16. Neither the Time nor the Place
Elrond was only moments behind her. “Gil!”
She turned. Chin raised defiantly and eyes flashing with anger.
He raised his hands in a gesture of placation.
She stepped back, jaw set and nostrils flaring. Her chest heaved as she fought to control herself.
“Listen to me.” He approached her slowly. “They did not mean to offend you.”
“Well I am offended!” she snarled. “Where I come from telling someone that they are good enough to be a bedfellow but not to marry into the family- whether they ever intended to or not - is considered to be very offensive indeed.”
“They are foolish Elves who know nothing outside their own world.”
“I might have expected an insult like this from a common soldier, but never from those I had thought to be my friends.” She laughed harshly, “Or is it that I am so kind and understanding, I will just let it pass?”
He took her gently by the shoulders and she felt the tears start to gather, thickening her voice, “I never asked for anything from you, never looked to the future, spared no thought for my reputation. I gave myself to you freely, both love and honour. Trusting you with all that I had.”
“Hush, my love.” He wrapped his arms about her, pressing his cheek to the top of her head. “They were but a few ill-chosen words, pay them no mind. They have no place between us.”
Anger, uncertainty and an aching for comfort vied in her as he stroked her hair soothingly. Once she had quietened a little he stood back and brushed away her tears, before placing his hands once more on her shoulders. His face very serious, his grey eyes fixed onto hers. “There are matters which must be discussed between us, concerning the future. But this is not the place, nor is it the time.” He looked deep into her eyes, shadowed as they were with misgiving, and lifted his fine hands to cradle her face, fingers stroking the forehead furrowed with doubt, “You know that I love you. I must ask you to trust me a little longer, my heart.”
She felt herself lost in the depths of his eyes, and knew there would be no escape for her, even had she wished it. An wavering smile came to her lips, “I have bound my fate to yours, my lord, for whatever good or ill may come of it.”
He sat her on the bed, and pulled up the chair to sit facing her. “Do not be too quick to judge the others.”
She frowned again. “I do not understand what is so bad about my father having two wives, do Elves really consider it so terrible to marry again?”
Elrond nodded, “It is not unheard of, but it is deeply disapproved.”
“But, why? What is the harm in it?”
“In the long ages past, before Men were even awakened, when the land of Valinor was in its glory of summer, Finwë took Miriel to wife. Their love was great, and a son Fëanor was born to them. But the bearing of him took all the strength of Finwë‘s wife, and she passed into the halls of Mandos. After many years of loneliness, Finwë took a second wife, Indis the fair, whom he loved also. Two sons she bore him, Fingolfin and Finarfin.
“But Fëanor was not pleased, and he had no love for Indis, or for his half brothers. He lived apart from them, and in secret he mastered his craft, and created the Silmarils. Immeasurably beautiful gems in which the light of the Trees, and the glory of the blessed realm was preserved imperishable. Then Melkor, the Spirit of Evil , desired the Silmarils for his own, and he whispered lies to Fëanor, fanning the resentment already smouldering in him. And to Fingolfin and Finarfin he said that their elder brother, being the father’s favourite, would drive them from their inheritance. Thus did Fëanor become the first to break the peace of Valinor and draw a sword upon a kinsman.
“And in the wars of kin against kin, fought for many reasons, and the terrible strife over the Silmarils, ever were the elder line of Fëanor, who was the father of Maglor, and the younger line of Fingolfin, from whom I am descended, set against each other. Therefore has it become our custom to marry only once, and as is often the way with such things, the reasoning behind it has been largely forgotten and only inflexible tradition remains.”
Gildinwen nodded slowly, “I understand, and to be fair we have a similar taboo against unmarried union.”
He looked surprised, “Indeed?”
“Certainly.” She smiled wryly. “Although it is most one-sided. For a man to have had lovers before marriage is considered quite usual, but that same man would never dream of accepting a wife who had been with another.”
“I see.” He looked steadily at her for a long moment. “You really have trusted me with all that you have.”
