As an Elvish curse was uttered, Gil-galad instinctively made to evade any additional arrows, lowering himself close to the ground, but found himself turning back towards Malthon again.
He watched the other Elf, and for a moment it seemed as if the impact of the projectile had not affected Malthon in the least. Perhaps it was because Gil-galad had only seen it in a flash, his view now blocked by Malthon's body.
Perchance it is a dream, and I merely have to wake from it…
And yet the pounding pain in his own shoulder did not support that likelihood. Not in the least…
Kicking the sword of his captive, which was still pointed at his chest, away, Malthon remorselessly pressed the blade of his sword into the Man beneath him. Oddly enough, it made Gil-galad nauseous, though he had seen such things happen, even executed the action himself many times before.
At the same time, it was anger that soared up inside him, adding to that which still lingered from being taken hostage, though only for a short while; his adrenaline increasing all his emotions beyond reason.
His gaze flashing to Malthon's pale face, he was surprised to find the eyes remarkably steady and serious. Then he watched Malthon clasp at the spot where the arrow had entered his body, and Gil-galad could finally see it; on the right side of the chest, no doubt having pierced the rib cage judging by how deep the arrow seemed to be embedded within the flesh.
Placing his strongest arm over the other Elf's shoulder and across the chest underneath the other arm, a hold he had learned was the quickest and least painful way to transport one wounded in such a way, Gil-galad dragged Malthon to where Elrond was lying still.
'Can you move?' he urgently bit towards Malthon, who seemed steadier on his feet than the High King himself.
'If you release me,' the reply came, and, making certain the other was balanced, Gil-galad complied.
Looking over his shoulder, there was a moment when he wondered why the archer was not following, but, taking some quick steps, he grabbed the reigns of the nearby horse, and brought it closer to where both Elrond and Malthon now were.
Bending down, he caught Elrond's arm and used it to lift his friend's body over his uninjured shoulder. He nearly dropped it back because of his own pain, but nevertheless succeeded in standing upright, somehow managing to position Elrond's limp form across the horse's saddle.
Extending his injured arm to Malthon, who indicated with a short shake of the head he was able to do without, Gil-galad led the horse away, listening for suspicious sounds, as well as Malthon's ragged breath, not more than one or two of steps behind.
Swallowing back tears, he realised it had happened. The feeling he had dreaded to return ever since he had last felt it, all too well remembering how close he had been to forfeiting his life, that emotion had returned.
It was a strange, ominous feeling, both bringing emotion, as well as numbness.
On the one hand he cared, for Elrond, for Malthon, for all their travel companions who were now somewhere in this forest, dead or alive, but on the other, he had little hope left.
It was as if he relived the moment when word had arrived of his father's death. He had watched his mother break out in tears, tearing at her clothing, not coherently speaking for days. And while she had shown all those signs of mourning, he had been silent.
At least he could find tears now, he thought, moving his painful shoulder more than was absolutely necessary, as if to punish himself for his present predicament. For their present predicament.
Was it not his pride, he contemplated, that had led them here, that disaster-prone inbred Noldorin superiority that was likely to be the cause of their deaths now?
Would they ever leave these woods alive?
He was not certain of it anymore.
But he would fight for them, he promised, both himself and the others.
He would not die without a fight.
I am truly sorry, Elrond. If it comes to pass, forgive me when we meet in Mandos, most treasured friend…
Malthon, all the hurt we shared between us shall make it difficult to judge whom inflicted more upon whom. If it be so, let Mandos judge…
He turned to see Malthon slump.
'You must go on without me…'
He answered with a firm shake of the head, his breath catching in his throat.
'Don't do this to me now… For Elbereth's sake, Malthon, do not leave me now, for I shall surely loose the little hope I have left.'
Releasing the horse, he stumbled over to where Malthon had near-collapsed and forcefully lifted him unto his feet again, attempting to guide him to the horse.
'Can you hold Elrond in front of you?'
Malthon swallowed slowly.
'Why can't you just leave me?'
'Because you are the only good reason for us being in this mess. The explanation is an entirely selfish one.' Gil-galad snapped back angrily.
Malthon raised a soothing hand to the other's face, and tired eyes met the High King's.
