17. The West Road
“Good morning, my lords.” She bowed to Gil-galad and Círdan.
“Ah, Gildinwen.” The Elven King’s voice was pleased, “The very person! Lord Anárion has just been asking me about you.”
She turned to see the friendly face of the man in question, the habitual smile on his face and a bundle of letters in his hand, “Good morning.” he grinned.
“My Lord.” She returned his bow.
“I was just asking Lord Gil-galad how you’d been getting on with young Mardil, now that he’s been with you a few weeks.” He wandered over to the table where she had some maps laid out.
Her smile was genuine, “He’s an excellent lad, my Lord. Helpful, friendly, hard-working and very clever.”
“And he’s enjoying the work?”
“I certainly believe so.”
His face grew concerned, “How is his foot bearing up?”
“Much better, due in large part to the fact that we have little marching to do these days.”
“Good!” he replied, “I’m very pleased to hear that you suit each other.” He drew her aside into a corner, and dropped his voice. “I wonder if I may be so bold as to ask yet another favour of you?”
“I shall be pleased to help you if I can, my lord.”
He looked worried, “It’s Isildur.”
“The same ah...trouble as before?”
He nodded, and sifted through the handful of letters in his hand. Holding up a fat one, “From my wife,” a sunny smile lit his face. Then a cloud covered it as he lifted a much thinner one, “The Lady Varadil.”
“I see.” She looked down, “To be honest, my lord, I don’t know what help I can be.”
“He might talk to you. Neither Father nor myself can get anything out of him on the matter.”
“If it is what you wish, then I shall try.”
“Thank you.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, “This siege is a hard fight and we need him with us.” He drew his letters from the bundle and thrust the rest at her, “Here, take these as an excuse for going.”
It would be a good three miles to Isildur’s camp, situated in the higher ground to the South East of the Fortress. Most of it through the awkward twisting trench city, so she decided to leave Mardil behind.
“But, my lady.” He protested, “It’s not safe. I should be with you.”
“Don’t fuss, Mardil,” she laughed, “Lord Anárion is sending two soldiers to accompany me, and I shall be behind our lines the whole time.”
He looked sceptical, “You have to cross the Road.”
This was true. In order to cross the West Road the Alliance had bridged the fiery chasms on either side, building up protective barriers over both them and the highway. Despite this it was still a notorious killing ground, both bridges and barriers attacked daily, if not hourly, and often destroyed.
“I promise to be very careful, and besides which,” she laid a heavy satchel on the table, “you’ve got plenty of work to do while I’m gone.”
The boy’s face lit up when he saw the new messages. He had been studiously learning the ciphers and was keen to try them out.
The two soldiers assigned by Anárion to be her escort were lounging by the grimy wall when she came out. Spotting her, they hastily straightened up, dusting the soot from their tabards before giving deep bows. When they rose, their grins of anticipation were quickly matched by her incredulous one.
“Tom!” she cried, “Will!”
“My lady.” They grinned jointly.
“How are you both?” She couldn’t resist hugging them impetuously, to their great embarrassment.
“Oh, not too bad, all things considered,” replied Tom cheerfully, as they set off, their feet muffled in the thick carpet of ash.
“And you’ve fully recovered from your wound?” she asked Will.
“Which one?” he returned, flippantly.
Tom laughed, “He’s a regular hero now, our Will. Been wounded five times, and saved at least three people.”
Gildinwen shook her head disbelievingly, “It is so good to see you both, and I’m very glad to have you escorting me.”
“We’re honoured to do it, my lady,” they replied proudly.
It took them about half an hour to reach the crossing point on the West Road. There was a queue so they had to wait. The noxious smell of sulphur and gas was already thick, and the heat noticeable.
“It seems quiet enough,” remarked Gildinwen, wiping her damp brow with a gritty sleeve.
“That’s what’s worrying me,” said Will, his face serious, as they shuffled further up the line, “It means they could start at any time.”
As they reached the bridgehead they were shepherded into a small group to make the crossing. Gatehouses had been erected to house the archers and watchmen whose duty it was to protect those who crossed. Sharp Elven eyes were trained keenly on the Fortress windows and crenellations, alert for any movement that would indicate an attack. For any sign of enemy bowmen or the great catapults being made ready. Barrack rooms nearby held armed men, ready to man the barricades and fling back any attack coming down the road. Even precious horses stood in waiting should they be needed.
