Standard Bearer, The
10. A Truly Evil Place
The Plateau of Gorgoroth was a foul and filthy place, the ground pitted and ruined, the black earth wasted and sterile. The soldiers of the Alliance scarcely noticed it, however, so fast did their foes retreat in front of them. Men and Elves had been many cold months fighting hard on the plain of Dagorlad, but once the foe had broken at Morennan, he had fled quickly, those that did not scatter racing to take refuge in the terrible tower of Barad-dûr, the great fortress of the dark lord himself.
Finally, with darkness falling, and the dreadful tower looming on the skyline, Gil-galad called for a halt, and they stopped for the night. There was little comfort to be had, no fuel for fires or cooking, and but the bare ground to sleep on, with cloaks for cover.
“Ooh!” groaned Gildinwen, settling herself down on the hard earth, “I’m so tired I think I could sleep on a rock.”
“Just as well,” remarked Elrond dryly, laying out his blanket nearby, “For I doubt it is possible to find a place free of them.”
Sleep proved to be more elusive than she had hoped, however, as spirits remained high in Gil-galad’s camp.
“They are on the run now, with their miserable tails between their legs!” gloated Isildur.
“Aye,” his father replied, “But many of them will make Barad-dûr, and I doubt that will fall so easily.”
Gil-galad nodded in agreement, “It will be a siege my lords, and a long one I fear.”
From the edge of the camp came the sound of approaching horses, halting to the sound of the sentry’s challenge. Soon, two men appeared out of the gloom and bowed to Elendil.
“My lord!” The messenger handed over a fat packet, “From your son, the Lord Anàrion.”
“What news of my brother?” cried Isildur, leaping to his feet, as his father busied himself opening the missives.
“He is victorious, my lord! Minas Ithil is retaken!” the messenger’s grin was bright in his dirt-darkened face, “The orcs and foul creatures have been driven forth, and the city is free again!”
“That is great news indeed!” he clapped the messenger on the back. “Here Man!” he handed him a flask, “Have a drink to celebrate.” The man and his companion joined the others amid shouts of merriment and greeting.
“More news for you, my son.” Elendil passed him a letter from the packet. “Your wife’s hand if I’m not mistaken.”
Isildur tore open the seal and devoured the contents. “A son!” he cried. “A boy! Born two months ago in Imladris! Valadil he is named.”
“That is indeed good news! And your wife, she is well?”
“Yes, she has recovered quickly.” He read on, “She has returned already to Minas Ithil,” he hesitated, “ Being tired of the quiet life at Rivendell.”
“Anàrion writes that he will join us soon.”
“Let us have a proper celebration, Father! To mark the victory, and the birth of a new child.”
Elendil looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded, “Yes, it will put heart in us to remember good things for a time.”
Isildur lifted his flagon, “To victory, and Valadil.”
Sighing with annoyance and discomfort, Gildinwen sat up, this was hopeless, she would never get to sleep. She looked over at Elrond, he lay still, his grey eyes gazing up at the night sky - dreaming without sleeping as Elves do. His dark hair was disordered, and his face sad, as it often was in repose. She longed to reach out and comfort him, a now-familiar warmth suffusing her limbs at the thought. Initially she had marked it as no more than a girlish infatuation. It was quite natural for her to feel drawn to someone following the loss of her family, and when that someone was practically immortal it made even more sense. But although her head understood all this quite logically, somehow she had been unable to make her body take note, and months later, if anything, it was worse. She was constantly distracted by his hands, his hair, his voice. At night she was tormented by dreams, and during the day the sight of him striding over the battlefield, or kneeling beside a casualty would rush her blood and scatter her thoughts.
At first she had dared to hope that something might come of it. His acts of kindness towards her when she first arrived had fuelled that spark, but as time went on he withdrew, wrapping a coldness and a sadness about himself that she could not penetrate.
“My Lady?” a quiet voice sounded at her shoulder, and she looked round at the friendly features of Luinil.
“What is it?”
