13. Chapter 12
- Chapter 12 -
It was mid-morning when Imladris finally came into sight, moss-covered columns blending in with the birches and the elms. Lindir ran down the narrow path that still existed between the old bridge and the house; the earth was supple beneath his feet, propelling him forward as though in mercy of his aching muscles.
"Elladan! Elrohir!" he called out, exhaling the names with what air was left in his lungs as he climbed the stairs. No-one answered him.
His face, scratched from tearing through the woods, burned and he could still smell the smoke on his clothes. Lindir crouched, leaning against a pillar for support, oblivious of the carvings that dug into his shoulder, and threw his head back to swallow gulps of air. He cracked an eye open to see Glorfindel, who had been following him closely, looking just as disheveled. The warrior bent, panting, his hands on his knees as he allowed himself a short respite before speaking.
"They are gone," he said. His expression was somber beyond the obvious exhaustion.
"Perhaps they left for the border of the woods?" Lindir hazarded, refusing to give in to frustration and hoping that their efforts and speed had paid off.
"Why would they leave the safety of their home? That makes no sense."
Lindir bit back a scathing reply about being painfully obvious. His exhaustion, both physical and mental, or the shock of finding Imladris empty, was not Glorfindel's fault. Something had happened here, something they'd missed; and now they had to move on, to find the Peredhil and to inform them of what they had discovered. But Lindir allowed himself a brief moment of respite. He closed his eyes, exhaled, picturing his tiredness draining away with the air that he pushed out of his lungs. No good would come from driving himself beyond the point of exhaustion.
"Lindir, Glorfindel. You have returned."
Lindir jumped, whirling around as much as his protesting muscles allowed. He knew that drawling, quiet voice. "Gwillin?" He pushed himself to his feet again, brushing his hands on his breeches. "Gwillin, where is everyone?"
The scout shot a glance over his shoulder. "Gone at first light."
"But why?" Lindir shook his head. "We had agreed..." Glorfindel has been right – such a move made no apparent sense, and his mind buzzed with possible explanations, each of them more grim than the previous one.
Gwillin shrugged, deceptively unfazed. "We were wrong, it would seem. The girl is not the heir."
"Explain yourself." Glorfindel's voice, though somewhat breathy, rang with an authority that made the scout bristle. Lindir shot him a reproachful look.
"We have been wasting our time, watching the wrong child, all for nothing," Gwillin sneered, hackles raised at once. "The real heir to Elessar's bloodline may now be dead... unless they manage to reach him before he is slain in that mindless battle. Your hurry was pointless," he added, eyeing their appearance. There may have been a hint of pity in his eyes, but it was well-hidden by the annoyance and the desire to rub their failure in their face – a desire that Lindir could not fully reproach him with, given Glorfindel's propensity to antagonize people.
"Enough, both of you," he interjected tiredly just as Glorfindel opened his mouth. "There is no time for this."
"Lindir the wise has spoken," Gwillin scoffed. "Or should I say wiser? Do you see it now, how this was folly from the very beginning? We've wasted precious time rotting here, far from home, and for what?" He shook his head. "Your song about the glory of this" – he gestured to their surroundings, "I hope it is worth it."
Lindir sighed. "Speaking of wasting time, where are they, Gwillin? Time is running out; we need to find Elladan and Elrohir quickly. There is something they need to know."
The scout glanced over his shoulder again, as if making sure that the house behind them still stood. "They are two hours ahead of you," he said. "There is to be a battle North of our border; the armies of the lord of these lands are gathered against the rebellion, and the heir is amongst them."
It was all they needed to know, but curiosity tugged at Lindir.
"Were you to give us this message?" he asked, wondering about Gwillin's behaviour. The scout shot him a wary look.
"The girl is still here. She came to find us and plead for help, and since she is part of the vision..." The last word came out tinged with contempt, but not for the author of said prophesy; rather for the cause itself, now an almost hopeless and erratic mission and a poor replacement for the clear, well-thought-out plans they had made. "The heir is a boy her age, dark-haired and grey-eyed, and handsome." He shrugged at Glorfindel's teasing grin. "Those were her words."
"You have our thanks, Gwillin," Lindir nodded, slapping Glorfindel's arm lightly before he could mock the scout for staying behind. There was always little love lost between the two, but who knew? This moment could be their last meeting. He touched his hand to his heart in the briefest gesture of farewell, then checked his belt, making sure it was still in place and that the scabbard would remain out of his way as he ran. "Take care of her... and yourself."
He heard the scout call after them as they left Imladris.
"May you reach them in time and come back safe!" Gwillin shouted. "And do not worry, the sons of Elrond will keep their word. They will protect the heir."
"Yes," Lindir muttered under his breath as he plunged into the forest depths, Glorfindel on his heels, thinking about the battlefield that lay somewhere beyond the woods. The invariable strategy that the Peredhil would apply to end the conflict or at least ensue enough chaos in order to extract the heir was one any warrior knew: kill the leader.
"Yes," he repeated, "this is exactly what I fear."
