Meren turned deftly and fired two arrows in swift succession, felling the fleeing Orcs. She quickly scanned the hillside, but saw no others. She was joined by Bellion, his quiver empty and a wound on his upper arm and torn tunic evidence of the intensity of the battle they had fought.
“You are injured,” she said as she strapped her bow across her back. “Arrow or knife?”
“Arrow,” Bellion grimaced slightly as she poked at the wound. “Judging by the burning when it struck, I would say poisoned as well.”
Varandil was uninjured, and already setting up supplies and tending the wounded. Meren led Bellion to the small triage area, and deftly tended his wound, cleansing and applying an herbal poultice to lessen the effects of the Orc poison and prevent its spread through the bloodstream.
“Stay put,” she commanded. “That will heal better if you keep still.”
Bellion smiled at her, but did as directed. He had helped teach Meren the bow, and he was well pleased with her this trip. Her accuracy and lightning fast strikes had saved the company on more than one occasion. The student was quickly becoming the equal of the teacher.
Varandil tended Elunell, who suffered the gravest of the injuries that night. A sword to the chest and abdomen had laid open a long gash from her right shoulder to her left hipbone. Ethiwen sat at her head, cradling Elunell’s head in her lap, one hand across Elunell’s forehead and the other on her uninjured shoulder. Ethiwen’s eyes were closed, and she sang softly. Elunell relaxed some under the calming influence, but her eyes revealed the pain she was in and her skin was pale and cool.
“Have her drink this,” Varandil softly nudged Ethiwen, handing her a small vial.
Ethiwen raised Elunell’s head slightly and held the vial to her lips until she had swallowed all of its contents. She then resumed her song, stroking Elunell’s hair and imparting light and healing to her. Within minutes Elunell’s eyes were closed, and her body fully relaxed.
Varandil had been staunching the flow of blood while he waited for the medication to take effect. Now he cut open her over tunic and underclothing, exposing the wound from end to end. The wound was deepest over the soft flesh of the abdomen, and it was there that he began his work, cleaning and stitching the muscle first, and then the skin over it.
Galithon tended the rest. Sadron had taken a blow from the hilt of a sword to his own sword arm, and the bone was bruised but Galithon detected no break. He splinted it just the same, but knew Sadron would have full use within a day or two. Laerion had only scratches. Lachthoniel had a deep gash to his thigh, which Galithon stitched.
Rawien sat a little apart from the group, leaning against the base of a lone tree and watching as dawn broke and the sun began its slow ascent across the sky.
“Are you injured?” Galithon inquired.
Rawien had his left arm cradled against his chest, a crimson stain on his tunic and his right arm holding a bandage in place. He did not immediately answer, but did remove his right hand that Galithon might see the injury.
Galithon knelt beside him and carefully examined the arm. He cut the sleeve of the tunic up the seam, and exposed the wound to the wrist. The wound was deep and the bone of the lower arm clearly broken. Galithon set back on his heels, and eyed his friend.
“The bone needs to be set and the wound cleaned and stitched. You are fortunate that it is not your sword arm, or you would find yourself hard pressed to handle one for the next week,” he said gravely. “I prefer Varandil to do this. Staunch the wound again, while I see if he is done tending Elunell.”
Rawien nodded, and resumed his study of the rising sun. Galithon returned a few moments later, and helped him to his feet. They joined Varandil, and noted Elunell deeply asleep now, covered with blankets with Ethiwen still at her side.
“How fares Elunell?” Rawien asked as he seated himself on the ground by Varandil.
“The wound was deep, and the abdomen penetrated,” Varandil gently pushed Rawien into a prone position and propped the injured arm on rolled blankets. “She will recover, but we cannot move her for at least a day, possibly several days.”
Varandil handed Rawien a small vial of pain killer, and noted his captain’s hesitation.
“It is mild, Rawien. It will only dull the pain, not remove it. Your mind will not become confused,” he encouraged him.
Rawien sighed and drank it, as indicated. He knew the body healed better when not stressed by pain, but he held greater concerns about another attack and his ability to participate in their defense.
Galithon sat next to Rawien, handing splinting materials and bandages to Varandil as needed. “This level of Orc activity is not expected.”
“You have noticed too, that the caravans are not plagued by these attacks?” Rawien hissed slightly as Varandil set his wrist.
