May the Valar Protect Them: 11. Escape

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11. Escape

Tathiel led the horse silently into the night. She headed in an eastwardly direction, determining that this was the last direction Balak would suspect she had gone. He had gone south, the village of Ban was to the north, and west…...well, west was home. She would not take the obvious route. So she snaked east, knowing that eventually she would need to make a decision to turn north or south and then backtrack west, towards home.

Tathiel was not an experienced tracker. Elves by nature left little in the way of footprints, and Tathiel checked several times to ensure that at least any track she left were covered. The horse she could do little about. They needed the horse, and they needed to move at the best speed possible. She could not cover the impressions left by his hooves, and doubted that her attempts would mislead an experienced tracker anyway. Her best hope was that Balak would decide not to follow her. She had read the situation and actually heard much that occurred between Balak and his father, Ban. Ban was very displeased with his son’s actions. In many ways she knew they were being sold to the easterners as a means of saving face. She hoped their escape, while a harsh blow to Balak’s pride, would also provide him a way out of the current situation.

They walked all that night, Tinánia and Eärundra riding silently on the horse. Tinánia held Legolas to her in the cloak carrier, and Eärundra sat behind her, with her arms wrapped around her sister’s waist. Both appeared to sleep at times, and Tathiel would slow and walk next to the horse that she might steady them if they began to slip. The night air was very cool, and their breath made little wisps of white in the air. Tathiel had wrapped the infant snugly at their first rest stop. Legolas did not appear in the least bit troubled by his change of circumstance. He slept contentedly in Tinánia’s arms, and minded not the slight bounce of the horse’s walk.

As the dawn broke, Tathiel guided the horse off the trail they were following. She chose a secluded spot well off the path, with low growing shrubs and vines to obstruct the view of any passing by. She let the horse loose to graze on what he might find. The beast nuzzled her under the chin as she spoke to him. She thanked him for his help and asked forgiveness for a delay in caring for him, but the little ones needed attention first. The horse nickered to her, and she knew not if he understood as he was not an elvish horse, but he wandered close to the small camp and did not leave them.

Tall conifers sheltered a bed of soft pine needles, and here Tathiel spread their bedrolls. She dared not risk a fire with only a few hours distance between herself and her captors, and so they breakfasted on water and waybread. Tinánia and Eärundra crawled into their bedrolls and were soon fast asleep. Tathiel sat down on the soft pine needles and leaned up against a tree, setting Legolas to nurse. Her small dagger that had been tucked in her boot all throughout their captivity she now set next to her. She knew it was small protection, and admitted that it perhaps brought her more comfort than it offered her defense. Nonetheless, it was an asset and she counted it as such. She would take the time later to go through the packs and create a better mental list of all their assets. She knew the decision to escape had been the right one; however she now had other concerns that she had to consider. She was lacking in weapons, there were four to feed and the waybread would not hold out forever, and though she had no doubt that she could find her way home – the trees could be trusted to help her, she was sure, once she took a little time to speak with them –she did not know how long or perilous the journey might be.

So Tathiel sat as the young elleth slept, and she found herself growing tired as well. She had been alert for over twenty-four hours and though elves are renowned for great stamina, she was both unaccustomed to such rigors and she was nursing an elfling. It was nearing noon when she noted movement from the sleeping elleth, and then Tinánia disentangled herself and sat up. She looked around her, finally noting Tathiel sitting behind her against the tree. She smiled and crawled out of the blankets and sat next to Tathiel.

“Good afternoon, Tinánia,” Tathiel greeted her. She raised one hand and smoothed Tinánia hair back from her face, combing it into some sort of submission. “Did you rest well?”

Tinánia nodded. “Do you think they have followed us?”

“I do not know, tithen min,” Tathiel replied. “I have not heard sounds of anyone approaching, and this tree,” she patted the tree she leaned against, “has been quite forthcoming about this wood. It has not warned me of danger.”

Tinánia sat back and studied Tathiel for a moment. “I can sit watch while you sleep. You look very tired.”

Tathiel smiled at her. “I am very tired, Tinánia, and I think that I will need to accept your help. Two able to watch is much better than only one. Wake me if you need me.”

Tathiel settled herself into her bedroll with Legolas, and he nursed again, very warm and content snuggled in the blankets. Tathiel drifted into light sleep as Tinánia confidently took her first turn on guard duty.

