1. Take the Little Ones
Take the Little Ones
Another chunk of masonry shook loose and crashed to the ground, sending showers of dust around the rapidly shrinking room. Walls tumbled. Parts of the floor fell away to reveal the bones of the house. The city died slowly in flames, smoke and noise.
Erestor coughed and held his family a little closer, forcing a smile as he glanced at their faces, each one coated with plaster dust, looking to him for some glimmer of hope. His heart could not give them that encouragement, no matter how much he wanted to. The city was dying. They were dying.
Another loud bang filled the air, so near that it stung their ears and sent shivers through the crumbling structure yet again. With a yelp, the family huddled closer.
Outside a deathly silence fell. Erestor felt his pulse beat painfully through his ears, sounding so loud to him that he feared the enemy might hear and find their hiding place. He held his breath. Nightfall, he thought, praying for dark and shadow to cover their escape. But although Sauron's mannish hordes would cease their attacks on the city when darkness fell, the shadows would bring out the orcs. The foul creatures would spill into the ruined streets, picking off survivors and the few pockets of resistance still fighting to save Ost-in-Edhil. They would descend into the chaos like crows after the plough, but still it would be safer to head into the open at night, when the catapults ceased their onslaught.
Dozens of booted feet clattered past the hidden entrance to the house. Luckily part of the ceiling had collapsed in one of the early attacks and none outside could look in, but still Erestor's heart stopped for a long moment. 'Go past,' he willed them, 'go past.'
A crash shattered the silence and a shower of rubble cascaded down the wall onto their heads. How close was the enemy now? Had they breached the northern wall as well as the south? They sounded so near. So near that Erestor imagined he could smell their foul, unwashed bodies above the stench of burning that had become the signature of the city these last few weeks. He felt his wife's tears soaking through the fabric of his shirt and stroked her hair, letting her rest her head against his shoulder so that she could hide her sobs from their children. The young ones gazed around, their tears washing away some of the dust and grime. Their wide eyes stared at the awkward angles of the broken house and at the strange shadows flitting past the gaps in the rubble. Erestor wondered if they knew what foul creatures cast those shadows or if the horrors were all a mystery to them. He hoped the latter might be true. If something were to happen, (though he prayed to the Valar that nothing would), he wished that they would know nothing. If Eru saw fit to take them from their bodies, then he wished it would be swift; merely a bad dream, from which they would awake in Aman unscathed.
They cried from hunger more than fear, he understood and, sure that the din of slaughter would cover his movements, slipped a hand towards his belt and took the last sliver of lembas from a wallet there, dividing it into tiny pieces so that each child might have something. He quickly shushed them, lest their little voices carried beyond the crashing bricks and clashing steel.
The days of forced silence weighed heavily upon him. His body felt raw and every nerve tingled at the slightest sound, from the effort of controlling his movement and ensuring that their little group was not heard. His limbs ached from sitting still for so long and no attempt to meditate proved successful, since he was always interrupted by some new cacophony of carnage.
This could not go on, he thought. With each tumbling stone the room grew smaller, to the point where it seemed intent on swallowing them. Could he really believe they would escape, with the streets full of Sauron's servants? Not for the first time, he suppressed the rising panic in his breast and shuddered as he exhaled. The skies were darkening. He found himself willing the sun to disappear, though the thought of racing through the streets with two small children made him sick to the stomach. They would never make it, he mused.
Yet they had to try.
A cold wind moaned around the ruins and ruffled the wild holly. Through the fleshy leaves, the last few morsels of the once thriving city stood like abandoned statutes, maggot white and forlorn. Some lay strangled by vines, soon to disappear forever. If Erestor had not known the landscape so well, he might never have found the place at all.
Slowly he led the party of elflings through the unruly trees and unkempt greenery, pushing aside branches and weeds to let them pass more easily. They trailed behind him the way the ducklings followed their mothers along the banks of the Bruinen at Imladris, their attention fixed entirely upon him. Though Erestor did not show it, he watched them just as closely, keeping note of their movements and any dangers in their path. He knew the risk in bringing them so far from the comfort and safety of Imladris, and could still hear Elrond's voice in his mind, warning him darkly of the many foul creatures that inhabited Eregion these days. He kept his hand permanently on the hilt of his sword beneath his cape, just in case.
They came to a set of white stone blocks, some of which formed a fragment of an arch. Though worn by rain and harsh winds and painted green by lichens, some of the delicate carvings could just be seen.
"Now this," said Erestor, his breath freezing on the air, "was once the council hall. A fine, fair building. Inside each wall was painted to show the great leaders of the Noldor, their deeds (somewhat edited) and their great battles. It was the finest hall in all Arda."