“I had noticed,” Galithon responded dryly. “If the caravans are aware of our presence they do not show it. Which leads to the next question: are the Orcs working directly with the Easterlings or do the Orcs have instructions to leave them alone?”
“If they were working together I think we would notice more guards and patrols about their camps at night as well during their travels. They are confident, traveling with no flank guard, no patrol riding up and down the line, and minimal rear guard.”
“I did not know there were this many Orcs this far east,” Varandil added, now stitching the jagged wound.
“On the few previous journey’s our warriors have taken to this area they have not reported such Orc activity,” Galithon replied.
“Shadow has returned to the Greenwood,” Rawien mused. “Perhaps shadow has come from the east.”
Varandil and Galithon both fell silent. If this were indeed true, they could expect the minions of shadow to haunt their steps all along the way.
Varandil applied a healing ointment to the wound, and finished splinting and bandaging the break. “Three days with the splint, Captain,” he said as he rose to join the others.
“Thanks Varandil,” Rawien acknowledged the information, but his thoughts were already turned to their more pressing problem.
Galithon sensed this, and spoke, “We will need to stay here this day and night. It is a defendable position, should another band of Orcs discover us here. I am fairly confident none escaped us of this last party, so we will hope word has not spread.”
“This is the largest of the caravans, and I have again seen nothing to indicate Tathiel or the children are part of it,” Rawien moved on to their mission. “We have followed all three of the caravans, and not had a glimpse of them. I cannot think they would keep them inside a wagon and never allow them out, not when they seem to have no indication we are following them.”
“Perhaps it is time we employed a more direct approach,” Galithon offered.
Rawien raised an eyebrow at this statement. “What do you suggest?”
“There is a man who rides at the head of the caravan, and he appears to dictate the movement and timing of the party. I suggest we have a conversation with him.”
“It may have to be a persuasive conversation,” Rawien added.
“May it be so, if needed,” Galithon was pragmatic. “It is nearly spring, and we are hundreds of leagues from home. We have tracked, watched, and even explored their camps and seen nothing. I think it is time for answers.”
“You would need to do this thing. I will not be fit for several days, and they would be far ahead of us by then.”
“I will take Lachthoniel to aid me, and Bellion to guard,” Galithon replied.
Rawien looked at Elunell lying a few feet away. Ethiwen still sat at her side, and he knew she listened as they planned their strategy.
“It must wait,” Rawien said at last, and he noted that Ethiwen tensed. “With three gone, Elunell injured, and I not at full strength, the camp would be hard pressed to defend against an attack such as we had this past night.”
“Then we wait,” Galithon agreed. “Rest my friend; I will see to the watches.”
Galithon joined the others, and Rawien did rest, his eyes open but expressionless as he slipped into elven sleep.
Ethiwen sat with her knees drawn to her chest, and her arms clasped about them. It was nearly spring, and they were far to the south and east. For months they had followed the caravans, and thus far had not seen any evidence of the missing elves….her children…..in any of them. They had crept into the camps at night, in the stealthy manner that only an elf can, undetected, and searched the grounds, the tents, and the wagons. They did not speak the language of the Easterlings, and what little of the common tongue was spoken was not of captives or slaves.
Ethiwen had begun to suspect, as had others in the group, that Tathiel, Tinánia, Eärundra, and Legolas were not part of any of the caravans. Either they had been sold as slaves before the caravans left, or perhaps – and this was a new thought - they had not been taken captive by the Easterlings at all.
In her mother’s heart she felt yet the bond of her children, and she knew they lived. She sensed them less strongly than she had early in the journey, and had at first wondered if it was the passage of time that had weakened the bond. She had spoken of this to Galithon, for he had children and had oft been apart from them. He had told her his children were much older during those times than her little ones were now; the bond he felt to them remained strong but was different perhaps than a mother’s bond to a young child she yet nurtured.
The words held no comfort, and as time passed she began to wonder if it was instead distance that bothered her. If the children were not part of the eastward caravans, if they were instead in a tribal village in the Iron Hills…….
Ethiwen rose and moved closer to where Rawien sat. He was sleeping, or seemed to be, but had noted her presence and when she did not speak he started to sit up.
“Do not rise,” she stopped him. “Varandil wishes you to rest and keep the arm elevated yet this night. Forgive my disturbing your rest.”
