6. Between Mandos and Pain
His voice was as it had always been, good-humoured and resonating, pleasant to listen to, as Elrond had gotten to know it when he was younger, listening to the many fire-side stories the High King had told him and his brother.
'Is it not logical they hate us so, Elrond? We have been blamed for Morgoth's return before…'
Elrond watched Gil-galad, on his horse, only using one arm to hold the reigns, the other hanging suspended in a sling from his neck. He was speaking, not caring if someone listened. Elrond knew most people listened; it was something that one just had to do, the voice made it obligatory.
'… and in essence, we are Moriquendi too…'
'For the sake of the argument, let's say that at least our ancestors have seen the light of the trees.' Elrond returned, amused, as meanwhile, for the first time in days, the sun broke through the clouds and the roof of leaves above them.
'I'd give you that, but you understand what I mean.'
Elrond smiled. Gil-galad had been in a reflective mood ever since they had ridden out. Often, if that was the case, he simply wanted to talk, not necessarily discuss.
'I understand. Will you please calm down now?'
Gil-galad rolled his eyes.
'I have to move, or do you have some other means of transporting me?'
'I was speaking of your tongue, my Lord.' the Lord of Imladris teased, receiving a deadly look from the Elf-lord on the other horse.
'Perhaps you are at liberty to tell me who you suspect of sending those Elves after us,' sounded the gruff reply, as Gil-galad hunched his back. Elrond pretended not to notice a short flinch, as the High King discovered it was not a very comfortable way of sitting, since it put more strain on his injured shoulder.
'I'm not sure… It depends on who knows we are here. Concurring with our earlier suspicions of betrayal, we have to consider someone in our own ranks is involved.'
A sharp whistle made Elrond jerk towards the sound. His heart jumped in surprise and fear, but he kept his composure, signalling for the others, who were riding a little removed from them, barely in sight, to stop. All stood motionless, waiting. When a more urgent second call came, and faraway sounds of horses, Elrond looked at Gil-galad.
'Pray to Elbereth you can ride fast…'
Without reconsidering for more than a split second, Gil-galad pulled his arm out of the sling, mumbled a curse of pain under his breath and spurred his horse, riding into the opposite direction of the earlier sounds.
Elrond moved, but slower, waiting for someone to catch up and inform him of what had happened. Findor was the first to come, with two of the others. He could read their eyes, he could judge from their body language, but still he asked.
'What?' He demanded sharply, as his horse moved under him, no doubt feeling it's masters anxiety all too well.
'They are following, hunting us, my Lord. I think they know we are here,' came the wavering answer. Only Findor slowed, as the others went after their High King. Elrond gave him a questioning nod of the head.
'Who? And which of you saw anything?'
'I don't know, Brin was the one who noticed them, my Lord… I whistled and rode on as he went towards them, trying to hold them back, together with three others… They have not returned.'
Elrond ignored any emotion that emanated from the other Elf's voice.
'Ride on speedily, and remember, your duty is to protect your King.'
As he watched Findor disappear, he hesitated. To stay or to go… Before he could truly make up his mind, another horse cleared the trees and came towards him, and in reaction Elrond pulled his sword out of the scabbard, which was hidden under his cloak. Just in time he recognised Malthon.
'Ride on, unless you wish to turn target, and know that if you stay, their lives were sacrificed in vain.'
The words were cool, but made sense, and Elrond re-sheathed his sword before following, rapidly, forcing his horse faster than ever before, or so it felt.
The woods Gil-galad had entered were in actuality a little too dense for a full-grown Elf on horse to ride through, especially one that did not have full control of his entire body, and a hard time managing the animal beneath him. The undergrowth worried him immensely, but so far, the horse seemed to have no trouble and daintily made its way without stumbling.
He had his right arm clasped tightly against his body, desperately trying to keep it still, but the struggle seemed lost beforehand, as one flash of pain after another ricocheted through his body, making him light-headed.
There were horses behind him, beside him even, but he could not see, only hear.
He prayed Elrond was near, and that those horses belonged to his own people.
The fever that still lingered in his body had emerged again, and he realised why Elrond had been so worried before. Blackness slowly began to creep before his eyes, and he knew there was going to be a moment when he would no longer be in control, and that such a moment would probably mean he was going to fall.
Slowly speaking to himself, desperately trying to keep his mind and body one, he rode on, wrapping the reigns around the hand and elbow of his left arm, hoping it would keep him from falling off the horse upon loosing consciousness, pleading to anyone who might be listening, to not let it come to that.
The feeling was peaceful, when it came, and curiously enough, he was not afraid to give into it… So serene…
'No, you don't,' came an answer from his left, and he felt a strong hand catch his arm, the horse slowing down. He wasn't able to recognise the voice, nothing at all, really, as he simply gave in.
Waking on the ground, nauseous once more, he felt even worse than he had before.
'How long was I out…?' he mumbled to the person who sat next to him, feeling a hand check his pulse.
'Only a few seconds, can you sit up?'
Before he could answer, an arm was already helping him rise. He somehow recognised the calm but firm remedies of before.
The Lord of Imladris was not listening.
'Head between your legs and breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth.'
Gil-galad followed the instructions, but was all too aware of their situation.
'We have to go.' He whispered, suddenly feeling weighed down.
'And have you break your neck by falling off a horse? Forget it.' Elrond returned, momentarily pulling Gil-galad back to check on the wound. 'Besides,' he said softly, pointing at the front of the tunic. 'You are bleeding again.'
Gil-galad swallowed with heavily, uneasy.
'I thought you stitched it?'