She blushed slightly, smiling.
“Amongst Elves, one may take lovers at will before marriage, indeed it is considered wise to do so.  For the union once it is made will be final and binding, and is not to be taken lightly.”
Gildinwen was thoughtful for a while. Then she looked up at him and grinned, “Actually, I think it was worth all that just for the look on Glorfindel’s face.”
Elrond lifted his brows in amusement, “He was most surprised.” He chuckled, then smiled, “I will speak to the others tomorrow.”
He continued to look intently at her, the smile playing over his lips.
“What is it?”
“By Elbereth!” he laughed, “I do believe that you are more beautiful in anger than at any other time.” He bared his teeth slightly, in a predatory smile. “Save perhaps one...”
Her dark eyes flashed him a fierce look.
“All fire and mettle like an wild filly,” his voice was husky.
“And you think perhaps to try and tame me?” She tossed her head in playful defiance.
With a growl he was on her. Caught, lifted and pinned under him, all in a single smooth action. “We shall see, shall we?”
Gildinwen and Mardil spent the next morning busily unpacking and sorting papers and reports. Everything that could be useful to Lord Gil-galad was transferred to his headquarters - maps, reports and messages - so that he might have all to hand. In her own workroom were kept copies of correspondence and intercepted messages, as well as the codes and ciphers. Mardil helped her to cram everything onto makeshift shelves.
“Well,” she said as she sat back in her chair, starting on the food that Mardil had fetched from the cookshop, “I think we’ve about done everything.”
He nodded, perched on a rickety stool, eating hungrily.
“So, Mardil,” she reached for the flask of water, “How are your lodgings?”
He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, “A bit crowded, but alright.”
“And the Elves? You’re getting on with them?” ‘Unlike me,’ she thought ruefully.
A shrug, “Haven’t had much to say to them yet.”
She smiled, “Alright, you let me know if you want to change, yes?”
He nodded, mumbling through his food, “I will.”
“Good.” She grinned, “Now, eat up. We’re going out this afternoon.”
They had only managed a few hundred yards up the ragged gully when the bombardment started. At the first whistling, rushing sound, they looked around puzzled, and the shock of the impact on the bank above threw them to the ground amid a rain of grit and shards.
“Mardil!” she shouted, and together they huddled close to the walls, shields raised. Another missile came in, stones and debris pelting down, ash and dust rising up.
“They’re throwing rocks.” The boy shouted above the noise, “They must have catapults.”
“You’re right,” replied Gil, unwinding her scarf and spitting the dirt from her mouth. “Curse them.”
After a few minutes, things quietened. Gil could hear shouts and cries from nearby, but could see little through the dust.
“Come on.” She said to Mardil, “They can’t get a direct hit in here, they’re just trying to frighten us.” ‘I hope,’ she added silently.
They lifted their shields, and stumbled on towards the checkpoint at the end of the gully. Here there was a defensive position, manned night and day with Elrond’s bowmen, and Gil-galad’s warriors. No-one could enter or leave the Elven King’s headquarters without passing them. Arrow slits looked out towards the Tower, as well as down into the trenches on either side.
“Who goes there?” called the Elf on guard, sword ready in hand.
“The Lady Gildinwen and page.” She replied, pulling the cloth from her face so they could see her.
They squeezed through a narrow defile, then into a deep trench angling away from the Fortress, protective bastions manned with Elven footsoldiers spaced along it at regular intervals. This time their reaction to the sound of the incoming missile was almost instinctive. They crouched low, shields raised, but the shot landed some distance from them. Keeping their shields in place they crept forward, at first flinching at each new impact, but quickly learning to tell if it would land near or far.
“Where are we going anyway?” queried Mardil, as they scrambled on.
“To the hospital.” Gildinwen’s voice was muffled by her scarf.
“Firstly, I have to see a friend, and straighten out a misunderstanding.” She ducked as a smattering of secondary debris showered in from another impact. “And then, I want her to take a look at your foot.”