The children gazed around as they passed through the bushes, looking for some trace of the great paintings. All they saw, however, was a gnarled tree, some broken stones and a puddle of shallow brown water.
"A building to be proud of, do you not think?" he asked them.
The children glanced around, trying to fathom the hidden answer or the trick in the question, before mumbling incoherent syllables so that Erestor could glean whatever answer he wanted.
"Then come," he sighed, still smiling.
The smile was greatly forced but necessary. They passed through some trailing willows and he hacked a few thick clusters of holly, before stepping onto a hardened patch of ground. He kicked and uncovered the reason for the firmness in the earth – the remnants of paving stretched off into the weeds, a few white bricks thrust upwards through the dirt. He stared along the line of the ancient road, spotting the darkened shape amongst the trees only because he knew it to be there.
"We shall not go down that road," he said quietly, and led them quickly through another part of the ruins, away from that house.
Night brought cool silence, but Erestor knew the tactics of the enemy too well to be complacent. Lifting the two children into his arms, he tapped his wife upon the elbow and nodded towards the pile of rocks where the door had been. They would need to climb up and over the remnants of the wall to escape, and hope that they could somehow clamber down onto the street. He urged the little ones to stay silent once again, sensing that they would ask him what was happening. Not long now, he told them with his mind. Not long now.
He scrambled up to the top of the rubble pile and glanced over, then reached down to offer a hand to his wife once he was certain they had a clear road. All seemed quiet, yet the fires tainted the night sky orange-grey and veiled the stars. A few shrieks and hollow, echoing screams drifted from the far side of the city. Erestor looked across the darkened ruins and saw what remained of Ost-in-Edhil, though he barely recognised it. Still, there was no time to mourn its lost beauty. If they were to escape, they could not stop moving until this wreckage was far behind them.
The clump of rock that had once been their upper storey lay heaped by the wall, providing an easy way down onto the broken street. The paving was in pieces, as if some giant had smashed his way along with a great iron hammer. Erestor saw no other signs of life, but sensed movement all around him, so near it made his skin crawl. They were close. There was so little time.
Tugging lightly on his wife's hand, he led the family silently through the dark.
He stumbled forward seconds before the crashing sound registered on his brain, and hit the cracked road with a painful thud.
The scream that followed, however, chilled his blood more than any other danger in the night.
"Such pride there was in these stones," breathed Erestor, gazing down at the colourful tiles just visible through the matted carpet of grass and weeds. The elf children gathered around him in a small circle, following his stare towards the ground. Each one remained wide-eyed and enthralled by this new place, so different and frightening compared to their home in Imladris. Erestor smiled inwardly as he looked at them and pictured them racing into their houses when they returned, to tell their parents everything about their trip.
"You know who Celebrimbor was, of course?" he went on, and received a few nods in reply. "You listened when I told you of him on the way here. Well, this was his most glorious achievement. Do you not think it holds that glory still? That pride? Can you not see it shining through the weeds and the mud, where so many feet have trampled the stones?"
The children stared back blankly.
"Look at it," sighed Erestor. "Such great effort went into the building of this city. So many long hours I spent crafting each corner of my house, so that my children might look upon the works of their father and be proud. Still, can you see the glory beneath the mud?"
'Curse Celebrimbor', thought Erestor as he crawled to where his lover lay. His being trembled with rage that was not tempered by the knowledge that Celebrimbor was in Mandos already. He reached out towards his wife and saw her hand shake as she tried to hold him. The pool of blood lengthened on the broken paving. He thought of hauling the arrow from her body, but his reason told him it was too late.
He could not quite make out her words as she breathed her last, but he knew her meaning all the same.
He had but one purpose and no time for grief.
He had to take the little ones.
Gathering the two children into his arms once again, he hurried to his feet and raced along the street, as arrows whipped past his ear and orkish cries bayed across the night behind him. The children wailed and reached back, over his shoulder, at their mother's corpse and though it broke his heart, Erestor had to ignore them. He had no time to dry their tears or quiet them.
This was the deciding moment.
"This is the founding stone," said Erestor, brushing some snails away from the rock, whose deep carvings had been eaten by the weather. "We set this down to mark our site, and built our city round it. We were so happy to have a home at last. We did not miss the Havens or the rugged country we had left behind in Lindon. We would be happy here. We could explore our powers here. With no constraints and no rules save our own, we could make ourselves great here. Can you not see that greatness still, in this stone? Though it sits half-covered in slime and filth, can you not see that it was once a proud stone?"
The children, by now, knew that their mentor wished to make a point, and some had gleaned an inkling of what that point may be, yet none had the courage yet to speak up, so all stared blankly at him.
"I wonder why you cannot see it," muttered Erestor. "Do you know, it took near fifty years to built the skeleton of this city. It took the Dark Lord ten days to destroy it."