'It can be fluid from the wound…' Elrond whispered and rested a hand on Gil-galad's other shoulder. 'It will be fine…'
Underneath, it was the first time he truthfully panicked, and he suspected it was because he had just almost seen Gil-galad fall to an early grave.
That, and the fact that people sought them, people whose intentions were nowhere near… good. He did not want to be here, he wanted out, to be back in Imladris, or Lindon, where he could sit and read, and forget.
But this was not the time to fall apart. And he flatly refused to let it happen.
Gil-galad's hyperventilating returned his attention to his patient.
'Who are still with us?' he could hear him ask with great difficulty.
Letting his eyes scrutinize the area once again, Elrond tried not to sigh.
'We seem to have lost most of the men in the woods…'
He was uncertain if he had truly meant to phrase it like that. Not separating between those who were dead, and those who were not…
'…Malthon is here, as are Findor and two of Malthon's men.'
'We cannot stay here…' Gil-galad pleaded, trying to convince Elrond.
Elrond shook his head.
'If someone comes near us, we will be able to see them come here… We shall stay for a while.'
Gil-galad began to distinguish their surroundings slowly. The branches were indeed near impenetrable and near to the ground. He doubted a grown man could walk through them without hunching, and assumed it was impossible to come near unobserved. He wondered how he arrived here in the first place.
'Where are the others?' he whispered, aware of the silence around them, no birds, no insects, naught.
'Not twenty strides removed, in a circle around us,' was the whispered reply.
'Can four men be a circle?' Gil-galad queried softly, in an attempt at humour.
They sat quietly for a long time, and the longer the silence lasted, the more their hope grew and peace returned. Elrond heard Gil-galad's breathing slow down, returning back to normal.
'How close are we to somewhere safe?' Gil-galad asked, his eyes resting on Elrond, who was still as watchful as a hawk. 'Can we not scale the trees?'
'I suspect we are close to the road to Imladris… But all in all, likely nearer to the larger encampment of the troops, than to the Valley… And as for scaling trees, they are too thin here, the branches too brittle. And I would not wish to be discovered, with no way to move to the next.' Elrond returned
A sharp whistle, once more, before voices and the breaking of the dry twitches that littered the forest floor drifted and echoed among the trees.
On foot or on horse? Elrond wondered, listening intently, and decided on both.
Should they go, and have at least some time to create a distance between them and their pursuers? While doing so could risk drawing attention to something which might been left hidden? Then again, if they stayed, and were discovered, they would have to confront those in the woods, without a doubt…
But he could hardly drag Gil-galad with him…
A small pineapple hit his back and he turned to find Findor, not far removed.
'Something is nearing from the other side,' he mouthed, and Elrond, paying close attention, could indeed hear it too. 'We are surrounded.' He whispered, feeling Gil-galad catching his sleeve.
If I have to make a choice between Mandos and pain, hand me a sword…
With a scream the first person came crashing through the brush and Elrond blocked the raised sword with his own, forcing the assailant down with his shoulder, smashing an iron fist into the stomach, ready for the next as the man fell to the forest floor, cringing.
When the first horse barged into the small clearing where they now stood, Elrond was preoccupied with three attackers, keeping his eye on Gil-galad, who stood his ground, nevertheless clasping his arm against his side, severely limiting any movement.
Observing the animal and rider moving towards the High King, Elrond punched his fist into one of the men's faces, evading the attack of the second and immediately thrusting his sword into the shoulder of the third, before running towards the horse to pull the rider out of the saddle.
Using his body-weight, having done this often before, both teasing fellow riders as well as in actual battle, he stepped aside to let the man drop to the ground. He could imagine the man's pain, since he had fallen off horses higher than this present one countless times when younger. But he hid any feelings of pity as he looked down at the man, not intending to inflict a mortal wound, merely making sure he was incapacitated.
A dull blow to the back of his skull made him sink to his knees, and from far away he could hear a scream, Gil-galad's voice, slowly fading away.
'No!' Forgetting his pain, his fever, tiredness and anything else in the world, Gil-galad jumped forward, flooring two foes at once and making his way towards Elrond, who was still on his knees, but far from well.
Slinging his bodyweight against the other horse he took down the rider and spun around, catching the front of Elrond's tunic from behind, turning and pulling him onto his feet.
'Tell me you are well!' he yelled at Elrond, as he shook him by the front of his clothing, watching Malthon join them, somewhere hearing a call in Sindarin, which he thought might belong to Findor.
The Halfelven was pale, his eyes shooting to and fro, as yet conscious. Knees buckling once more caught Gil-galad's attention, distracting him momentarily.
A blow against his painful shoulder made Gil-galad collapse, and, releasing Elrond, who sank to the ground, he was only barely able to break his fall and roll onto his back, before a foot was placed upon the wound, and the not inconsiderable weight of a man pressed upon it. The tip of a blade was placed just above his collar-bone, and Gil-galad knew, that if the weight was placed on the sword, he would be on his way to Mandos for certain.
'So finally we have caught up with you, my Lord,' the sneering question was posed. Gil-galad growled in pain and rage, his eyes furious, grey turned near black.
'You go to Mandos…'
With an attempt to kick at the Man's legs, the tip of the blade was pressed down harder, and Gil-galad panicked, the sound of blood running audibly through his ears. He was not ready, did not wish to trade in his life now…
But suddenly a scream, and the pressure was gone, making Gil-galad sit up dizzily, tears of the short stabbing pain brimming in his eyes, needing a second to regain his surroundings, before seeing an Elf standing over the assailant of before, swords pointed at each other.
'Ereinion, get up and help Elrond…' Malthon said, his eyes never leaving his captive.
Scrambling to his feet, making his way towards Elrond, he quickly walked past Malthon.
The sound of the arrow only reached his ears after it had hit its target.
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.