3. Riddles in the Dark...
Elrond did not betray any signs of weariness as he returned to the camp shortly before sun-rise. A glorious scheme of colours announced the imminent arrival of Anar*. It made for an impressive display of nature, which he willingly observed.
A substantial mist hung about the grassy plains; it had wetted his hair in earlier hours, and the humidity only seemed to increase as sunrise crept nearer. Still, as soon as the full rays of light had appeared, it would no doubt be gone.
Even some distance removed from the camp, he could see Gil-galad was already awake. Not that Elrond had expected differently. As the High King seemed to be discussing something with Findor, Elrond forcefully planted his sword into the ground next to the tub of water, before splashing his face and neck, and taking a moment to make sure his hair was straightened out.
'And where have you spent the night, in a riverbed?' Gil-galad spoke, pointing at Elrond's damp clothing. The Halfelven smiled, recognising a rhetorical question as ever.
'You had a good night, my Lord?'
Gil-galad smiled dryly.
'Tonight I shall take the riverbed, and you can spend the night in a tent.' He pointed at the tents that made up the essence of the camp. 'I suppose we can take some of the smaller tents.'
Elrond walked over to the horses where he collected a package of lembas from his saddlebag. Offering some to Gil-galad, they scanned the surroundings once more. Elrond shook his head after he had chewed and swallowed his first bite.
'Tents can be observed from afar and they are difficult to break up if one needs to flee…
Gil-galad pursed his lips and nodded.
'What do you think?'
Elrond walked around the horse to inspect the area once more. He looked back at Gil-galad.
'There is no way of knowing how long it will take for other forces to discover what happened here. We know nothing of a rendezvous point, only that they were ordered to go further east. And that they were supposed to kill Malthon when the chance occurred. The fact that they were idle doing so, has likely saved his life.'
'That, and the point of my sword.' Gil-galad added, his eyes caught in a stare. 'Which reminds me, could you take a closer look at Malthon's knee?'
Gil-galad nodded appreciatively. 'And what else?'
For a moment, Elrond pensively studied the profile of the Elf that stood beside him.
'I believe the dead have already been brought to the woods, and hidden. So I suggest we break up camp and leave behind everything we cannot use.' Elrond paused a moment before continuing. 'There is only the matter of the prisoners.'
Gil-galad nodded slowly.
'I am reluctant to set them free, but also to execute them.'
Elrond pressed his lips together, suddenly very aware they were once again deciding over lives. To busy himself, he walked back to collect his water container, which he had kept in the same place as the lembas. He held his back towards Gil-galad as he spoke.
'With a party of seventeen as we are now, we cannot take fifteen prisoners with us.'
Gil-galad took the flask of water Elrond handed over, holding it for a moment. Now it was his turn to carefully study the other's face.
'Do you believe they know who we are?'
Elrond kicked some dirt away with his boot.
'I do not believe so, no one, except for the man we took from the woods, has actually seen you. Or me, for that matter.'
The well-known glimmer began to appear in Gil-galad's eyes. He neared Elrond and took his arm.
'How about a little political scare, are you game?'
Elrond could do nothing but smile.
After some short deliberations, making certain their voices were capable of being heard, Gil-galad and Elrond took their places near the entrance of the tent where their prisoners were being held, pretending not to give too much attention to the men inside.
'Once the larger part of the host comes this way, they can easily take over the prisoners, at nightfall, my Lord High King.' Elrond spoke earnestly, trying not to let the twinkle in his companions eyes get the upper hand, which would result in him spoiling their entire plan with laughter.
'But it would mean they would need to break away from their direct march towards the flank of the Sauron's army. We could loose the element of surprise.'
Gil-galad was definitely enjoying this, contagious as it was.
'You are right, sir… We could take the prisoners into the hosts direction, your Highness. Where we can rejoin the troops ourselves.' Elrond replied, grinning, trusting it could not be seen.
'Through the woods?' Gil-galad's enquiry seemed almost too obvious.
Still, Elrond couldn't resist the answer.
'Exactly, my Lord.'
'Blindfold them.' Gil-galad said as he exchanged a quick glance with Elrond, and then with Brin, Findor and Jarin. 'Lead them into the woods.'
Elrond entered the tent, addressing the prisoners.
'If any one of you tries to escape, we shall not hesitate to kill you then and there. If you speak when not spoken to; we will act identically.'
Blindfolded inside, Gil-galad observed the prisoners leave the tent. As soon as they were outside, they were rushed into the open field, before led into the forest. Findor and Jarin would hurry them through the woods for half a day. Then, they would quietly leave them walk further alone, still blindfolded, and themselves, return to the spot where they had camped before, on the top of the hill.