“We’ve had some wounded come in, and the other healers have not come up yet, would you attend them?”
She groaned inwardly, but set a smile on her face, “Yes, of course.” She shrugged off her blanket and stood, picking up her satchel.
“I will come with you.” Elrond was already on his feet.
At first she did not recognise the young man she tended, his face and clothes heavy with the black dust of the plain, it was only when he spoke that she saw who it was.
“Hey!” he grinned at her, his teeth white in his grimy face, “Gildinwen! I thought you were an Elf in the dark! You’re dressed just like one.”
“Yes,” she grinned back, “I’m serving in Lord Gil-galad’s household.”
He shook his head in exaggerated disapproval, “I don’t know…young women today.”
She gave his injured shoulder a quick squeeze.
“Ow! Watch it!”
“You should be less rude to your healer, then these things wouldn’t happen. Now lie quietly while I dress this wound.”
“Yes, my lady.” he replied, with mock obedience.
A handsome man, his tanned face topped by thick dark hair, his clothes of high quality beneath the dirt, appeared to kneel beside them.
“Here you go, Falcred,” he grinned, “get some of this in you.”
“Brith!” Falcred leaned forward to take the bottle, “Wherever did you find it?”
“Oh, let’s just say I called in a favour or two.”
Falcred took a deep swallow, “Ah! That’s better.” He pointed to Gildinwen, “This is the Lady Gildinwen.”
The man bowed, a predatory smile on his face, “Indeed, she needs no introduction.”
“This is Lord Brithiar, who holds the south of Ithilien for Isildur.”
The older man demurred, “Just plain Brith will do out here, we’re all soldiers together.”
Gildinwen finished binding up Falcred’s wound and sat back.
“Here you go,” he offered her the bottle, “Have a drink.”
“Come on! Celebrate our great victory!”
“We haven’t won yet.”
“In Minas Ithil we have! The city is free, and the people return home as we speak.” He grabbed her arm in excitement, pressing the bottle on her, “Come on, just a little one.”
“I believe her answer was ‘no’.” Elrond’s voice was stern from behind her. Brith leapt to his feet at the sudden noise, his sword halfway out of its curiously ornate scabbard before he realised who it was and relaxed again.
Falcred raised his hands in a parody of surrender. “Alright, alright. I meant no harm.” He leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially in Gildenwen’s ear. “Elves! No sense of humour, you know.”
She smiled, despite herself, and patted him fondly on the arm, “Get some rest, Falcred. And don’t have too much to drink.”
Between them Elrond and Gildinwen quickly finished tending the rest of the injured, and started back towards their camp. With luck she might just catch a couple of hours of sleep before dawn.
As they passed through a dark defile, a dreadful shriek split the air. Gildinwen started with fright, only just managing to keep from grabbing the Elf-Lord’s arm, “What was that?” she hissed.
There were more sounds now, jeers and mocking laughter.
As they approached the end of the gully, she could see a group of men gathered in the darkness. A feeling of dread came over her as they approached the group, and she had to make a conscious effort not to shrink behind Lord Elrond.
The awful scream echoed again, appearing to come from a bundle of rags lying on the ground. Laughter followed it as before. Now they were close enough to see the truth. Cowering on the ground, at the feet of the men, an Orc, one of Sauron’s fell footsoldiers. Limbs bound, they had impaled him to the ground with a lance through the belly. She watched with nauseated horror, as the soldiers pressed their heavy boots into the torn flesh, laughing uproariously as the creature writhed and screamed in agony.
Horror turned to pity, and pity to anger, driving her forward with flashing eyes and lashing tongue.
“What are you doing?!” she demanded, her voice laden with rage.
The men looked round at her, bemused. “Just a little sport, my lady.”
“Care to watch?” one of them kicked the prisoner again.
“You can have a turn if you like,” replied another, provoking much laughter from his fellows.
Gildinwen’s voice was icy with fury, “You should be ashamed of yourselves, torturing a helpless creature.”
“It’s a filthy Orc.”