Eärundra woke a short time later, and joined her sister. They sat in the sun that filtered through the trees to warm their faces. The two were very quiet, and they listened to the song the trees were singing.

“They are welcoming us,” Tinánia whispered to Eärundra. “They have not seen elves in a very long time.”

“They will warn us if danger approaches,” Eärundra answered solemnly. “I wonder if we might find some food, for Tathiel when she awakes?”

Tinánia moved silently to her pack and brought it back to where they were seated. She opened the pack, and withdrew the curved wood of her small bow. From another slender pouch she withdrew her small quiver, still filled with arrows, and the string for her bow. She carefully strung the bow, and then put on her quiver.

“You watch here,” she instructed Eärundra. “I will see if I can shoot us a rabbit.”

Eärundra watched as her sister slipped off silently into the woods, then reached for her own pack. She did not have a bow and arrows, but Alagos had given her a small knife to carry. She tucked the dagger into her boot, and resumed her sister’s watch.

Tinánia did not have to go far before she spotted her first quarry. She had practiced all those first days with Alagos and Sadron, and had been able to hit their targets about half of the time. Alagos had placed a small bead on her bow to help her line up her arrows. She placed an arrow to her bow, drew back the string, and let fly the arrow…….which missed. She waited for some long minutes until she found another rabbit, and then tried again. It was on her third try that she hit a rabbit. She grinned, feeling very much the mighty hunter. It wasn’t much, but it was dinner for the three of them.

She had wandered only a short distance from camp, and was nearly returned to it when she saw her sister watching her from the limbs of the tree. Tathiel stood on the ground with Legolas, and both returned her joyful smile as she held up her first kill.

Tathiel picked her up and hugged her. “I did not know you had such prowess with your bow!”

“Elumeril and I practiced many hours with Alagos and Sadron,” Tinánia grinned. “But this is the first time I hit a target that could move. I am so glad those men did not take my bow from me.”

Tinánia proudly cleaned her first kill under Tathiel’s instruction, and then oversaw its cooking on a small fire they dared to light. It was the first fresh meat they had eaten in a long while, and they savored every bite. Sated, they sat back and enjoyed the fading rays of the afternoon sunshine. Legolas seemed to sense their happiness, and he cooed and gurgled as he was handed around their small circle. He pulled on loose hair and grabbed at clothing and noses and lips, the smiles and love he received in return only serving to further his endeavors.

“I wish the Queen could see him,” Eärundra said sadly. “He is a beautiful elfling.”

Tathiel cuddled Legolas close. “She will meet him one day. You two will be able to tell Narawen all about her son when he was small. She will enjoy that very much.”

Their dinner over, Tathiel returned everything to their packs. She desired to move again during the night hours until she was certain they were not being followed. Tinánia opted to walk, her bow and quiver strung over her back and her knife tied against her calf. Tathiel settled Eärundra amongst the packs on the horse and slipped Legolas’ carrier around her small shoulders. Eärundra beamed at the responsibility to which she had been entrusted, and carefully held Legolas close to her small form with one arm, the other hand holding the pommel of the saddle. They set off into the darkness, the sun casting its last flickers of sun across their backs before disappearing for the night.

They traveled that night, rested during the day, and then resumed their journey the following eve. Tinánia proved herself the able young novice, sharing the watch with Tathiel and providing another rabbit the second day. They gathered the last of the fall berries, all they could carry, and had a wonderful blueberry and rabbit stew. This night they saved some of the pieces of meat and berries for the next day, and for that wonderful three days were able to withdraw no waybread from their supply.

The third night of the journey the decision to turn north or south was made for Tathiel – a steep cliff along the south side slid to a cavernous ravine on their north. Their only choice was to follow the narrow path eastward or turn back. Tathiel had not enough confidence that they were not being followed to turn back. And so they headed ever east, conscious of the narrow path and uneven footing. Tathiel pulled Eärundra off the horse to walk, and tied Legolas in his carrier around her shoulders. They could not continue in the dark on such treacherous footing, and so Tathiel made camp in a small hollow of the cliff wall. The extra rest was welcome and the young ellyth slept well. Tathiel remained seated against the smooth stone for all of the long night. The trees were quiet, and she felt fear for the first time since their escape.