Meanwhile, the remaining part of the Elves would break up the camp here, before making their way to the rendezvous as well.
From there they would attempt to return to the front lines, using the same hole in the troops as before. The little charade Gil-galad and Elrond had acted out, was simply a precaution. If the Men, instead of fleeing home upon discovering their abandonment, would decide to return to their generals and warn them, word would get out that there was a force on its way to attack from the other side, and that the High King was still alive. This would hopefully also reach their own troops. With any luck they would pick up the strange pre-emptive movement of the enemy and deduct the rest from there.
The remaining Elves spent four hours hiding any signs of the encampment, deciding not to take anything but the basic necessities. The remnants that were not taken were hidden in the forest.
Gil-galad sat against one of the trees, looking out over the grassy plains as the sun was slowly going down.
His armour was now deliberately covered with dark mud, which hid the coloured metal that would be easily recognisable from a distance. The others had followed his example.
Some distance removed from him, the rest of the group was feasting on meat from two wild animals they had caught this afternoon, shortly after they had arrived back here.
It was Elrond that came up and sat down beside him. He offered Gil-galad some of the finer slices of the meat.
'Even if you refuse to sleep, you must eat.'
Gil-galad smiled and gratefully accepted it, while he had previously refused when Malthon had offered the same.
'How good are our chances, you think?' he asked, swallowing his first bite.
Elrond smiled, relieved to see the High King eating.
'I really do not know… But so far luck has been travelling with us.'
'I suppose we need to find a place where we can have a couple of days rest.'
'That would seem a good idea.'
Gil-galad observed the Elf at his side. He was doing well in these conditions, even if he worried a little bit too much. It seemed Elrond always needed to worry about someone.
Drifting off, Gil-galad recalled whistling, as he made his way through the corridors of the Palace in Lindon, and the sound of his footsteps as he had climbed the marble steps to the Great Library. There was no need to enquire if the eldest of the two Peredhil was there; it was considered common knowledge. Only upon reaching the large wooden doors, he had watched the bent figure for a moment, dark braids behind the ears, so they would not be in his way as he read and wrote. Books of all sizes littered about the table, papers filled with writing, many in his own hand. In the evenings Elrond could always be found in the Great Hall, taking in the stories and songs, his mind recording what his quills would entrust to paper the next morning.
He had been sixty years of age then… A mere boy, Gil-galad mused, and already so serious. He had been resembling his father more and more every passing year… He had stealthily moved nearer, his hands behind his back, careful not to let Elrond notice. A chance revealed itself as he looked over the younger Elf's shoulder.
'You have an oxymoron in the sixteenth line.' he had warned, as Elrond seemed to jolt in surprise.
'That's the point, my Lord.' A glimmer of exasperation could be distinguished in the voice.
Sitting down across the heavy wooden table, he had watched Elrond uncomfortably shift in his chair.
'Where is your brother?'
'I know not, my Lord.'
'Perhaps with that Lady… What was her name again?'
Elrond had shrugged, but a little too reluctant for Gil-galad to see it as such. Romances here at Lindon were nothing strange, so many came and stayed, departing again as they pleased, Man and Elf alike. But one that involved such a choice, a possible severing between brothers… Gil-galad was not the only one who had observed a certain lack of enthusiasm in Elrond to accept his brother's potential wife.
'You have nothing against her, young master Elrond?'
'Not at all, my Lord.' Elrond had answered, repositioning his quill again, continuing his writing.
'Do you fear he will chose differently because of her?'
The pen had only halted slightly but Gil-galad had caught it immediately. 'Ah, have I hit upon something, son of Eärendil?'
Elrond had looked up at him, carefully placing the feathered pen where it could not leak onto anything, sitting back and folding his ink-stained hands.
'I have long suspected it… Only recently has he indicated to me, in the most haphazard of ways, that he intends to marry her. And, no doubt, that will make him choose mortality as well.'
'And you will not decide the same?' Gil-galad had asked, enjoying the questioning session with Elrond; as honest then, as they had stayed ever since.
All the same, the young Elf had been careful in voicing his answer. It came softly, a little cautious.
'It is a choice between two people to which we will never entirely belong… I will stay where I am most comfortable. Which is here, among Elves…'
Gil-galad smiled, as he had at that time… Elrond had been too perceptive, even then.
'Elrond,' he started, but as the pair of grey eyes met his own, the High King shook his head. 'Never mind, it is nothing.'
They travelled twenty kilometres west the next day, until they reached a small forested stretch of land, not near any villages, and with overseeable grassy plains for miles on end.