Lindir swung his sword in a wide movement, the blade a blur of silver and scarlet as it completed the arc he had drawn. It caught throats and wrists on its way and the clean cuts gaped at once, spurting hot blood onto his wind-bitten skin. The warmth quickly faded as the blood dried, a constantly thickening mask that pulled when he grimaced. Lindir moved his feet, counting in his head as he advanced as though performing a complicated choreography, sidestepping those warriors he could evade and incapacitating the others, taking advantage of both armies' bewilderment. He was aware that his style lacked finesse, that the injuries he inflicted were sometimes fatal and often crippling; he tried not to think about them, only kept trying to get past. This was no time for honourable duels; he barely paused to register the faces, mentally comparing them to Gwillin's description.
War – it was just as well that he'd managed to stay out of it until now, waging his own battles in council chambers and before audiences. Messy and loud, it felt like being ground between iron jaws with the rest of the fighters, but without the actual death for himself. The stench of blood and emptying guts rising from the ground, mixed to sweat and so much worse stenches wafting from the soldiers enveloped him. Metal crashed against metal in a chaotic cacophony, wails from the wounded overlapping one another. It was disorienting and frightening; Glorfindel seemed much more at ease than he was, a whirlwind of gold and scarlet ahead of him, his sword drawing complicated loops as he seemed to mow down those who dared oppose him.
Lindir reflected hazily that perhaps this was the right way to get across - to elevate himself above the rest of the fighters and to take offense at resistance.
A soldier planted himself before Lindir, a bastard sword held with both hands and a look of terrified resolution on his face, eyes narrowing through the opening in his helmet. The blade rose on Lindir's way, shaking in unsteady hands. Lindir shook his head; he only felt pity for the man. He clashed his sword against the soldier's with all his strength. The shock reverberated to his already tiring shoulders and he grit his teeth; but he had managed to tear the weapon from the man's hands. Reversing his grip on his own sword, Lindir slammed the handle into the helmet.
He was already far before the man touched ground.
The Peredhil were somewhere amidst this crowd of lumbering, panicked soldiers. Mercenaries who had prided themselves on their experience and drafted farmers alike knew no more who was their enemy and whom they had to protect, and swung at their neighbours in their attempts to buy themselves some time to think.
Lindir guessed that he could pinpoint exactly when the battle had turned. What could they have thought, these poor mortals who suddenly saw legends ride into battle against them, but which side could claim such support? And when neither had, everyone had assumed that the elves were out to get them. He almost cursed the Peredhil for the absence of their foresight on this matter but refrained out of both friendship and uneasy superstition.
He searched the chaos of bodies before him for Glorfindel's blood-matted but still very banner-like mane. The warrior had turned towards him, interrupted as another soldier hurled himself at him with a weapon raised. Caught in his momentum, the man went flying over Glorfindel and to the ground where the warrior finished him off with a stab of his blade.
"The leader!" he yelled in Sindarin, nodding briefly towards the very heart of the battlefield. Lindir followed his gaze, absently parrying a sloppy blow to his neck.
Surrounded by the lord's soldiers, his own allies scattered and outnumbered, Gaervaed fought like a cornered animal; teeth bared in a snarl, hands claw-like in their knuckle-whitening grip on his sword. He was wounded, the cuts bleeding faintly where the dust had not yet absorbed the blood, but he kept the men at bay with short, precise strikes. Lindir lunged forward, leaping over a dead man; he landed on the other side, his light boots slipping in the soup of mud and blood, and he struggled to keep his balance. A blade bit his side and he hissed, tearing his eyes from Gaervaed to strike down his attacker.
Gaervaed cried out, his voice hoarse from shouting whatever battle cry he had chosen. Lindir's heart lurched, but he was reassured to see that the rebel leader recovered from the blow he had taken. His own hand, raised to his eyes after an exploration of his aching ribs, came out covered with blood.
Someone hauled him up by the collar, and he realized he hadn't felt his knees weaken. Glorfindel was giving him a shake, his face peering intently into his. He looked worried and angry.
"Get up... Get up!" He looked around them. "This is a massacre," he growled, his mouth pursed in disgust. Lindir felt him let go of his armour, and managed to stand on wobbly legs.
"We must get to him," Lindir said.
Glorfindel stared at him. "By the Powers, are you mad? You are injured, your..."
Lindir shook his head, noting how the world around him spun a little longer after he stopped. "We must save him... them. We must save him too." He grabbed a handful of leather on Glorfindel's forearm for emphasis. "He is in danger," he insisted. The lancing pain in his side returned with a vengeance, and he grimaced. "Quickly, preferably."
Glorfindel seemed to think it over for a split second, eyeing Lindir with obvious distrust. Then he sighed. "Very well. Stay behind me," he instructed Lindir, waving a finger in his face. "Try not to hit me," he added grimly.
Lindir followed him, stepping into the traces the warrior left in the mud, fingers clenched on the handle of his sword with rather more force than necessary. He was dimly aware of the sounds of the battle between them, of the burning ache that seemed to pulsate with every heartbeat. He felt that the air was growing colder around them.