The terrain was rugged and she feared would prove too difficult for the four of them, and perhaps especially for the horse. She knew they needed the horse, for his presence greatly increased the distance they could journey on a given day and the amount they could carry. Come morning, she decided, she would scout ahead a short distance and see if the going would prove more or less difficult. The decision to go forth or turn back might be out of her hands as well.

***

The elves approached the small village in the dark and quiet of the third watch of the night. One guard sat on duty near the outskirts of the village, his head bobbing up and down as he tried to keep himself awake. Resident animals raised no alarm; they did not sense danger from those approaching, and several dogs came out to meet them, snuggling noses against welcoming hands. The warriors spread out and covered the camp, peering in windows and searching the camp. Ethiwen looked into the hut that stood near the edge of the village by the creek. Finding it empty, she entered and quickly explored the room. The hut had recently been used; the table was clean and without much dust; the bed made and the floor appeared swept. She knelt down and searched the area around the bed. Her fingers touched upon a small trinket; she rolled it with her fingers and recognized the pattern of an engraved leaf. She picked it up, and left the hut. She motioned Galithon and Rawien to her, and in the light of the moon they examined the token.

“It is of the design of the Woodland Realm,” Galithon offered. “Do you recognize it?”

“It is a clasp off a cloak,” Ethiwen said quietly. “I do not recognize it from Tinánia or Eärundra’s cloaks, but perhaps Tathiel’s?”

Rawien studied it closely. “Perhaps. Her cloak had such ornamentation,” he answered.

Galithon and Ethiwen both watched him with mirth in their faces. He glanced at them, confused.

“What is humorous in this?” he asked

“We are wondering how you knew the ornamentation of the lady’s cloak?” Galithon grinned at him, nearly laughing aloud when Rawien blushed slightly.

“I have held her cloak for her…..I am not explaining myself to you!” he exclaimed as softly as he could. He waved them off abruptly, “Go, resume the search.”

With barely contained laughter, Galithon and Ethiwen continued to search the sleeping village. Bellion and Lachthoniel had been exploring the outside area of the stone building, assuming that the chief or leader of the group might be found inside. Bellion waved Galithon and Rawien over. They had determined that a single person was currently asleep in a large chamber at the far end of the building. Others slept as a family group at the near end.

“Let us visit with the one, and see what can be learned,” Rawien directed.

Thus it was that Ban was awakened from sound sleep in the middle of the night to the faces of four elven warriors, three of which had bows strung and arrows pointed at his face. He swallowed hard and glanced fearfully at the one holding his nightshirt in a tight grip to his throat.

“They are not here,” he croaked softly.

“Who is not here?” Rawien asked.

“The s.s.she-elf and her c.c.children. They are g.g.gone some days from here,” Ban stuttered out finally.

The warriors drew back as Rawien lifted Ban bodily from his bed and set him on his feet. The man trembled in fear. In his worst fears about the repercussions of this son’s stupidity, he had imagined the elves finding their village. Nothing in those fears had prepared him to face the reality of four angry elven warriors.

“Explain yourself,” Rawien demanded.

With much prodding Ban told the story of his foolish son Balak. The intimidation of an elven stare was more than any mere mortal could bear in most situations, and four angry stares caused him to quickly and with much duress tell the tale. Minutes later found him dressed and leading the party of elves down the same path he had sent his son on less than a week earlier. To his dismay, the four were joined surreptitiously by six more as they left the clearing of the village.

“Are there more?” he asked fearfully.

Rawien did not answer.

Ban led the elves down the road his son had taken. He spoke little, answering only the question directly asked of him. The elves did not mistreat him. He had been given water and food, and been allowed to sleep and move around freely. His own fear prevented him from moving without direct permission given. One of the she-warriors had interrogated him regarding the well-being of the two smaller captive she elves. He had answered the questions with his head bowed, unable to bear her elven stare upon him, much less meet her eyes. He wondered if she was a relative to them, but he dared not ask.

On horses they made much better time than the captives had, and came to the campsite of the men the following morning. Rawien saw the cart first, and held up one hand to halt the group. He dismounted, and with Bellion and Galithon approached the camp. A bird call a moment later caused the rest of the party to ride forward, Ban with them. The faces of the elves were impassive as they surveyed the scene. Ban, on the other hand, clearly showed the anguish on his face as he beheld the slain body of his son and the other men of his party.

“These are your men,” Rawien stated rather than questioned.