“Forgiven,” Rawien smiled. He waited, and when she did not speak again, said, “You are concerned with the plans we have made.”
“I agree that we cannot move until Elunell has recovered,” Ethiwen said, a slight hesitancy to her voice, “and that we can take no action that will divide our forces until all the injured can again fight. I do begin to think that Tathiel and the children are not part of any of these caravans.”
Rawien was silent for a moment.
“All indications were that they were taken when the man Balak’s camp was attacked,” he answered. “Balak meant to sell them as slaves to the Easterlings. We know the Easterlings killed Balak and his men, and that no sign of Tathiel or children was found in the camp.
We were no more than a week behind them, and we did not see or hear any evidence that they were sold or bartered to any along the way.”
He paused again. “The trails were heavily used. Perhaps we missed a sign, a division or splitting. We had tokens to follow up until we reached the camp. Either they were no longer able to leave tokens…..”
“………or they left no tokens because they did not wish to be followed,” Ethiwen finished for him.
“Because they escaped,” Rawien said flatly. He thought for a moment, “One horse went east.”
“Many prints led south, and one to the east, and one to the west,” Ethiwen remembered the words as well. “If they went one direction, who went the other?”
“That I do not know,” Rawien admitted. “Tathiel would know not to head west, as that is the direction they would be expected to take. She would have gone east. I do not know what the westward tracks mean. She may have led a false trail, but it would be a dangerous thing to return and pass through the camp.”
“Unless the men were incapacitated,” Ethiwen breathed. “They were killed in their bedrolls.”
“Tathiel could not have killed them,” Rawien knew this to be true.
“No, she could not,” Ethiwen laughed softly. “But she would know of other ways to incapacitate them. Or perhaps the men incapacitated themselves with drink.”
Rawien leaned his head back, staring at the stars. His hope was stirred, and yet guilt was already growing in his mind that he had failed them yet again. They were more than a half-year now on a trail that was cold from the day they discovered it. He closed his eyes, willing away the despair wrought by that thought.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and opened his eyes. Ethiwen had moved nearer to him, and she gazed down at him now. He looked into her eyes, and he saw no blame.
“Do not say it. Do not even think it,” she kissed him on the forehead. She rose and returned to Elunell’s side, and checked to see that she was still in deep sleep. Then, more at peace than she had felt for many days, she laid down herself and drifted into sleep.
“What did he leave this time?” Tathiel asked, seeing the bundle that Tinánia carried into the cave with her.
Tinánia moved closer to the fire, and sitting, opened the bundle in front of her. Strips of dried meat, and a good supply of dried berries and nuts were enclosed, but also a large side of fresh meat.
“Tis deer meat,” Tathiel said, sitting down next to her.
“He spares us so much. Do you suppose he has enough for himself? I wonder if he has a family?” Tinánia wondered aloud.
For days they had speculated on who their benefactor might be. Never had he shown himself, and in truth they only guessed ‘him’ to be a ‘he’. He made no sound, and left no discernable trail; so they guessed he was not a man. A dwarf could never have made it through such deep snow. The snowdrifts were taller than Tathiel, and a dwarf much shorter than she.
“An elf,” Tinánia said.
“If he were an elf, why would he hide himself?” Tathiel gave the counter-argument.
“Because he is a dark elf, a Moriquendi, and he does not wish to be known,” Eärundra joined them. She had heard all the arguments and counter-arguments before and could easily debate any of the positions now.
Tathiel and Tinánia both laughed.
“If Legolas joins this conversation, we will know that we have debated this issue beyond reason,” Tathiel said, shaking her head.
“Nanananananan,” came the reply from the bed, followed by an ongoing, “aiiiiiiiiiii.”
“I think that means someone wants to get up,” Tathiel smiled.
“Actually, I think that was the argument for why the elf remains hidden,” Tinánia giggled.
Tathiel picked Legolas up from his nest in the bedrolls, blankets and pine boughs. He smiled and grabbed for her tunic with one hand, and managed a handful of hair with the other.
“Ai! Just a moment, my impatient one,” she freed her hair and held him away from her. “You need to be cleaned and changed first; then I will feed you.”
Legolas grinned and laughed, and resumed his call, “nananannananannanan!”
“What do you supposed he is saying?” Eärundra asked.