'If the stars aid us by lighting the sky at night, we can spend a couple of days here at least.' said Malthon, slightly limping as he walked through the makeshift camp, still not able to put too much weight on his knee, despite Elrond's care.
Gil-galad smiled but did not reply as he rummaged through his saddlebag, not sure on what he searched for. He had been able to stay away from Malthon for the past days, but it appeared this would not last much longer. He saw the questions in Malthon's eyes. It would have to come of it sooner or later. Even if he preferred later.
Now that their group had grown in number, it had not taken long before his guard had started to act as in normal circumstances again; taking his horse, attending to him, from the first day of their arrival here.
He wasn't sure he liked it. Their ways were those of subordinates, attending to him was their duty to their master. Not similar to Elrond, who considered it a responsibility towards a friend, when he came to proffer food or drink.
The relative peacefulness that seemed to lie in the coming days troubled Gil-galad. It would provide him with too much time to dwell on their situation.
Returning from a late-evening stroll, he found most of the party that did not have watch-duty around the fire, imploring each other to tell a story.
'Tell us a story, Master Elrond,' Findor urged, and moved over to make place for the High King. Elrond's eyes caught those of Gil-galad.
'My Lord, one of your favourite pastimes would suit better, what do you say?'
Gil-galad inwardly thanked Elrond for trying to improve his spirits.
'Is it a riddle you want? Let me think…' Selecting a favourite from the storage of his mind, he finally smiled at Elrond. 'One mainly for you… '
'A moth ate a word. To me it seemed,
A marvellous thing when I learned the wonder
That a worm had swallowed, in darkness stolen,
The song of man, his glorious sayings,
A great man's strength; and the thieving guest,
Was no whit the wiser for the words it ate.'
There rose a whisper, and the High King seemed pleased. Elrond grinned. He had heard this particular one when he was younger, when it had functioned as a warning that too much knowledge was as hollow as too little. The original had been in Quenya, if he remembered correctly.
'A good translation into Sindarin, my Lord. A book-moth?'
Gil-galad smiled amusedly and shortly bowed in surrender.
Elrond nodded and took a moment. The fire flickered on his face when he spoke.
A lonely wanderer, wounded with iron,
I am smitten with war-blades, sated with strife,
Worn with the sword-edge; I have seen many battles,
Much hazardous fighting, oft without hope
Of comforts or help in the carnage of war
Ere I perish and fall in the fighting of men.
The leavings of hammers, the handiwork of smiths,
Batter and bite me, hard-edged and sharp;
The brunt of the battle I am doomed to endure.
In all the folk-stead no leech could I find
With wort or simple to heal my wounds;
But day and night with the deadly blows
The marks of the war-blades double and deepen.
There was a silence for a moment. Elrond's voice had been quick and mystifying, choosing not one of the more shallow riddles they all knew, but one almost a poem, which he no doubt had learned at court, or during the countless other occasions he had spent around a fire exchanging such challenges.
'Not a person…' Findor mused, hoping for a hint.
Elrond smiled as he warmed his hands by the fire, studying the faces of his fellow travellers, most of them younger than he. As his eyes met those of Gil-galad, he saw the High King was aware of the answer. Both of them waited, until Brin rose his hand.
'It's not a sword… A shield? It's a shield!'
Elrond grinned at the enthused answer, and slapped him lightly on the shoulder, as Brin sat forward in anticipation, ready for the next conundrum.
The game went well into the night, until the watch was changed two hours after midnight. Accompanying Gil-galad, his hands behind his back, Elrond spoke softly.
'Will you trust me with your safety and sleep?'
Gil-galad felt weariness, after all those nearly restless nights and nodded.
'It never was a question of trust, my friend.'
Elrond concurred silently. Gil-galad caught his arm.
'Stop brooding over Eregion. It would not have made any difference had I been in your place. You did everything you could.' Deciding not to embrace him, what he would have liked, he patted Elrond's shoulder. 'I trust you.'
Elrond smiled sullenly and Gil-galad couldn't hold back, pulling the grown Elf close as if he was still the small boy he had found hiding behind the waterfall.
'You silly, brooding boy.'
Elrond couldn't resist smiling happily, before he was off to collect some of the grey blankets they had liberated from the enemy camp.
Gil-galad spread one out underneath a tree before taking off his armour and boots. Stretching out on his belly, after folding his robe for better use as a pillow, he buried his head in his arms and pulled the other blanket over his back.
When he woke, partly from the morning cold, the damp clouds of dew once more hanging over the plains, and to a certain extent because he had slept too long for his feeling, he found himself on his back.
It surprised him, because it was a position he rarely woke in when alone.