“My son,” Ban dropped down from his horse, and knelt next to the body of his son. Wild animals had damaged his body, but he was yet recognizable. The elves were examining the rest of the bodies.

“Their throats were slit as they lay in their bedrolls for these four. His son and the other were killed where they stood,” Galithon summarized. “The cart was left, but the horses were not. Nor were their packs left.”

“The trail leads this way,” Lachthoniel called. “At least ten men, and as many horses.”

“One horse went east,” Elunell reported. “Another west, but most south.”

Ethiwen slumped to the ground, her head hung, as she pieced the scene together. The slave traders had come and killed the men, and taken her daughters, Tathiel and the baby. Galithon and Elunell stood beside her, hands on her shoulders as she grieved this turn of circumstance. Standing, she allowed them to support her. The ten elves stood together, silent, as they considered the fate of the captives. They heard Ban’s soft weeping, and despite their own grief, their eyes met and an unspoken message passed between them. Rawien walked to Ban where he knelt still at the side of his dead son.

“If it is your wish to bury your dead here, we will assist you,” Rawien offered solemnly.

Ban raised red eyes to him, stunned by the words. “Do you plan to dig a grave for me as well?”

“No,” Rawien shook his head. “Your son has paid for his actions with his life and those of his men. On this day your suffering is much as ours. We will help you bury your dead, then we must continue to track the caravans south.”

So it was that the elves helped to dig a grave for the six men, and laid them in it, and placed a stone cairn over the top. Ban laid the last stone, then sagged down next to the small monument. Rawien stood next to him, his face again shuttered of any emotion.

“You show mercy when you should take my life as forfeit for the grievances of my kin against yours,” Ban admitted. “Please, that I might know, who are your people?”

“I am Rawien, captain of King Thranduil of the Elven Realm of Greenwood the Great,” Rawien answered. “The ones your son killed in the cave were wife and son to the King; the small one held captive is his infant son,” Rawien paused, one eyebrow arched at the look of horror that crossed Ban’s face. Letting this sink in, he finished, “The two young she-elves are daughters to the one who questioned you regarding their well being. The adult elf,” Rawien stopped, considering his words carefully, “will one day be my bride.”

Rawien stood and without a look back mounted his horse and followed the party of elves down the trail of the men of the east.

***

Tathiel woke Tinánia and Eärundra early the next morning, and bid them to eat and care for Legolas while she scouted briefly ahead on the trail. The path widened some distance ahead, and the ground seemed firmer and less treacherous. Returning to the children, she decided they would continue on at least one more day east.

Tathiel loaded their packs on to the horse, and wrapped Legolas in his carrier about her shoulders. Taking the horses reins, she moved forward into the rising sun. The path was easier for some way, and the ravine to their left gave way to a more gradual incline. Water could be heard trickling from a nearby spring, and Tinánia sought it out, finally locating the tiny spring and creek that flowed from it. She filled their water skins, handing them one by one back to Eärundra before climbing back to the path. They rested next to the spring, nibbling on waybread washed down with the cool spring water before continuing on their way.

The path turned south, and Tathiel noted that it was partially blocked with fallen stones and debris. Glancing up, she saw evidence of a rockslide. It did not appear fresh, so she slowly led the horse through the debris. Tinánia followed, and Eärundra lagged behind her, watching with delight squirrels racing up and down the trees.

Tathiel heard the rumble above her head, and glancing quickly up she saw small rocks beginning to fall from high above them. She tightened her grasp on Legolas and began to run, pulling on the reins of the horse while calling, “Tinánia! Eärundra! Run! Quickly, forward. Run!”

The children did as they were bid, even as the rocks began to pelt them about the head and shoulders. The rocks were sliding ahead of them and behind them, and Tathiel realized they could not outrun it. She let go of the horse, and flung herself against the rock wall, calling for the ellyth to do the same. Tinánia responded immediately, grabbing for Eärundra’s hand.

Eärundra’s hand slipped free, and she fell as a large rock knocked her to the ground. Tathiel and Tinánia watched in horror as the rocks quickly pelted all around her, and then they too were engulfed. Tathiel curled into a ball, protecting Legolas beneath her. She heard the cries of the elleth, and then her own voice joined them before darkness overcame them.

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.

Story Information

Author: Nilmandra

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/21/04

Original Post: 01/07/03

Go to May the Valar Protect Them overview

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