The chasms were still relatively narrow here, only half a dozen yards across, but the line of sight from the Tower was wide open. Barriers were erected along the citadel side of the bridges, and across the wide road, these provided cover from view and some protection from arrows, but nothing against the rocks, fire and bolts aimed so accurately by Sauron’s trebuchet men. Crossings were staggered at random intervals to prevent prediction by the enemy.
They watched as the group before them hurried over, crouched, running bunched together along the narrow bridgework, spreading out over the wide road, gouged and pitted with the scars of many an attack, then single file again to disappear into safety on the other side. A matter of a few seconds, certainly less than a minute.
“Ready,” commanded the crossing marshal, his eyes on the lookouts.
They tensed, waiting, shields ready, braced to run. Two sturdy dwarves, leather-clad and stout, were in front of them, and a single Elven warrior graced the head of their group. Gil waited between Tom and Will, while behind them two or three seasoned men-at-arms chatted idly.
No signal from the lookouts. The marshal gave the word, “Go!”
They ran. The Elf’s feet light and accurate on the narrow boards, the dwarves thumping over. Gil ran crouching, shield overhead, her thighs screaming their dissent. In front of her, she could just see Tom loping easily, and the sound of Will’s steps were hard on her own. Beneath their feet, a hot, choking fog of steam and sulphur rose from the chasm which fell away beneath them, black and red.
They were over the first bridge, now they dodged and wove through the craters and rubble of the road, the second bridge just ahead.
A cry from the lookouts gave a momentary warning, but the sound was still in their ears when the first bolt hit. A deadly accurate shot, it speared the Elf through the chest as he set his first step on the bridge. A momentary glimpse of surprise and pain, as he span, blood flowing red from his mouth, then he staggered and fell back, tumbling over the rail into the fiery pit beneath them.
The dwarves stopped dead, colliding and collapsing in an untidy heap, then crawling as close to the barricade as they could.
Gil felt her breath knocked out as Will launched himself forward, bearing her to the ground. A dart struck the ground beside them, embedding itself viciously in the ground. Just in front of them, Tom was cursing loudly.
A murderous hail of bolts, darts and missiles now rained in from the Tower. No thought could be given to running, they inched their way forward on their bellies. Over the rough, jagged surface of the road, Gildinwen’s knees and elbows raw and scraped, then onto the bridge, its wooden surface spattered with blood. Peering down between the boards at the roiling depths, smoke and fumes thick in their nostrils. Crashing and whistling sounded all around, and then a terrible scream from behind them. Gil hesitated for a fraction of a second, then Will hissed at her, “Go on. We can do nothing here.” With great relief the three of them reached the end of the bridge, where friendly hands reached out to drag them into the relative safety of the trenches.
“Are you alright?” Will asked her solicitously.
She nodded, clenching her fists to try and stop her hands from shaking. She was sweat-drenched and grimy, clothing torn and dirty, dark blood staining the knees.
“Here,” Tom offered her a flask and she took a drink gratefully, the cool water soothing her throat, dry from dust and fear.
“Come on,” said Will, “There’s a place nearby where you can rest and have some food before we continue. Besides which,” he grinned, “if he finds out you were here and we didn’t bring you to visit, our lives wouldn’t be worth living.”
The guardroom was smallish, but comfortable. A stove burned in one corner, a pot bubbling merrily on the top. The only occupant sat at the rough wooden table.
“Sergeant Gillow!” she hurried forward to greet him, hands outstretched.
He stood to take them in his and bent his grey head low, “My lady.” His gruff voice was full.
“You are well?” she felt a lump in her throat, faced with this faithful old soldier, the first to recognise her.
“Yes, my lady.” He grinned widely.
“And your leg?”
“Sound as a bell!” he slapped the limb in question. “Now don’t just stand here, sit down, have some food.”
She took a chair beside the stove, her mouth watering at the delicious smells emanating from the pot.
“So when did you come up, Bregor?” She asked, watching intently as he spooned the thick soup into a bowl.
“Just in time to come to this lovely place,” he grimaced, only half joking, passing her the dish. “Missed all the fighting at Dagorlad.”
She picked up a spoon and started in eagerly, “Ah, hot!” She blew on it impatiently. “Horrible place, Dagorlad.” She sipped cautiously. “Then again,” she laughed, “It’s worse here!”
“But things worked out well for you? As you expected?”
