2. Need of the Few..
Note: Aaaw, I dedicate this to all my fellow UCMEC members: you people are the coolest!
'You promised?' There was a resonance of surprise in Elrond's voice, almost disbelief, even though it was well-hidden.
Gil-galad gave him a frown. He knew the son of Eärendil long enough to pick it up.
Elrond shook his head, almost unnoticeable.
'And who did you promise to save, my Lord?'
The answer came reluctantly, yet Elrond had no trouble picking it up in turn. They had perfected the art of distinguishing emotions from each others answers over the years.
Elrond stayed silent, as Gil-galad stared into the darkness.
'You do not understand.'
An uncontrolled breath escaped the Lord of Imladris's lips.
'Perhaps I do, better then you presume. You promised the Lady Alian to save her husband.' Elrond pulled his cloak closer around him; the wind seemed to be picking up. Gil-galad watched him, as always valuing his opinion.
'Are we to leave them there, awaiting certain death?'
Elrond's eyes showed a sadness, his voice was barely audible.
'How many have died in the ambush last night? Is the life of one Lord worth more than any one of theirs? I must advise you not to turn this in some kind of martyrdom-related quest…'
Already regretting the liberty he had taken, Elrond silenced himself and turned away.
Any other might have fallen from the High King's grace speaking such words. But Gil-galad only cleared his throat, not even slightly taking advantage of the vulnerable position Elrond had placed himself in.
'If you wish it, we will return now, and not go in search of the prisoners.'
Elrond faced Gil-galad again.
'If it were only that simple, my Lord…'
'Will it hurt if we take a look at the other camp?' the High King forwarded.
Elrond tilted his head, not entirely certain of his answer. Finally he breathed in deeply and let out a sigh, accompanying it with a bland smile.
'The way you say it, my Lord, I fear it will not remain a look alone.'
'They rode with a detachment of only one hundred?' Glorfindel adopted an astonished stare as he faced Danhelm. 'And you let them?'
Celeborn crossed his arms as he watched Glorfindel grill Danhelm. They had ridden together from Imladris as soon as the news of victory had reached them. He cleared his throat and caught Glorfindel's eyes.
'You know Gil-galad's ways. He rarely takes advice if he sets his mind to something.'
'Did Elrond not disapprove?' Glorfindel continued, more or less ignoring the remark.
Danhelm nodded firmly.
'Master Elrond openly questioned the wisdom of the decision during the war-council, but I did not hear what my Lord Gil-galad discussed with him in private afterwards. Apparently he was brought around.'
Glorfindel seemed irritated as he walked into the High King's tent. Rather Elrond would have wanted to be near the High King in case something happened, he considered. He watched the maps which lay scattered across the table, much as they had been left three nights ago. Then he returned to Danhelm.
'When and where were they last seen?'
Danhelm had been ready for this question.
'Shortly after the advance on the encampment… Those who have returned say they saw the both of them last before the rain of arrows came down in my Lord Gil-galad's vicinity. Upon regrouping neither he, nor the Lord of Imladris was present.'
Glorfindel's eyes flared. Not exactly anger at Danhelm, but more a helplessness within himself.
'Are you telling me they have been taken prisoner?'
The expression in Danhelm's eyes worried Glorfindel. He bowed his head before he answered.
'The word is they are dead, my Lord.'
Celeborn came forward and rested his hand on Danhelm's shoulder.
'Only the council hears of this, you hear? No messengers to Imladris or Lindon as yet. Make sure of it.'
As Danhelm left, appearing even more helpless than before, Celeborn faced the other Elf-lord again. Glorfindel gave him a defiant stare.
'I will not believe either of them is dead until they find their bodies.'
Celeborn bit his lip, inwardly reflecting on something.
'Consider, that if the troops that led the ambush were indeed under Gorthaur's command, and that Gil-galad and Elrond were captured, and not immediately killed… You know what they will do to them, either of them… The High King of the Noldor, the Lord of Imladris; two individuals that have thwarted every single one of his attempts to conquer Eriador? Who together have chased him from the west? They are both symbols that would be destroyed with dedication. Taken home as trophies…'
Glorfindel silently walked a couple of steps before turning towards Celeborn again. Not a single part of him wished to consider those circumstances. But they had to anticipate.
'If both of them are… gone. Who will lead the Noldor?'
Celeborn shook his head.
'Círdan, Galadriel… I…'
Glorfindel slowly shook his head.
'He is not dead, Celeborn. I would have known it. I would have felt it…'
Celeborn nodded, not sure which of the two Glorfindel spoke of. But he understood the feeling, he desired to accept that as truth too…
The sounds of darkness, utter darkness, since neither the stars nor Rána* had chosen to appear, were all around them. For once, Elrond was thankful for it. The cover of shadows was integral for their victory.
The horses and their riders stood silently by, observing the camp, which was lighted from within by several small fires.
'Do they not expect us, that they have no guards? Another trap?' Gil-galad mumbled, to no one in particular.