“I think it means feed me or I will pull out all your hair,” Tinánia snickered, gaining laughs all around her.
The elfling did seem to have an enormous fascination with hair. He always nursed with one hand twined in Tathiel’s hair, and became quite disgruntled if he could not have it. She had on one occasion pulled her hair back out of his reach, and been treated to Legolas’ first temper tantrum. He refused to nurse and instead fussed incessantly until she gave in. Nonetheless, all three of them had started braiding their hair and tying it away from their faces at all other times.
Tathiel cleaned him and changed his diapers, then dressed him in his rabbit fur tunic. She managed to get the fur booties onto his feet, knowing full well one of them would put them back on him at least a half dozen times over the course of the day. Legolas clapped his hands and laughed and entertained them all, but at every opportunity grabbed for her tunic and hair.
“Yes, now little one, you may eat,” Tathiel opened her tunic. “No biting!”
Tinánia and Eärundra fell over with laughter at that comment. Legolas now had two small bottom teeth, and enjoyed using them on anything he could get his mouth upon. Both had had their fingers nipped, and they could only imagine that Tathiel’s discomfort was far worse.
“He is teething,” Tathiel had defended him the first time he nipped Tinánia’s finger. He had bitten her on the breast only a day later, and Tathiel had scowled at Tinánia when the youngster reminded her, “But he is just teething.”
Legolas quieted and nursed without biting, his fingers twined in Tathiel’s hair. Tinánia served each of them of the dried meat and berries, and set the raw meat aside in some snow. Snow they had plenty of. It seemed to fall almost daily, and the drifts had become so deep that they could no longer pass through the small gorge to the south and stand upon the cliff.
Without the aid of their benefactor, Tathiel doubted they would have survived the winter. He kept them well supplied with firewood and food, mostly dried meat that they suspected came from his own stores, but lately fresh deer meat. Tathiel wondered if the deer were starving. It was nearly impossible for any to move about in the deep drifts.
Any fear they may have had of the elusive ‘him’ had faded as the weeks had gone by. He left them food about once a week, and firewood was replenished as the stack depleted. He seemed to know their movements, and if he noted Tinánia with her bow and arrows, searching for food, he left more. Sometimes Tinánia went out before they needed more, as they had not wished to be completely dependent on their benefactor, but by his actions Tathiel determined he did not want them out hunting. She suspected he watched as they obtained water each day, and on one occasion they found a large water skin outside their cave entrance, already filled with fresh water. They had pondered this for a few days, rightly assuming he was warning them to stay inside the cave. They still occasionally heard the howling of the wolves at night, and Tathiel suspected he might be protecting them from that or other dangers.
Legolas finished nursing, and Tathiel set him down with Eärundra, who fed him tiny bits of lembas. He would not be old enough to switch to solid food for some time yet, but he liked the crumbs and Tathiel decided they were good for him. He was growing well, and was the size one would expect a child to be at one and one half years from his conception date. Long and lean already, they suspected he would most resemble his brother Bregolas.
Most elf children spoke by the second anniversary of their conception, and in this he seemed on pace as well. Eärundra was convinced that “babababab” was short for lembas and “nananana” meant Tinánia. The elleth spent much time talking and playing with Legolas, trying to teach him his name as well as theirs. They also told him all about his brothers and sisters, father and mother. They told him about Greenwood the Great, and the beautiful trees in it. He listened, but what he seemed to enjoy most was pulling their hair and the booties off his feet.
Thusly they passed their days. Many days they could not go outside at all, and they played with Legolas and each other. They had collected small stones and made up games of winning the stones or rolling them into each other. Tathiel decided their education should not lack, and taught them of healing, the herbs to use for different ailments and injuries; history of the elves and Arda; and some basics of Quenya.
On this day the afternoon waned, and Tinánia decided she would obtain more water for baths and drinking before darkness fell. She gathered the large water skin, as well as their smaller ones, and headed for the spring. Eärundra was still not walking that well on the snow, but decided to come outside with her for the fresh air and sun. Tathiel wrapped up Legolas as well, for he loved to play in the snow.
“The sun feels so warm today,” Eärundra lifted her face to the sun, and stretched her limbs. She bent carefully at the waist, and turned from side to side. Her hips were still stiff, and the leg she had broken ached some in the cold air, but she enjoyed being able to move freely again.