“Why?!” Mardil stopped, his voice angry and defensive. “It hasn’t been slowing me down. I’ve done everything you’ve asked, and always kept up. You’ve no cause to complain.”
“Mardil.” Her voice was quiet and kind, and she removed the scarf to look at him. “Your service has been exemplary, indeed if it wasn’t for one thing then I would never have even noticed your foot.”
His young face creased with a familiar anger. “What thing?” he cried, “Tell me!”
She put a hand out to his shoulder, “You are in pain. All the time.”
“So?” he shrugged her off crossly, “That doesn’t stop me from doing my duties! It’s not fair to count it against me.”
“I’m not counting it against you.” She tried to keep the exasperation from her voice, “I’m just trying to see if we can do anything to ease it that’s all!”
“Don’t you think I’ve seen healers before? Don’t you think I’ve been prodded, and poked, and squeezed and pinched?” His face was miserable, “I’ve had burning plasters, leeches, stinking salves, even a frightful wooden shoe, but none of it worked.” He looked up at her, pleading. “Please. Don’t make it any worse.”
“Listen to me,” her voice was low and serious, “I’m taking you to see an Elven healer. I promise you that she will not hurt you, and if she says she cannot help you, then we will never mention it again, alright?”
His sullen look lifted slightly, “Will you still keep me as your page?”
“Yes,” she gave him a warm smile, “Of course I will.”
“Alright then.” He agreed reluctantly, “But it had better not hurt, at all.”
The now familiar rushing noise grew loud. “It’s a big one!” Gil shouted, pushing the boy down against the wall, and crouching beside him, their shields locked. The hit was very close, a choking fall of rock and rubble exploded around them, rattling on their wooden shelter and stinging exposed ankles.
When they emerged they could see that the walls of the trench they had just passed along had been subjected to a direct hit, and had collapsed in a heap of debris, blocking them in.
“Come on, Mardil.” She grabbed his arm and dragged him onward. ‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ she thought. There was a defensive bastion a few dozen yards away, if they could reach it... but the air rang again with the ominous sound. Just in time they flung themselves to the ground, and when they looked up through the hail of fragments and shroud of dust, the casemate they had hoped to reach was a shattered ruin - and their escape was blocked.
Mardil looked up at her worried, “We’re trapped.”
She smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry, the dwarves can dig us out in an hour or two.” If we have that long, she thought.
A soft moan from up ahead distracted her.
“Stay here.” She instructed Mardil firmly, “I mean it.”
Lifting her shield she crept forward, careful to keep under cover. Perhaps if the enemy could not see them, they would not waste their ammunition.
The guards of the watchtower lay covered by the debris of their post. Two young Elves. One was dead already, skull crushed and eyes lifeless. The other senseless, an occasional soft groan and soft flutter of pulse his only sign of life. Blood dark and sticky in the pale hair.
She dragged him into the shelter of the wall, and motioned Mardil to come up.
“Is he badly hurt?” the boy’s face was white.
“It’s difficult to say,” she felt the Elf’s skull carefully, “I can find no obvious injury.”
The awful noise whined in again, and this time an explosion of fire rained upon them, sparks and drops of flame. The shot had landed a fair distance away, but after a minute or two another came in......nearer
“By all the stars!” she swore. “That was a bit close for comfort.”
The third was yet nearer, collapsing some more of the trench walls.
‘They know we’re here’, she thought, ‘it’s only a matter of time.’ She looked at Mardil’s face, taut with fear.
Think Gil! Alright, only a traction trebuchet could be loaded and fired this fast, and it still takes a minute or two - assuming there’s only one. We’re in the south west trench leading to the valley where the hospital is. Who knows what state the passage is on the other side of these falls? Where can we run to? Could we make it across the top to the valley on the other side, in a minute?
They cowered again as yet another shot seared in, bursting in a smouldering rain of fire.
No choice. We can’t stay here.
“Mardil. Listen to me.”
He fixed his strained eyes on her.