He turned and pointed to an empty patch of sky, brushed by the upper branches of lofty, bare trees. "There once stood the dome of Celebrimbor's workshop and there was the heart of the city. For four days the orcs and evil men let it burn, till the great silver dome melted and decayed. Celebrimbor died upon the steps in one last attempt to right the wrongs that had been wrought within."
The way ahead was blocked. There was no other route, save to scale the wall and drop down on the open countryside beyond. Erestor had no idea how many soldiers waited on the other side, but he knew at least a dozen orcs now scoured the streets for them, sniffing the air to catch elven scent. Those orcs would tear them apart and eat them raw if they dallied. There was no choice.
Clutching the little ones tightly, Erestor whispered to his sons to cling to his cape, and felt their arms around his neck. He climbed slowly, with their weight upon him, yet he did not stop for an instant, until his fingers curled around the top of the wall and he hauled himself and the children up.
He glanced down and saw firelight in the distance. An enemy camp sat near, but not near enough to spot three stray elves if they moved silently enough. Erestor ran a short way along the top of the wall until he found a tree that looked sturdy enough to hold their weight, before he began the slow and painful climb down to the cold ground.
The children sobbed into his shoulders, using his cloak to soak up their tears, and he implored them to stay as quiet as they could, patting their backs to comfort them. Erestor scurried through the night, his ears pricked as he listened to the distance voices coming from the camp. Though he did not understand their brutal tongue, he waited for any rise in pitch or volume that might show they had noticed the elves.
Up ahead, he knew from memory, there was a shallow ditch lined with trees. That would provide them with enough cover to head north, beneath the very noses of the enemy, while the little stream running along the bottom of the ditch would mask their scent.
They were almost there, thought Erestor, but then his mind leapt back to the body they had left behind.
He could not afford to weep just yet, however.
The enemy might hear.
"Some of you may wish to leave Imladris one day," said Erestor, leading his little group away from the ruins. They crossed the stream and ditch, but only Erestor really noticed this. "Do not look so incredulous. One day, when you are grown, you may wish to find lives of your own, away from the long history of your fathers. You may think your fathers are weak or foolish, or too proud perhaps and will seek to make a new start somewhere else. I did once. I made a decision when I was young. I chose to seek out greatness rather than be content with what I had. I listened to the counsels of the Dark Lord because I was blinded to his intentions. All I knew was that I saw a chance to be greater than my fathers, so that I might no longer hear their names spoken on every breath, but instead I would hear people speak of 'Erestor the Great'. That might seem so foolish to you now. It sounds selfish and over-proud, does it not?"
The children did not answer.
"I know it does. It sounds awful to my ears too, now that I have the wisdom of age, and have learned through tragedy what my pride, and that of my kin, caused the world. Come. We must start for home."
He checked the countryside ahead, keen eyes looking for signs of anything ill or out of place amongst the rough lands.
"I can never rebuild that city, nor would I really want to," he carried on. "Yet I can show it to each wave of elflings that come to Imladris. Do you know now why I brought you here?"
The children muttered their replies. Most said 'yes'.
"Your choices are your own," said Erestor. "I can do nothing more than advise, and show you what price we paid for our pride. It is the only way I know to atone for my wrongs."
Dawn crept over the horizon and lit up a harsh and rugged landscape. Erestor had never set foot beyond the walls of Ost-in-Edhil in nearly five hundred years, so the sight of Eregion's dry, uncultured hills startled him slightly. There was no sign of occupation or intrusion for miles. Untamed nature ruled as far as his elven sight could make out. He had no idea where to go. The mountains perhaps, and then to Lórien. With any luck he might find what, if anything, remained of Celeborn's sortie.
The little ones no longer travelled in his arms, but tottered along beside him. When their legs grew tired he would carry them again, but for the moment his shoulders were glad of the respite.
He tried not to look back, unable to face the ruined city in cold daylight. If he saw the city, his mind would project her image at him again, as she lay dead on that street. He would start to wonder again. He would think what became of her body, if the orcs had desecrated it, if he should have done something, should have carried her as well…
He felt a little tug at his cape and slowed his pace slightly, aware that he had begun to stride again, moving too fast for their short legs to keep up.
"What is the matter?" he asked, his voice a whisper though they were clear of the enemy for the moment.
"Where is nana?" asked the youngest.
Erestor stared, unsure what to say.
"She will not be coming with us," he answered finally.
"Where are we going?" asked the eldest.
Again Erestor opened his mouth to reply, but faltered.
"I do not know," he told them.
"Why can we not go home?" asked the youngest, face crumpling once again. "Want to go home."
"We cannot go home," whispered Erestor. "We no longer have a home."
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.