“Perhaps this snow will begin to melt soon,” Tathiel replied as she set Legolas down on a blanket near Eärundra. “Stay right here; I am going to walk down to the pass and see if it is still blocked.”
Eärundra plopped down near Legolas and began patting together snowballs for him. The snow had been lighter recently, with less water content, and it did not roll into snowballs very well. The sun was melting it some, and she was able to scoop a little together to make a small snow person.
Tathiel walked down to the small gorge and found that she could just see out on to the cliff. The view was still magnificent and now near sunset the sun was a brilliant fiery red. She watched it for a few moments, lost in thoughts and planning for what they would do when the snow melted, when the silence of the afternoon was broken by the mournful howl of the wolf. Another quickly responded, and within seconds it sounded as if the whole pack was answering a summons.
Tathiel jerked from her reverie, and immediately thought of Eärundra and Legolas alone near the cave. She climbed quickly up the pass, and in her haste slipped on the icy snow covering. She did not fall far, but the position was precarious. The cries of the wolves continued, the sound echoing off the canyon walls until it felt as if they surrounded her. She struggled to regain a footing and finally climbed back to the top of the pass. She crawled this time, through the narrow opening and back into the gorge. She was running lightly over the snow then, and back to the cave.
Eärundra and Legolas were not where she had left them. She quickly ran into their snow tunnel, and saw Eärundra holding Legolas near the fire.
“Idhren sell, Eärundra!” she quickly embraced her. “Stay close to the fire!”
She picked up a long stick, already flaming, that they used as a torch on occasion; it was also a gift from their benefactor. Tathiel flew back up the tunnel, and outside. It was silent now, except for an occasional short howl. She reached the main path, and saw Tinánia ahead of her near the spring. Between her and the child were five wolves.
“Aiii!” Tathiel yelled, and several of the wolves turned at this new noise. Tathiel had the flaming torch in one hand, and the long knife in the other. She continued to approach the wolves, and they growled, but moved off slightly to the left when she waved the flame at them.
“Move slowly towards me, stay behind me though,” she said quietly to Tinánia.
Tinánia picked up the water skins and began edging her way to Tathiel. The lead wolf snapped at her, but drew back slightly when Tathiel waved the torch at him. Tinánia moved a few more steps towards Tathiel. This time the lead wolf, which was near the front and center of the group, and the wolf closest to Tathiel both growled and began moving forward with bared teeth.
Tathiel swung the torch at first one then the other, but the pack had the advantage of numbers, and their hunger overcame their fear of the flame. The leader leapt at Tinánia, and both Tathiel and Tinánia screamed as the huge beast descended on her.
A large arrow struck the wolf in the neck, and he fell. He landed on Tinánia, knocking her to the snow. A second arrow struck barely a second later, taking down the wolf nearest to Tathiel. The three remaining wolves backed off slightly, unsure now that their leader had fallen. A third arrow hit the largest of those three, for he had backed off the least.
Tinánia struggled out from underneath the wolf, and ran to Tathiel, heedless of any residual danger. Tathiel pushed the blood-covered child behind her, and they moved backwards down the path, the torch and knife held out before Tathiel.
The backed into the side path that led to their cave. “Look behind you, Tinánia. Do you see any more wolves? Any up on the cliff wall?” Tathiel asked.
“No,” Tinánia answered.
“Then run for the cave,” Tathiel instructed.
Tinania ran then, and slid down the tunnel into the cave.
To her horror, she found Eärundra and Legolas between the fire and the cave entrance. Large green eyes lay hidden in the dark of the back of the cave, creeping slowly forward to the fire. Legolas lay on his blanket near Eärundra’s feet. Eärundra had her small dagger drawn; a look of terror on her face.
Tinánia ran to Eärundra’s side, pulling her own small dagger. Her bow lay behind her, near the entrance. She grabbed it as she ran. She notched an arrow, and stared at the green eyes in front of her. She did not think she could kill the wolf. She did not know if she should try to injure it. Would an injury cause the wolf to retreat, or to attack? The cave lightened at that moment, and Tinánia knew Tathiel had come.
“When I tell you, shoot the arrow Tinánia,” Tathiel said behind her.
Both little ellyth were almost overcome with relief that Tathiel had come. Eärundra dropped her dagger and turned to run to Tathiel.