'I am loosing too much blood… Even if you would succeed in removing the arrow, I would not be able to travel.'
Gil-galad shook his head and caught the hand that had just been lifted to his face.
'I cannot leave you… I would not be able to live with myself… And Alian would never forgive me for it, where I can still hope she will some day forgive me for all the other things.'
The eyes of the other Elf grew large and dark upon the mention of the Elf-lady's name.
'You conceited sod.' Malthon mocked, clasping at his side, walking away, leaving Gil-galad somewhat taken aback. He watched the other Elf stop and turn.
'What if I want to die, Ereinion? What if I cannot, or do not wish to live with the knowledge I owe my life to you, that my wife owes gratitude to the High King for the life of her husband?'
Gil-galad pursed his lips in a desperate attempt to keep his composure, while inside he wanted to scream and shout.
'Perhaps it is not I who acts like a conceited sod.'
Malthon smiled awkwardly.
'Indeed, you might be correct… I deceived myself thinking she would ever forget you. And she was deluded too, believing you ever truly loved her… So, in the end, it seems, we were indeed well matched.'
Gil-galad tilted his head.
'I do not understand why we are discussing this now… Every moment we hesitate brings those who intend to do us harm closer. You had years to come and tell me this…'
'Deathbed confessions, Ereinion…' Malthon sneered, 'For I am dead already, and you are dying, unless somehow you find your way back. I need to get all of this off my chest, if only so I can speak clearly to Mandos concerning all of it.'
Their eyes connected once again, as if they were both adamant to keep their gazes locked until the struggle, for death, or for the final word, neither seemed certain, was over and lost. Neither could win here.
'I loved her, Malthon,' came the whispered answer, and Gil-galad knew the nail had hit home when the other's eyes seemed to contemplate casting themselves down.
'You never loved anyone in your entire life…' Was the disdainful reply, but somehow, a wavering of tone, something completely unexplainable, made it sound a weak argument. Was it perhaps a realisation of truth?
Gil-galad shook his head.
'Perhaps I do not show it as you do, but I have loved. I loved her, and I loved you…'
I love her still! he wanted to scream, but somehow understood that it was better not to.
Tears were now streaming down his cheeks, of anger, of sorrow, of righteousness and of guilt all at the same time. 'I love him,' Gil-galad continued, giving a nod towards the horse, where he, without seeing, knew Elrond's shape was still lying motionless. 'I love him as if he were my own, so much I would give my life, my eternal restfulness, to see him back safely. Neither you nor Alian alone were wronged in this.'
'In Mandos's name, is it possible for the two of you to postpone this until we get home?'
Both of the Elves, Gil-galad turning, and Malthon repositioning the direction of his gaze, watched Elrond stand beside the horse, a little unsteady and pale, but very conscious. The Lord of Imladris's eyes grew large as he saw the arrow.
'May the Valar have mercy…' he muttered, before leading the horse towards the others, and inspecting the wound. Then he looked at Malthon.
'Get on the horse.' His tone indicated he would not listen to any challenges, and Malthon gave a short nod, his entire physique showing submission.
Together with Gil-galad, Elrond helped Malthon mount, making sure the arrow, still present, could not give him any more pain than absolutely necessary. Elrond handed Malthon a cloth and instructed him to wrap it around the place where the arrow had pierced the flesh and press it firmly against the wound. Then, with a short shake of the head, he switched his attention to the High King.
'I shall not remove the arrow now, for I do not have the strength, nor do I have my equipment here, and I fear he would loose even more blood than you did… I merely pray there is no poison.'
He sighed, looking at Gil-galad's shoulder. 'Are you managing?'
A slowly nod was the answer and Elrond brought his hand to the back of his own head.
'We have been fortunate once more…'
Gil-galad rubbed his eyes and sighed deeply.
'You cannot even begin to understand how glad I am you are awake.'
'You will have to fill me in on what happened.'
Gil-galad raised an eyebrow.
'I most certainly will not. I judge you perfectly able to fill in the gaps… You were not unconscious for that long.'
All of a sudden, the faraway sounds of horses could once again be distinguished.
'Stay or go?' Elrond asked, a mutual seriousness immediately overcoming both of them.
Looking up, the High King of the Noldor shook his head.