'What do you think?' he added, raising his voice only slightly.
'We are not supposed to be here, my Lord. They have let down their guard under the misconception of safety.'
'Findor.' Gil-galad called softly, still not entirely convinced. The Elf came from behind and shortly bowed.
The horse shifted slightly beneath the High King, and Gil-galad patted it on the neck, before turning towards the Elf.
'I want you to stay here, in case we do not succeed. To relay what happened.'
If Findor was disappointed, he did not reveal it.
'Yes, my Lord.'
'If all goes well, I'll send someone to get you. If you hear nothing by tomorrow morning, leave.'
The elf nodded and moved his horse back into the darkness.
Less than an hour later Gil-galad moved through the now eerily dark and quiet camp. Vigilant, he still carried his sword in his right hand. It felt strange.
Yet he remembered what he had been taught, long ago, even if he wasn't sure by whom exactly, as if it were yesterday. He could wield the weapon with either hand, but his right would always be the strongest.
It called to mind the story of Maedhros. The depictions of Fingon, in many of the books in his libraries back in Lindon, liberating Fëanor's son, a friend of old, who had been chained to the rock upon Thangorodrim by Morgoth. Maedhros had lost his right hand in the rescue, but it was told, and Gil-galad vaguely recalled seeing it in his youth, that he had lived to wield his sword with his left hand more deadly than he had previously been with his right.
His father had soothed the unrest between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor with that deed, even if he had not been able to end it entirely. Due to it, Gil-galad knew he now held the kingship over the Noldor…
And perhaps, Gil-galad mused, it was because of my father's doings that years later, pity was given on my…
You have no son… Came his inward reprimand.
'Perhaps not created of my own flesh, but he is my…' He argued with the more logical side of his Fëa.
'My Lord.' He was interrupted, and Gil-galad turned to see Elrond running towards him.
'We have found nine of Malthon's companions, they are all safe and sound. They
tell us he was here, but was taken into the woods, not an hour ago. North…'
Gil-galad's eyes grew large, if only for a moment.
'How many with him?'
'Three enemy guards…'
Turning immediately into the direction where his horse waited, Gil-galad motioned Elrond to follow.
'We have to be hasty, and hope we are not already too late.' He said, quickening his pace.
Elrond followed without hesitation, having already informed the others that this was likely to happen. He considered their chances to be good. Two against three, together with the element of surprise… Very good odds indeed, especially since the men that had been protecting the others hadn't been very impressive soldiers either. Only time was their enemy now…
Once they entered the dense forest, Elrond could not help but admire the instinctive manner in which Gil-galad seemed to find his way through the forest.
Riding dangerously fast, evading the large branches, which were no doubt able to force one onto the ground without trouble, he made out the tracks of the previous riders much faster than Elrond himself.
And suddenly there it was, a small light among the trees.
Gil-galad was already riding towards it, and Elrond made out the sound of the unsheathing of a sword.
The man with the light had seen them coming, but, not been able to recognise them, had likely thought them of his own group, bearing a message.
The sight of the body of a man, felled by the sword of an Elven king passing by on horse, made Elrond shudder involuntarily.
Gil-galad was in total control, using his element of surprise to the fullest, cutting down the man standing over Malthon's body, before turning on the other, who sank to his knees and begged for mercy.
Gil-galad barely waited for Elrond to secure the man before dismounting, nearly jumping of his horse to reach the person lying on the soft forest floor.
For a moment Gil-galad thought the Elf at his feet was dead, but as he turned the body, his eyes met a pair of scared ones. With a quick flash of the knife he always carried with him in the field, he freed the hands and feet.
Pulling Malthon up by the arm, Gil-galad observed him cautiously. The Elf-lord was Noldorin, his hair as dark as that of his two rescuers. On first sight there seemed nothing wrong with him.
Malthon watched Gil-galad, somewhat shocked, having reconciled himself with the coming of seemingly certain death. His voice trembled slightly when he spoke.
'Am I dead, or dreaming?'
'Both, perchance,' Gil-galad couldn't refrain saying as he helped him unto the horse. 'Decide in the morning, so we can share my worries.'
Meanwhile, Elrond secured the bindings on the prisoners hand and feet, before cutting off some low branches with which he covered the body of the second man Gil-galad had slain.
As the High King took his horse by the halter, leading it back, Elrond silently followed, the prisoner draped across the back of the his own horse.
Nearly half an hour had passed since they had ridden out, and Gil-galad was pleasantly surprised when he was called to a halt by a voice from the dark, one that was gratifyingly familiar.
'It's only us, Jarin… And we bring more than we left with.'
Walking on, still leading the horse, Gil-galad gave the Elf a smile which could probably not be discerned in the darkness, and added a whisper.
'It is good you do not let their mistake be ours as well.'
Jarin voice betrayed relief and amusement.
'I will make sure it will not, my king.'
Once they arrived back at the camp, the High King would not allow anyone to help him with Malthon. Personally helping him to dismount and supporting him while entering the tent, which had formerly belonged to the captain of the group. His body had lain just outside, but Gil-galad noticed it had been taken from view.