Tathiel had the large knife drawn and the torch still in hand. “Pick up Legolas,” she instructed Eärundra, stopping her flight. “Move behind us, towards the entrance.”
Tinánia and Tathiel now stood between the wolf and the children. The wolf had backed further into the shadows when Tathiel entered with the torch, but did not leave.
“Now!” Tathiel cried.
Tinánia released the arrow, quickly notching a second. They knew the first made contact when the green eyes flicked close and the wolf gave a howl of pain. Tinánia shot again when the eyes reappeared, then ceased as Tathiel shoved the torch into her hand, jumping over the fire and then driving the knife deep into the chest of the beast. It gave a cry of pain, and lashed at Tathiel, then staggered and fell back to the ground. Tathiel withdrew the knife as the animal fell, and prepared to stab it again, but the animal did not move.
Tathiel stood still, with the knife posed over the wolf for several moments. When it did not move, she nudged it with her foot.
“Bring the torch Tinánia.”
Tinánia handed her the torch, and she held it up and over the fallen wolf. She noted no movement or signs of breathing.
“It is dead,” Tathiel said, relieved.
Eärundra came near, still holding Legolas, and huddled against Tathiel’s legs. Tinánia pressed against her other side. Tathiel squatted down between them and gave each one a quick look. Eärundra and Legolas were fine; Legolas quiet and his eyes big as if he sensed the fear in them. She turned to Tinánia, and noticed again the blood.
“Are you hurt anywhere?” Tathiel asked her
Tinánia brushed at her clothes, wiping the wolf’s blood off her hands in the process.
“No, this is all from the wolf. Your hand is bleeding, Tathiel.”
Surprised, Tathiel looked to her own hands, and noted the scratches and puncture wounds inflicted by the injured wolf.
“So I am,” she answered. “I did not even feel it.”
Tathiel checked one more time to ensure that the wolf was dead, then moved all of them away from the animal. She built the fire up and heated water. She helped Tinánia to change and checked her more carefully for wounds. The child had not puncture wounds, but she had one scratch on her shoulder and bruises along her shoulder and ribcage from the big animal falling on her. Tathiel then tended her own injuries, cleaning and disinfecting the bite wound, and then applying a healing salve and bandages.
“He killed the wolves,” Tinánia said.
“I know,” Tathiel answered. “We would both be dead had he not done so.”
“Lay Legolas in his bed, Eärundra,” Tathiel instructed. “I need you both to help me.”
They spent the next hour gathering all the large rocks they could find from every crevice and corner of the cave, filling the opening at the back of the cave, effectively blocking access for any other creatures. They had not felt cold air coming from the opening, and had never suspected it led outside.
“A very determined animal may still get in,” Tathiel informed them, “but it will have to work very hard at it and we will hear the noise of the rocks falling if it does.”
The wolf was not terribly large, and was skinny and ragged after such a long winter with little to eat. Tathiel dragged the carcass to the cave opening and up the tunnel into the snow. She left it against the wall, intending to butcher it if possible with the knife the watcher had given them. She noted the bulge to the wolf’s belly, which stood out in contrast to its thin legs.
“You were pregnant, inu-draug,” she murmured, her hands on the belly of the wolf. “I am sorry that I had to kill you.”
Tathiel stood and looked up into the cliffs. She did not see him, but she knew he was close.
“An mín cuinar, I hannad,” she called softly.
She bowed to him, then went back into the cave.
When they arose the next morning they found their filled water skins were in the tunnel. Tathiel climbed to the outside, and saw a snow-wall built several feet above the drift on the path to the spring. The dead wolf she had dragged out the night before was gone.
Tathiel understood the message and left the water skins out each evening. Each morning when they rose, the water skins were filled and waiting for them. Several days later a food pouch was left, containing the dried foods they had come to expect, with some fresh deer meat as well. Also in the package was a pouch made of tanned leather. Inside were small carved animals, each exquisitely detailed: a bear, a wolf, a large cat, a deer, a squirrel, a horse, and rabbit. Nearly a week later four wolf-pelts were waiting for them.
Tathiel carried the pelts inside. “See today’s gift,” she said, stroking the fur.
Eärundra rubbed the pelt with her fingers, and then against her face. “It is so soft.”