“They certainly worked out well,” she smiled happily, “But as I expected?” She sat lost in thought for a long moment. Did I expect to be honoured and trusted by Lord Gil-galad? To stand by his side in battle? To make friends among the Elves? Did I expect to find love? Did I ever, even imagine it was possible to love so? And to have such love in return? “No,” she shook her head slowly, “Never as I expected, never in a lifetime of dreaming.”
“Sergeant!” The familiar voice caused Gil to lower her spoon. The doorway darkened as a tall figure ducked in. “Have you assigned the guards for .....” he broke off as his eye fell on her.
“Hello, Falcred,” she said quietly.
He was thinner, dark shadows round the eyes. The boyish good-looks replaced by something edgier.
“Gil.” His voice was guarded, as if this single word held back many unspoken ones.
“How are you?” she asked, running her spoon awkwardly round inside her bowl.
He looked at her for a long moment, then collected himself, “Fine, thank you.” He replied curtly.
He turned to Gillow, “Sergeant, the guard list.”
“Yes, my lord.” He fetched it hastily.
Falcred took it, and casting a silent glance at her, left the room.
Gillow sat down again, and looked at her curiously, “Did something happen between you two?”
She toyed with her food, appetite lost. “He made me an offer, a very honourable offer.” She smiled ruefully.
“And you turned him down?”
Gillow looked thoughtful, “That might explain a few things.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s changed a lot from the idealistic young man that set out from Minas Anor. I thought it was just the effect of this war, or the influence of Lord Brithiar.”
“Are they still much together then?”
“Yes,” Gillow’s face darkened, “I don’t like Brith, and I don’t like the effect he’s been having on Falcred. He was always a merry young fellow, I don’t like to see him dark and brooding like this.”
“Why is Lord Brithiar with Anárion anyway? I thought Isildur was his liege- lord?”
“He is, but Brith felt betrayed when Isildur fled to Annúminas, and so he came to Minas Anor to join Anárion.” The sergeant pushed back his chair, “Come on, lass,” he said fondly, “You don’t need to be listening to our troubles. You’d better get started if you’re to be there and back before nightfall.”
“You’re right, Bregor.” She stood to take her leave. “I shall come again when I can.”
“You know we’re always happy to see you.”
At the door she paused and looked back at him, “Take care of him, sergeant.”
“I will, lass. Don’t you fret about it.”
Lord Isildur sat alone at a long table cradling a half-empty wine cup in his hands. He looked very tired.
“My Lord.” Gildinwen’s voice was quiet.
He looked up at her with surprise, his eyes narrowing slightly with suspicion. “Lady Gildinwen. This is an unexpected pleasure.” He did not rise.
She lifted the satchel of dispatches and placed it on the table in front of him. “I have brought letters, my lord. A messenger came in from Minas Ithil today.”
His face became animated and setting aside his wine, he rummaged eagerly in the bag. She turned away discretely as he drew out his wife’s letter, walking over to a side table to pour herself a cup.
He spoke again after a few minutes, “I suppose my brother sent you here?”
She turned. He was leaning back in his chair, his mouth set in disappointed lines. The long awaited letter discarded on the table in front of him.
“Yes, my lord.”
“I don’t know what he is thinking of. Even were I looking to..” he paused, “forget my sorrows, you are not what I would choose.”
“My lord!” She was shocked, “I’m sure that was not his intention at all.”
He chuckled darkly, “Oh, you think not? I know Anárion, he’s subtle like that. Why else would he send you, who undoubtedly have much more important matters to attend to, all the way up here.”
She replied stiffly, “He thought that perhaps you might find it helpful to talk to me.”
“Talk eh?” He laughed.
She bristled, and he hastened to mollify her, “Peace, my lady. I have no such designs.” He looked more closely at her, “Besides which, he’s a fool if he can’t see that you’re spoken for already.”
He chuckled at her discomfiture, “Oh don’t worry. I shan’t ask you who it is.”
She tried to steer the conversation in a more satisfactory direction, “Your brother is deeply concerned for you, my lord.”
“Yes, yes.” Isildur gestured roughly towards a chair, and she sat.
She glanced towards the letter, “So, how is your wife?” she asked politely.
“See for yourself.” He held out the letter.
She held up her hands in denial.
“Go on, go on!” he flapped the paper at her.
She took it and read. The letter was short and formal. Giving news but no warmth. She lowered it slowly, “I’m sorry, my lord. I see things have improved little.”
“It isn’t your fault.” He sighed, “If only I wasn’t stuck here in this wretched war.” He slammed his fist into the table, “If I could just be with her, to show her everyday how much I love her, I know she would warm to me again.”