“Aye, they would have done the same to us.” The voice was sullen and resentful.
From the shadows behind her came the almost imperceptible metallic shiver of an Elven blade leaving its scabbard.
Gildinwen’s eyes glowed, “That’s right!” she snarled, “They would have done the same to us. Are we then become as they are? What are we fighting for, if we are no better? This sport,” she spat the word, “is not worthy of you.”
“Alright then,” sneered the leader, “You want him so much? He’s yours.” He leaned forward and wrenched out the lance, provoking further gurgling cries from the prisoner, then kicked the vile brute towards her. It shuffled its bound and broken limbs pitifully, moaning with agony.
“Try healing that!” The men laughed, it was an ugly sound. They waited insolently to see what she would do.
Gildinwen looked down at the odious wretch, slavering and moaning, trying to clutch at her feet with its bloodied hands.
Pity and revulsion vied within her. Only in this evil place could such a thing occur. She knelt down, the stench gagging her. The eyes, red and inhuman, stared from the mutilated face. She could not read them. She closed her eyes for a moment. She knew what she had to do but the thought made her cold inside. Very gently, she touched one hand to the side of that repulsive face, and the creature quietened for a moment. Then she raised the other. Her surgeon’s knife flashed, and the torment was over.
She stood, white and shaking, and stared defiantly at the now silent spectators, until one by one they melted away into the dark. Her face twisted and inside she felt nothing but a sick emptiness. ‘I’m so tired.’ She thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I just want to go home.’ Only she had no home now, only this tainted battlefield, with all the filth of body and mind that it encompassed.
Elrond stepped out of the shadows without speaking, to stand beside her.
She turned her gaze back to the torn and mutilated body at their feet. “Is this evil?” she asked him bitterly, “We none of us choose what we are born to. Can we be surprised that that which is brought into the darkness knows nothing of the light?”
“This is not the Evil, Gildinwen,” his eyes were lost in shadow, “but only a symptom of it. These weak and tormented creatures are but a tool in its hand.” He laid a gentle hand on her arm. At any other time such a touch would have set her heart alight but now she felt only a barren emptiness. “Come away.”
Less than a week later, the temporary encampment was almost unrecognisable. Tents and pavilions had been brought up from the rear, and regular supply lines established along the roads from Minas Anor.
“Now that’s what I call a meal!” groaned Elendil, sitting back from the great table set out in front of Gil-galad’s new headquarters.
“Indeed,” replied the Elf-Lord, with a smile, “It has been long since we ate so well.”
Gildinwen, seated with Galeria, and some of the other younger Elves at a smaller table nearby, had to agree. But for her the best part about their new camp was the ready supply of water, brought along the road in great barrels mounted on wagons. Just being able to wash everyday seemed such a luxury now.
“Now then, hear this!” Elendil was on his feet addressing the whole company, “To honour my great ally, and generous host,” he bowed to Gil-galad, “and to mark the liberation of the city of Minas Ithil,” he grinned, “as well as the birth of the newest member of my house. I am going to give a celebration! Feasting, music and dancing! Let us show you how the Men of Gondor and Anórian fête their victories! One week’s time – and you’re all invited.” He gave a magnanimous gesture encompassing all the company.
Murmurs of appreciation, and a smattering of applause from the Elves, cheers and loud hammering on the tables from the Men present.
Galeria clapped her hands with glee. “Oh, how wonderful! Music and dancing! It seems so long since we had anything joyful!” Her delight was infectious and Gildinwen felt herself grinning with pleasure, it would be fun!
“I see Lord Elendil’s proposal has your approval!” Glorfindel teased Galeria as he and Elrond came over from the main table to join them.
She blushed becomingly, “Oh it will be wonderful! To hear music and singing!” she reached out to take Gildinwen’s hand, “To get out of these clothes and into something beautiful again!”
Gildinwen’s face clouded for a moment, she had only her everyday wear. Oh well! At least she could wash it now.
