarf and Hobbit who clambers to her feet, drawing his attention away from the king. His prize can wait, but she can become a nuisance to him. A distraction. As long as she lasts long enough for something else to help.
Edyth swings her sword around and the Orc dodges her strikes by bouncing from one paw to the other. Azog lets his mount try to attack, hoping that his jaws will do better than the mace. But the Warg becomes fed up, as Edyth manages to avoid its canines.
An unexpected paw swoops out and with no shield, Edyth receives the brunt of the forces. Legs leave the ground as she spins through the air, crashing and tumbling into the ground, stopping meters away from where Thorin's body still lays. Though he is attempting to clamber to his feet, elbows driven into the ground.
Edyth's side burns like a lit pinecone has been held to it for an hour. Teeth grind together as she holds her cry, hands tightly pressing against her waist. The broken twigs and pebbles on the ground scratch her face as she digs her forehead into it, trying to push back up to her feet but her knees continue to give out.
She falls back to the ground, face turned towards Azog and Thorin. The Pale Orc smirks as his beast growls with a low hung head, sauntering towards the fallen king. The Warg leaps forward, his jaws opening then clamping around Thorin's middle.
Edyth mouth rounds in a silent scream.
Azog bathes in his victory as Thorin is thrown about in the Wargs mouth, lavishing in the cries of the company. Edyth grits her teeth, hands leaving her side as she digs her elbows into the ground. Every ounce of her strength is poured into her knees and elbows as she crawls towards them. Sweat pours down her face from the heat of the fire, mixing in with blood and dirt.
The Warg finishes its play with Thorin and the Dwarf is thrown through the air, his back landing on a rounded rock. He lays still but she can see his eyes still open, the soft turns of his head.
One of Azog Orcs marches forward, a single curved blade in his hand. Edyth rocks her weight, shouting to the ground as her legs refuse to let her stand. Each and every attempt she makes is met with a muscle giving away and a strike of pain from her side when she hits the ground.
For a moment, it looks like Thorin has given in, but as the Orc lays his blade across his neck, lining up his strike, Thorin's arm wildly searches for his sword which is only just out of reach. The Orc grips his own in both hands, quickly raising it.
And then Bilbo Baggins tackles him to the ground.
The Orc quickly rolls on top of her brother, but Bilbo counters his strike, rolling them over again and digs his blade into the executor's chest. He rolls off the body, turning around to face not only Azog, but the other Wargs and riders. He swings his sword around, unskilfully, but menacingly. Azog smiles just as he did when she faced him. Edyth can only pray that Bilbo doesn't fail as she has.
The Pale Orc speaks to his race in his dark tongue.
Edyth has risen to his hands and knees, reaching out to grip the rock which Thorin has fallen upon. The Orcs slowly stride forward just as Edyth manages to stand on her feet, both hands on the rock behind Bilbo. She looks up at the Orcs, one in particular whose sights are set directly on her. It is like staring death in the face.
Edyth pushes her sword hand off, tightening her grip on the bone hilt. She switches her sights to Azog himself. If she is going to go down, she may as well try and take the leader while she is at it.
A battle cry that she feels like she has heard a hundred times over by now sounds in her ears again. Out of the flames and bushes, numerous Dwarves emerge with their weapons bared. Kili and Fili are at the head, soon followed by Bifur, Dwalin and Bofur. Edyth's mouth pulls open slightly as they cut through the Wargs. Bilbo cries out his own battle cry, leaping into the action and Edyth desperately tries to put one foot forward.
Her leg crumples again, sending her back to her knees.
Bilbo is knocked to the ground, unwounded but winded. The Pale Orc stares him down, his Warg creeping forward. The other Dwarves are surrounded as well, despite their valiant efforts. Edyth can't help but look at them and wonder if this is the last time, she will see them.
An eagle's crow comes from the sky and Edyth peers up at the odd sound to hear. She believes her eyes to betray her at first as a small flock of birds do fly overhead, but their size is measurable against the Wargs themselves. She has never seen birds so large.
One swoops down, its talons unfurled until a Warg is between them and it flies back up again, letting the beast fall over the edge of the cliff. Edyth falls back down to her backside purely so she can look up and watch.
Another grips a trunk of a tree, its flight not stopping, and the tree topples onto two Wargs. Again, and again, they swoop down latch onto their enemy, tossing them over edges and into fires. But the Dwarves are left alone. And so is Azog.
Edyth ducks as one flies what looks like directly towards her, its wing flapping over her head. Its talon's curl around Thorin who has not moved yet. Edyth reaches out for him, fearing she is about to watch him be thrown over the edge as well, but the eagle does not let go.
While she is turned to watch Thorin, an Eagle swoops down behind her. She feels it before she sees it. Talons slide underneath and above her and suddenly her feet are no longer on the ground. The ground underneath her blurs, loose hair blowing all around.
Then she is no longer encased by the leathery feet.
She doesn't scream, only gasp for air but a new ground is found underneath; one that does not lead to her death. It is feathery and unbelievably soft. On either side, long wings flapping slowly. Eagles swoop down into the tree they had taken refuge on and she watches in delight as her friends are plucked to safety, on the backs of other Eagles. Another swoops down into the flames, a Dwarf in each talon. They are dropped in the air, their screams distinct to her ears, ending abruptly as they also land on an Eagle's back.