'Realistically, where would you have us go?'
'Still, we would better get moving.'
'No, my Lord, we are not allowed to let you in,' the Elvish guard looked at Brougham, then switched his gaze to Danhelm. 'Not until the Lord of Imladris has returned.'
'Who gave you this order?' Danhelm calmly queried.
'The Lord Glorfindel, my Lord.'
'He is here?' Danhelm asked, well aware of the fact that Glorfindel and Celeborn could have easily passed them on the many occasions the Men had insisted on resting.
'He is not, my Lord,' the guard replied, not sharing any more information than absolutely necessary.
Brougham seemed angry.
'Once more showing a typically Elvish attitude, it seems…'
Danhelm ignored it.
'Was he here, or did he send word?'
'He send word, my Lord, a communication concerning the Lord Elrond and High King Gil-galad.'
As the names and accompanying titles were spoken, both Danhelm and Brougham reacted, though not in the same way.
Danhelm's face lit up, as Elvish faces can, but Brougham's countenance drained of colour, though he tried to hide it. Catching Danhelm's arm he pulled him a little away, still eying the Guard suspiciously.
'I propose to set up camp near the river, on the other side of the Ford.'
Danhelm nodded, returning to the guard as Brougham turned to his horse and mounted.
Together with some of his own men, he rode to where the rest of the travellers were waiting, tents already being set up, as if somehow it had been anticipated they would be staying there.
Entering an empty command tent, Brougham turned the Ring on his finger, a gift from his master, and he shook his head.
'I doubt this shall please Him…'
Glorfindel found Celeborn pointing down from his horse at the remains of several Men, all apparently part of the host once belonging to the Dark Lord, now long gone. A little while removed, another Elvish rider had found horses, and Glorfindel had not needed more than a sideway glance to recognize Elrond's saddlebags, and Gil-galad's colours.
'How long?' he now asked Celeborn, who had swiftly dismounted to examine the bodies.
'This happened no more than two hours previously, but at least one of the survivors is wounded.' He directed Glorfindel's attention towards an almost indiscernible trail of blood leading into the forest. 'It seems they stayed here for a while before being overwhelmed.' Celeborn seemed to ponder his observations 'The wound is recent, and serious.'
'Mount and ride with me, for if it is as you say, whoever was here, is bound to need our assistance.' With a shrill whistle Glorfindel motioned some of their companions to join them and together they rode on, a group of twenty, following the almost imperceptible trail of blood that was left behind.
Celeborn came up beside him, as they pressed on fast, both of them noticing every sign, every piece of evidence.
'How many, would you say?' Celeborn called.
With a shake of the head, Glorfindel's answer was short.
'Three. Not more than three.'
Silently he thanked and continued praying to the Lady. Three was more than he could have hoped for. Let them be safe… And even though he knew two out of three was a great deal to wish for, Glorfindel was more positive than had he been for a long while.
There had been a persistent feeling on the road, a more than desperate urging within him to change the direction they were riding in, from Imladris into the dense forest.
And what is it that makes us give in to certain impulses like that, and discard others? he mused. For all this time they had not been able to find a single trace, not a solitary sign of either the Lord of Lindon or of Imladris. Nothing of Gil-galad's Guard that they had assumed was with him if he was alive, since none of their bodies had been found.
And now, due to a mere gut reaction, they were closer than ever, to whomever it was that still roamed these woods.
Suddenly, Celeborn motioned his horse to turn a sharp angle, and without any reservations, Glorfindel followed.
It was then that he watched a dark-haired figure, dishevelled, but very much alive, emerge from among the trees.
As soon as Elrond discerned familiar silver and golden hair, his heart leapt, and he deserted the somewhat inadequate shelter of low trees they had sought before. Turning to Gil-galad he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Both of them stayed silent, unable to speak for the moment.
The calls reached them, the riders from which they originated nearing fast.
'Galu am i Elbereth!* We have found you!'
Gil-galad raised an eyebrow.
'And it's about time too…'
Galu am i Elbereth!: Blessings upon the Star-lady!
*does lil dance* Yay! Feel free to scream Cavalry! along with me! Go Glorfindel! Go Celeborn!
I'm so glad I finally got them out of those darn woods… :D
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.