Galeria’s sharp eyes had noticed the change in her friend, however, and she easily guessed the cause. “Don’t worry!” she whispered to her, “You can borrow something of mine, I always bring too many clothes.”
Gildinwen laughed and squeezed the Elf’s hand with gratitude, her grin returning.
The days leading up to Elendil’s celebration went quickly. The anticipation in both camps was great, with everyone was looking forward to forgetting the realities of the war for a few hours. A great convoy came down from Minas Ithil, and Gildinwen watched with Galeria as it arrived.
At the head, mounted on a white horse, beneath a leaping banner adorned with the setting sun, rode Anárion. Noble in countenance and flush with victory, he bowed regally to the cheering soldiers who lined his route. Many warriors accompanied him, and their numbers were welcomed by Elendil and Gil-galad. Wagons there were in plenty, groaning with food and luxuries, and heavy carriages, their embroidered hangings rich and sumptuous, carried the Ladies of Gondor and Arnor.
“That’s the Lady Varadil,” Galeria pointed to the most heavily adorned of the conveyances. “Wife of Lord Isildur, and a great beauty.” She pursed her lips, “Can’t say I care for her much, though. She’s very vain. I much prefer Anárion’s wife, Tuiliel. She’s a very accomplished singer.”
The next day, Gildinwen found herself once more helping Lord Gil-galad with letters and correspondence. In addition to her language skills, she had become adept at codes and ciphers, and in recent weeks that talent had been in great demand. There was much to be done, and it was almost dusk before the Elf-Lord took notice of her restlessness and released her.
She ran towards the tent she now shared with Galeria, not wanting to miss a single minute of the evening’s entertainment. Inside her friend was nowhere to be seen but hot water was waiting.
“Bless you, Luinil!” she said aloud, as she dragged off her tunic, and hopped out of her trousers.
Then something else caught her eye. Laid out on her pallet were several gowns.
“Oh Galeria!” she breathed as she sank into the hot tub, “Thank you!”
Once she had bathed, and combed out her long hair to dry, she allowed herself to look at the garments. All were of fine, beautiful silk, their colours shimmering and embroidery resplendent. The one which she was drawn to was a deep, iridescent blue, wonderfully embellished at bodice and hem with gold stitching. It fitted perfectly.
She twirled around delighted! It was even the right length.
“Are you ready yet?” Galeria’s excited voice sounded outside.
“Coming!” she grabbed her cloak and flung it over her shoulders, ducking out the tent.
The Elf-maiden stood waiting impatiently, her spring green gown matching her eyes perfectly, delicate gold filigree adorning neck and wrist.
“Oh! Lovely!” she cried as Gildinwen emerged. “It is a much better fit than any of mine would have been! Wherever did you get it?”
Gildinwen looked confused, “It was inside with the others, isn’t it one of yours?”
“No, silly!” the Elf laughed, “It would be too short for me.”
“Oh!” Gil stopped, perplexed.
“Perhaps Luinil rustled it up, he is good at that sort of thing.”
Gildinwen’s brow cleared, “Of course, he must have brought it along with the water – what a treasure he is!”
A polite cough sounded behind them, and they turned to see Lord Elrond, elegantly attired in a simple dark blue tunic, an Elven cloak hanging casually from his shoulder, his hair loose about his face. Gildinwen felt her throat lock so that she could hardly draw breath, and had to look away.
He bowed to them. “Greetings ladies! May I say that you both look especially lovely this evening.”
Galeria giggled girlishly, and Gildinwen blushed till she thought she would catch fire.
“May I?” He stepped between them, turned and held out an arm on each side. Galeria laughed as she grabbed hold, “Delighted!” she replied in a mock formal voice.
Gildinwen felt her heart well within her as she placed her hand on his long forearm, feeling the muscle taut through the fine fabric.
The others chattered during their walk to the Men’s camp but she remained silent, nor could she have told what they had spoken of.
Note: I have been unable to find the names of Isildur’s and Anárion’s wives in any of my reference books, only those of their sons, so I have resorted to inventing them. If you know the real ones, let me know and I will change them.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.