“We’re going to have to make a run for it.” She pointed, “Up over the side of the trench, then straight on. There will be a shallow climb up to a sharp ridge, and we’ll be safe on the other side. Do you understand?”
“Do we wait until just after the next shot?”
“That’s right.” She grinned through the grime, “Clever lad.”
A small, tight smile of pride came to his face.
“You must run as hard as you can, do you understand?”
He nodded grimly.
The sky filled with noise again.
“What about him?” he shouted above the din, pointing at the Elf
“He will have to come too.”
The fireball exploded, pelting the shields with fiery shrapnel and molten drops.
“Come on!” Gil roused the boy even before the debris had settled. Jamming her shield against the wall of the trench, she placed her back against it and laced her fingers. Mardil put his foot in them, grabbed her shoulders and was propelled up and over the parapet.
She hefted the Elf onto one shoulder, his limp form unwieldy but thankfully not too heavy. ‘If you were a Man,’ she thought, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do this.’
Taking what short run the narrow space allowed, she managed to balance briefly on the top of the shield, the edge of the parapet just below her shoulder. Mardil grabbed at her scrabbling hand and she pitched her burden forward, lifting his legs over the lip before crawling after.
How long had they taken already?
“Run Mardil!” she shouted, heaving the Elf up again and lurching forward.
Ahead of them the ground rose, the surface torn and gouged by the recent pounding. She ran, unbalanced and ragged, staggering up the slope, her burden shifting and sliding on her shoulder.
How far was it? Maybe a hundred yards? She forced her legs to move faster. A few steps ahead of her Mardil was charging up the hill. ‘Good lad,’ she thought.
Her chest burned, and fire tore through her back and thighs.
From ahead she could hear shouts. The guards on the ridge towers were urging them on.
How much time had they left?
The boy had almost made it.
Behind her the dreadful noise filled the air again.
Mardil stumbled and fell.
Within a moment she had reached him, bending her knees while scarcely breaking stride she grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and dragged him up. The ridgeline was just ahead. The noise was deafening and she felt the back of her neck begin to singe. She heaved Mardil bodily over the top, then threw herself after, clutching onto their casualty while they rolled and tumbled down the rough, steep slope to safety. Behind them a blast of heat and fire rolled out harmlessly over their heads, the scattering of rock and sparks hardly noticeable amid the rubble of their fall.
Gildinwen sat in a chair trying not to wince as Galeria picked grit out of the scrape on her cheek.
“Well, you will go throwing yourself down mountains,” grinned the Elf.
“Honestly! What a fuss.” She continued with mock gravity.
Gil tried unsuccessfully not to laugh, knowing how much more it would make her face hurt. “You are doing it on purpose!”
“It is true what they say - healers make the worst patients.”
“You will be a patient yourself shortly if.....Ow!”
“Now, now!” Galeria remonstrated delightedly, “What kind of an example is that to set your young page?”
Mardil sat on a cot across the other side of the room, so absorbed in admiring his bandaged arm that he did not even notice the healer tending to his foot.
“There.” Galeria stood back, “That should do it.”
“Thanks.” Gil grinned stiffly. She looked over at Mardil. “Can anything be done for him?”
“The foot cannot be straightened, but is not in itself painful. Excessive walking, compounded by lack of care, have caused chafing and sores to become infected. We will give him some herbs to bathe it, and advice on how to prevent such things occurring again.”
“Thank you, Galeria.” She smiled at the Elf.
“You are welcome, my friend.” Galeria touched her fondly on the shoulder. “Now come with me, there is a young Elf wishing to thank you in person.”
 Yes, I know this is probably not the most technically accurate description of Melkor, but I needed to describe him in a few words. Please don’t bother emailing me with 10 paragraphs explaining why this description is against canon.
 Okay, I’m pretty sure this is *not* JRRT canon, but it makes the story much more interesting.
 For the missing NC-17 love scene, please see The Standard Bearer - Extra Scenes, Scene 2: A Little Horseplay.
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