They are safe.
As all the members – and every single one, she has checked – are within the Eagles' control, the flock turn together, regrouping to fly as one. Edyth rests her head against the Eagle's back, closing her eyes. She knows that each second they are closed, she is missing a view she will likely never experience again but right then, rest is more desirable than a pretty sight.
Fili's voice forces her eyes back open. She first finds Thorin again, but there is no change in his state. Perhaps he is dead. Edyth thinks over that possibility for a long time as they fly. She had failed. When it was the most important, she failed.
Again, and again, that has been the outcome of everything she has done on this quest. And now their leader may well be dead because she could not handle the situation. An invisible claw digs into her chest, the nails breaking past skin and into her lungs. Edyth clenches her eyes shut, one hand gripping her chest to relieve the pain but there is no stopping it.
They fly for half an hour, the sunrise breaking through the clouds. The Eagles have taken leagues off their journey but that may as well be fruitless with the way everything is ending. The weight of all their failures presses down on her back.
The Eagles circle a large rock, high above the ground but with a flat top. The first Eagle to approach is the one with Thorin, laying him down gently. The next is Gandalf who runs towards the Dwarf as soon as his feet touches the ground. One by one, the Eagles let off their passengers.
Truthfully, Edyth is more than content to just planted on the Eagles back, flying towards the sun forever. But alas, that is not the desire of the Eagle. She can't blame the creature, for her presence would surely be a nuisance. She is the last to arrive, the Eagle landing right on the edge behind the crowd. As they had come down, Edyth caught glimpse of Gandalf leaning over Thorin's body.
Though every bone and muscle in her body begs her not to, Edyth slowly urges her legs over the side of the Eagle's body. She slides down, knees faltering as they jar against the stone, but the short rest has given her more energy back and she remains standing. Edyth also remains at the back, blocked from view of what is happening out the front. She can't bring herself to see him anymore.
"It's alright," Gandalf says. "Bilbo and Edyth are here. Quite safe."
Edyth's head perks at her name. Is Gandalf talking to Thorin? The Dwarves in front of her bend down, picking up something. Or rather, someone. Edyth's chest caves in as Dwalin and Kili grip Thorin's arms, bringing him to his feet. Thorin shrugs them off harshly after he has risen, panting hard.
Thorin faces Bilbo, stumbling slightly in his step. "You!" Thorin growls. "What were you doing? You nearly got yourself killed! Did I not say that you and your sister would be a burden? That you would not survive in the wild? That you had no place amongst us?"
Edyth's heart doesn't shatter. The claw in her chest has already done that. She had tried, but it was never enough. Because she isn't enough. She isn't what this quest needs. And no wonder; Gandalf had not requested her, she was a desperate resort when his first and only option disappeared. If it wasn't for Bilbo, Thorin would now be dead.
"I have never been so wrong, in all my life." Edyth's eyes lift slowly from the ground as Thorin embraces her brother tightly. But she can't find it in herself to be happy. Thorin claps Bilbo on the shoulder, before looking around the company. "Edyth?"
Edyth doesn't move, but she does meet his eyes. Thorin starts walking towards her, the others moving out of the way and Edyth bows her head again. Thorin's hands lay on the side of each of her shoulders, drawing her eyes back up. She smiles, one that she can manage for the sake of his survival. She is glad he is alive after all – that everyone is. "I am sorry."
Edyth shakes her head slightly. "I never thought I'd hear a Dwarf say that, let alone this one," she muses in a croaky voice. Thorin chuckles deeply before his arms encircle her as they had Bilbo. Silently, she thanks him for embracing her upper body, leaving her side untouched. She digs her face into his coat, relishing the moment of acceptance. The Dwarves cheer; cheer for everything, their lives, Bilbo and Edyth, the day. The quest still lives on with a chance.
Thorin pulls away, squeezing her shoulder one last as the Eagles around them squawk in farewell. As the Dwarves look up to their brief ally, Edyth's eyes drop to her side. Her red vest is already dark and stained from months of wear in the wild but even then, there is a dark patch that is new. As gently as she can manage, she runs her fingers over the fabric where there are two cuts. You can't see the skin underneath through the mix of layers and grime.
"Are you alright?"
Edyth drops her hand, head snapping up. She plants on a smile again, nodding. "I'm fine," she promises. Kili's frown drops, replaced with the usual boyish smile. He leans down, kissing her forehead. Edyth closes her eyes, truly smiling. When she opens them, the Dwarves behind are walking away, heading towards the point of the rock they are perched on. "Come on," she guides.
They walk, side by side until they reach Fili's. She smiles up at the blonde prince who hasn't looked happier in many days. In the distance, far, but still visible, is a mountain. A single peak.
"Is that what I think it is?" she whispers.
Fili nods ever so slowly. "Erebor."
Edyth almost can't take her eyes off it, but she is forced to as her fingers brush against her palm. Swallowing, she glances down subtly. Her fingers are bright red.
End of Part 1