Inside he motioned Malthon to sit down and looked down at him.
'Are you unhurt?'
Malthon shrugged, his eyes enquiring. 'I am fine… But what are you doing here? How many have you brought?'
Gil-galad did not seem willing to answer the question yet, raising his hand to stop the flow of words.
'Enough, simply tell me if you are hurt.'
Malthon seemed reluctant to confess, but did under the piercing eyes of the High King.
'Only the knee, chafed by an arrow.'
Gil-galad quickly examined the scar, which appeared to already have been taken care of. He would have Elrond take a closer look at it in the morning. Then he ordered Malthon to lie down on the field-bed that had already been present in the tent.
'Can I leave you alone?' he asked, pulling a blanket over the Elf-lord and maternally tucking it in at the sides. Malthon nodded, his eyes small.
'Of course, go.'
Gil-galad stepped outside, where the light of the stars had appeared, as if they had waited until the Elves had no more real use of the cover of night.
Elrond was talking to Findor, who bowed as soon as he saw the High King.
Gil-galad put his hand on the Elf's shoulder.
'It's very good to see you.'
Findor broadly grinned.
'Even better to be here, my Lord, truly.'
Gil-galad nodded as Findor took his leave, and turned to Elrond.
'How are they?'
Elrond began to walk a little, still watchful in the darkness, having already forbidden fires at this time.
'They are all good, they have been treated well, it appears they were recognised as the possible hostages they could have been.'
'Will they be able to travel?'
Elrond didn't need to calculate.
'Tomorrow, perhaps the day after. You wish to leave?'
'As soon as we can, I will not be caught as they… There were no orcs here?'
'None, my Lord.'
Gil-galad nodded grimly.
'Strange… How many prisoners?'
Elrond pointed to the largest tent, dark as the rest, which had previously held Elves as prisoners.
'Fifteen, they are guarded well, gagged and bound, sir.'
'You have made a schedule for the watch? When would I start?'
'We have enough volunteers, my lord. I believe you have not truly rested for some time now. A clear mind is needed to decide on how to get us out of this, so perhaps it would be better…'
Gil-galad rested his hand on Elrond's shoulder and smiled.
'I will be with Malthon, and I will try to rest.'
Elrond returned the smile and bowed his head shortly.
'Very well, my Lord.'
'Anything else?' Gil-galad asked, always amused with Elrond's consideration. A long time ago, it had been the other way round. Elrond noticed the High King's drifting, his smile broadening.
'Nothing that can't wait till morning.'
Gil-galad pursed his lips and stared into the darkness.
'Excellent… Wake me at sun-up.'
Elrond watched Gil-galad, who with long dignified strides, re-entered the tent he had previously come from. The Lord of Imladris then signalled to Brin, who was in command of guarding of the prisoners, that he was leaving. When he left the camp, he whistled towards Findor, who returned the signal. He listened to Findor making the signal to Jarin, and somewhere, further removed, he heard the reply, clear in the air. Satisfied, he reached the early brushwood of the forest and quickly climbed the highest tree there, settling high up amidst the branches. For the coming hours until first light, he would not part with his sword, would not let his eyes or ears rest, trying to catch every sound, every whisper of everything.
With a grateful smile, he watched the evening star shining brightly above him.
Malthon listened to the High King's breathing, hoping it would slow, indicating a restful state. But although it slowed down considerably after a while, he knew Gil-galad was awake.
Carefully he cleared his throat.
'The Men that held us…'
Gil-galad shifted his body on the makeshift bed a couple of metres away. His clear voice carried no signs of weariness.
'We have all of them accounted for, your companions informed us.'
Malthon was silent for a while.
'They spoke of you…'
The answer came tainted in a little disdain. 'Very graphically, I imagine.'
Malthon swallowed audibly.
'They said you were dead, or would be soon.'
'Yes.' The answer came from the darkness.
'I do not understand why you are here…'
Gil-galad smirked audibly.
'You have friends in high places…'
The sarcasm was hard to miss this time. Malthon kept silent for a while. The his question came hesitantly.
'Did she drag you into this?'
Gil-galad had not expected him to ask him such a forward question. This had been an issue they had talked around for as long as he could remember.
'Go to sleep Malthon.' The High King replied, the apparent irritation in his voice indicating this was the end of the conversation.
But now it was Gil-galad who listened to the other Elf's breath, waiting. Absentmindedly, he played with the small pendant around his neck. In all honesty, it was really too fragile to be worn in these conditions. But he was grateful for carrying it with him now; he needed to feel it against the bare skin under his tunic. It helped him keep his mind clear, to realise why he had started this foolishness in the first place. It held an explanation to why he was risking his life to save the Elf who had once hurt him beyond all reason.
Not far removed, Lord Malthon pondered over the same question. Why had the High King gone through all this effort, and notably for him…
For both, the answer to their questions was the same…
Rána: Noldorin designation for the moon
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.