He leaned on his elbows and took up his surroundings, most of the men further removed from him, forming a circle. He momentarily wondered how it must be for them, being so close to a man they had only seen once or twice in their life, since most of them were not from Lindon and had only been assigned to him recently.
Elrond gave him a nod as he discovered his awakening and indicated he was leaving him alone for a while, now that he was awake.
Malthon was waiting for him, with some hot water and bread when Gil-galad returned from a quick wander out of the camp. He sat back against the tree, and slowly started to eat. Malthon sat watching. Gil-galad glanced up at him.
'Tell me what happened to your force?'
Malthon swallowed as he relaxed.
'Most of them were killed, I think, I am not certain.'
'You were cut off.'
'We couldn't manoeuvre as you can now. We were too many. They had no trouble finding us.'
Gil-galad nodded and drank some of the hot water, in which some leaves had been boiled to give it taste.
'You were attacked.?'
'They knew exactly where we were.'
Gil-galad ate the last piece of bread and pulled his robes around his shoulders again, warming his hands on the cup. He said nothing.
Malthon shook his head.
'No one has told me, and I have not asked… But we are presently just as cut off as I was before, or am I sorely mistaken?'
'We were cut off, yes, and Elrond and I decided we could as well try and rescue you. It makes no difference in the end. We would have stayed isolated in any case.'
Malthon looked away in silence. It took long for him to speak again.
'She has never forgiven herself, Ereinion… However much she has tried to make you hurt, she experiences it back threefold.'
Gil-galad feared to meet the other Elf's eyes.
'Please, do not speak of this again, Malthon.'
Malthon's eyes flamed.
'How can I not speak of that which consumes my heart?'
Gil-galad rose and looked down on his kinsman from afar.
'Like I do. You keep it to yourself.' He walked two steps before turning. His eyes were dark. 'And do not come near me again.'
The travelling party stayed in the forested patch for over a week, with individual scouts riding out to explore the area. There had been maps in the enemy camp, but most were of more south-eastern areas, and of no use now.
Despite that, Elrond seemed to have a fair notion of their position. Proving, once more, an uncanny ability to memorise maps and his astounding sense of direction. It was not the first time they found themselves in such a situation, though this one seemed more serious than any other had been previously.
Sacrificing the empty pages of his carefully kept journal, Elrond had showed Gil-galad what he believed to be their position, and the information brought back only added to his confidence.
It was Brin, returning from a reconnaissance trip west that confirmed his suspicions. The young Elf was breathless as he and the High King peered over the shoulder of the Lord of Imladris, and pointing at the makeshift map that had been created on paper.
'An enemy force camps not three days from here…' He indicated its position, 'perhaps five-hundred men, maybe more. I was able to ride around them, and this road…' He pointed at a spot on the road Elrond had already drawn from memory. '…seemed unwatched.'.
'Good…' Elrond mumbled, adding the information to the plan before turning to Gil-galad. 'You wish to travel via the road?'
'We have to try.' Gil-galad returned, narrowing his eyes as he studied the sketch.
Elrond tried to gather information from his face, but was not successful.
'We must assume that the grasp of the Dark Lord is slowly slipping from these parts, but that it has not entirely gone yet… If we are stopped, nothing must draw attention to us…'
'We will have to leave most of the heavy armour.' Gil-galad added, agreeing.
Brougham was sitting in his luxurious tent, overlooking the maps that had formerly been in Gil-galad's tent.
Somehow he suspected that even if the Men had gotten hold of him or the Lord of Imladris, there would have been a message to confirm it, if only to spite them. The absence of such a communication made it crystal clear.
Either Gil-galad was dead, and simply not yet found, or he was alive, un-captured, somewhere between forces. And whichever was the case, it was fine by Brougham.
He had little power in Númenor at present… He had chosen sides, in early manhood, but with the death of his general, it had turned out to be the wrong one. Yet that had been many year ago. Later victories had brought him fame among his people, and his mistakes had been largely forgotten.
He would never dare to stand against Elves, not openly at least. But now there were allies. If the High King was absent long enough, it would leave open an entire continent, ready for conquering.
It was then that three of his men entered, quietly, and Brougham knew why they were here. There was only one way to hide what had been discussed privately between Brougham and those ready to rise up against Gil-galad.
'My Lord, we have gathered fifty men to form another search party.'
'Good,' Brougham nodded, extending his arm to the man. 'You know what to do when you find him?'
'Yes, my lord. It will be swift.'
Brougham watched them leave, and couldn't help a smile crawling over his face. It would be soon enough, he told himself. Patience is a virtue.
Anar: the sun
The riddles are medieval and I got them from: Riddles from the Exeter Book, translated by Charles W. Kennedy
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.