Glorfindel snarled as he brought his sword upwards and into the stomach of another soldier, lifting him off his feet. He lowered the man onto the ground by the armour, still impaled onto the blade, and stepped on the body to free the sword from the sticky grasp of the wound; and over his bent figure, Lindir met the gaze of the rebel leader. Gaervaed saw him; his eyes widened, and Lindir gaped – for it was not fear that he saw, but recognition. The man was not shocked to see elves beside him – he had seen their kind before.
Instinctively, he stepped toward him. Gaervaed spun around as well and moved to meet them. He raised his sword, his gaze flickering for a heartbeat away from Lindir and to the opponent before him. He drew his arm back, aiming his blow at the boy without even looking anymore, absent-mindedly, trying to remove an annoying but non-dangerous obstacle.
It was a perfect alignment: himself, Gaervaed and the boy... and Elladan, his armour covered in grime, eyes wide in horror and urgency. Elladan reached out to push himself past the dying men in his way, stumbled, slammed the pommel of his sword into the nearest skull in helpless hurry.
"Lindir! The boy, save the boy! He is the heir!" He clawed at the slippery surface of a fallen soldier's armour; but his progression was slow, too slow.
Lindir immediately sought Glorfindel. The warrior was now almost at arm's reach from the leader, busy keeping stray soldiers at bay, his weapon a blur. He seemed oblivious of Elladan's presence.
The warrior spun around, his own blade at the ready. Alert, quick, he could save the boy in time if Lindir told him to. But Gaervaed could not be stopped gently now, not without the expense of a life to cushion the blow; his blade began its descent.
Lindir suddenly remembered laying onto parchment the names of those their quest had claimed in its wake. They had been comrades and gentle-smiled, grief-stricken wives of comrades. Some of them had been friends, before time had closed those wounds as one blows on a burn to soothe the pain. Would he add Glorfindel's name to the list? Would he ask him to fling himself under the blade for a cause not even his own? Lindir felt a bitter laugh bubbling up in his chest at the irony of it all; that he, of all people, would be deciding the fate of Elessar's bloodline. Oh, but it was glorious – with two heirs to choose from, their goal was accomplished no matter what he did now.
The odds had been against them since the beginning. Outnumbered, hunted down and feared, they had despaired to find but a sliver of the magnificent past they had once been a part of, but a drop of the illustrious blood of the Kings of Númenor. And they had found it – but it flowed in two people instead of one. Gaervaed, so very like Aragorn up to his training and demeanor, and the grey-eyed youth who had promised them another heir in their visions.
Lindir opened his mouth to speak, the words ready on his lips, and for a heartbeat, time stood still.
He grasped his bleeding side, lunged forward so that his order would not be lost in the mayhem. "Kill him, kill the leader!" he yelled. "Save the boy!"
Glorfindel's eyebrows rose in bewilderment as he made to move towards Lindir, probably thinking he had finally lost his clarity from blood loss.
"Do it!" Lindir staggered. He had to make him see this was the best, the only way. "Trust me this once!" He fell to his knees.
Glorfindel spun on his heels, his blade collecting the momentum of his body until it met the surface of Gaervaed's armour. Leather surrendered before steel and the sword disappeared inside the ribcage, emerging on the other side with a crunch. The leader froze, his hands suddenly lax and his own sword too heavy for unfeeling fingers. His eyes widened in surprise and hurt as Glorfindel gently lowered him to his knees and onto his back.
With what strength he still had left Lindir pushed himself up and past the warrior, brushing against his armored shoulder and thinking briefly of how grateful he was for its warmth. Glorfindel lived.
He knelt beside Gaervaed. The elven sword was still sticking out of his chest and his eyes were open; then Gaervaed blinked. Lindir slid closer and lifted his head into his lap. The fading warmth of the man's life seeped into his hands.
"I…" the rebel leader opened his mouth to speak, but blood welled up in his throat and spilled from the corners of his mouth. He gurgled, struggling for breath, and Lindir grasped his searching hand.
"I am sorry," he whispered, aware that his words were empty. He was not – sorry - he was exhausted and cold and strangely relieved, and weary to his bones, as though their very marrow was dry and eroded.
"I am defeated," Gaervaed whispered. "The line of Kings has failed."
"It has not; the blood yet lives." Lindir turned his head to the side, supporting the weight that the dying muscles could not, so that he could see the boy stagger away before he was yanked to Elladan's side. "The line yet lives; we will protect him." He felt the man's fingers tighten around his own and metal press into his skin. He looked at Gaervaed's hand. Untangling his fingers from the leader's grasp, he slid the ring of Barahir from the forefinger and into his pocket.
"I need to know," he said, leaning to whisper into the man's ear, "who trained you? You have seen our kind before. Where?"
He received to answer. Gaervaed's eyes were glazing over, he saw as he looked into his face again.
"No!" He shook the man's body in his lap. A heavy hand came to rest on his shoulder but he ignored it. "Answer me, who trained you?"
He almost missed the answer – a mere breath, as Glorfindel spoke.
"He is gone," the warrior said, just as Gaervaed replied, his eyes unseeing: "Maglor."
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.