“It won’t last forever, my lord.” Gildinwen tried to be cheerful, “I’m sure she finds it just as difficult being separated. But when it’s over you will ride in triumph and glory to bring her home again to your palace at Minas Ithil.”
He looked up, a little hope shining in his eyes. “Yes, yes! We will return victorious, and march into Annúminas, proud and strong. Amid celebration and rejoicing. I will bring the treasures of Barad-dûr to lay at her feet.” His voice strengthened, “And she will see again the heroic prince who once stole a fruit from the White Tree of Armenelos, right from under the nose of King Ar-Pharazôn.” His face grew proud, as he recalled his past feats of legendary daring. He folded the letter and tucked it inside his jerkin, then pushing the wine cup aside he stood up.
“My lady.” He bowed shortly, “My thanks to you.” His eyes twinkled, “Now if you will excuse me, I have much to do, that I have neglected for too long.”
Their journey back was thankfully less eventful, and although it was getting late by the time Gildinwen finally reached her quarters and shut the door, the only thing she had collected along the way was more dirt.
Mardil had lit the lamps, and left out clean water and a jug of wine. She washed gratefully, shrugged on a clean undertunic, and had just wrapped a robe about herself when Elrond’s soft knock sounded at the door. She hastened to admit him.
He was still dressed in his soldier’s tunic, although he had removed his armour.
“My love.” He took her carefully in his arms, “I am glad you are back safely.”
She leaned into him, arms about his waist, head against the haven of his chest. “It would take more than a few arrows to keep me from you.” She murmured.
She looked up at him. “You are tired.” She reached a hand to his face. “Would you like some wine?”
He smiled at her, and nodded, “ Yes, that would do very well.” He settled himself into the chair while she poured for them.
“I had a letter from home today.”
She placed a cup on the table at his elbow “I trust all is well?”
His voice was thoughtful and distant, “My steward tells me that it has been a good harvest, and all is set for the winter to come.”
She came up behind him, sliding her hands gently over his stiff shoulders, the tension hard beneath the fine cloth.
“You miss it very much.” Slowly she started to move her fingertips over the taut muscles.
“Yes.” He sighed, closing his eyes. “It is painful to think of it in this place, it makes me long so to be home. And yet, it is to protect it that I am here. Imladris is to me, the most beautiful place in all of Middle Earth. The restful sound of the river in the valley, the softest light against your eyes, and beneath your feet and all around, green of every shade and hue.”
“I have seen it,” He looked round at her, surprised, and she smiled at him. “Although I have never been there.”
She lifted a hand to the mithril band, “When I first put this on, I saw....things, places. Imladris was one.”
“Tell me what you saw.” He relaxed back into the chair, and Gil hands resumed their attentions.
“A green valley, with steep sides, covered with many trees and plants. Nestling against one wall, an elegant house, from whose doors and windows spread a welcoming light. Balconies along the upper story gave a view over the woods, and beautiful gardens stretched down to the river. In the centre of the garden an ancient oak tree, its girth broad as the reach of five men.”
He laughed softly, “It must be a vision of the future that you saw, for there is as yet no second story to the house, and the oak is but a sapling.”
They became quiet, each lost in their own thoughts and at peace with the other. Gil continued to minister to him. Soothing and tender, her fingers pressed and eased, gently at first, then firmer as she felt him start to relax a little.
“Take this off,” she tugged at the neck of the tunic, and he obliged her, shrugging it over his head.
Now her sensitive fingers could feel each ridge and knot.
She rubbed and kneaded, working over the shoulders, and down the back to the scapulae. Fingertips pushing in, thumbs and knuckles digging out the stubborn kinks.
He groaned with relief as her hands worked, muscles softening and body relaxing under her touch. She moved up to the back of his neck, stroking and pressing, up under his long dark hair to the nape. Then she moved onto the scalp, gently circling her fingers over the whole head. His eyes were closed now, and he leaned back in the chair, long legs relaxed and arms loose. She changed to a softer motion, lightly stroking his long hair back from his forehead. Her hands trailed down now, fingertips feather light, behind the ears to the neck, and she gathered up his sleek hair into one hand, and lifted it, bending her head to gently kiss the back of his long neck.
And she smiled to herself as she remembered how she had wanted to do this the very first time she saw him.
[If you are over 18 and want to see what happened next, please refer to:
The Standard Bearer - Extra Scenes. Scene 3: The Student Becomes the Master]
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.