Tinánia had already spread the largest pelt out on the ground near the fire, and laid Legolas on it with the carved animals. He lay on his back with his feet in the air, kicking and cooing. He then rolled over on to his stomach and lay with his face pressed into the wolf pelt. Eyes closed, he snuggled his little face into the softness, stroking the fur with his hands. He then rocked up on to his hands and knees, and two exciting baby ‘firsts’ happened.
He coordinated the movements of his arms and legs, and managed to crawl forward a few paces. At the same time he grinned at his adoring audience and dived forward on to his chest as he saw and reached for one of the toys. “Woolf!” he said clearly, and then laughed as he held up his trophy. It was the carved wolf.
Varandil removed the bandages from Elunell’s abdomen and chest, and gently cleansed the angry red mark. He eyed his handiwork and smiled.
“I do not think you will even have a scar,” he commented to her, a little smugly.
Elunell sat up and fingered the red mark. The mark was already fading on her chest, although the deeper wound to the abdomen was still quite red.
“You do nice work,” she answered. “Thank you.”
He blushed slightly, “I had a beautiful canvas, but one that I hope is never so marred again.”
At this remark, Sadron and Laerion, who sat repairing arrows on the other side of the tree, rolled their eyes at each other; Sadron snorting and Laerion smirking at him. Both Elunell and Varandil heard the snort, and faces reddened, looked anywhere but at each other. Meren had been standing behind Sadron and Laerion, and smacked them both on the back of the head.
“Ai!” Sadron yelped.
“Jealous, mellon-nín?” she sat down next to him.
He scowled at her, then grinned. “No, but I do enjoy seeing them both blush.”
Meren laughed at that, and received a swat to the top of her head as Ethiwen walked by.
The three laughed together then, and Meren joined them in their task of arrow repair.
Bellion, Lachthoniel, Galithon and Rawien were reviewing plans for their raid of the caravan. Rawien had nearly full use of his hand back, and Elunell was recovered enough that they decided to proceed that night. Galithon and Lachthoniel would remove the leader from the camp with Bellion as guard, and bring him back to their camp. They had chosen a secluded spot for their camp, well hidden in the trees on the hillside. The caravan was setting up camp below them on the plains.
The warriors had spent two more nights on the hillside where they had been attacked by Orcs, and counted themselves fortunate that they were not harassed on either night. They had taken an additional three days to catch up with the caravan, taking the journey very slow until Elunell could ride on her own. They had shadowed the caravan until they came to this hill, which seemed the best spot they had seen in some leagues to take the next step in their plan.
Rawien had spoken with them as a group about the discussion he and Ethiwen had the morning of the attack. Many thoughts and ideas were deliberated, and all agreed that speaking to the head of the caravan was the most appropriate course of action. They all hoped the man would be amenable to telling them what he knew of the attack on Balak’s camp and the whereabouts of the missing elves.
“Dinner,” Ethiwen called.
“What do you suppose we are dining on this eve,” Sadron asked Laerion, one eyebrow cocked.
“Why, I would imagine it to be….dried meat and waybread!” Laerion replied with mock excitement. “My favorites!”
The older elves snorted at the humor of the youngest in their midst, but refrained from reminding the two that there could come a time when they would be thankful for even this fare. They ate quietly, speaking in low tones. Galithon, Lachthoniel and Bellion were silent, each running over the choreography for the evening’s raid in their heads. Meren and Laerion provided entertainment for the evening, singing as a duet the lovely but sad ballad of the fall of Gondolin. As the sun drifted behind the hill, the three raiders rose.
“Min maer innas aphad, nín mellon,” Rawien grasped Galithon wrist in the warrior’s way.
“We shall be back soon with our guest,” Galithon grinned confidently.
The three rode out silently into the darkness. They approached the caravan from the south, noting the usual lack of guards on the right flank. They had memorized the look of the wagon they sought; it was one of the largest, with a cover made of canvas and decorated with hanging tassels at the back and front openings. The man seldom set up a pavilion, choosing to take his respites in the comfort of the wagon. Twice they had stolen into the camp of this caravan, and each time they had explored his abode.
Bellion held the horses at the base of the hill, and then followed Galithon and Lachthoniel to the edge of the camp. He took up position on the right flank, bow drawn and arrow notched. Galithon walked around the wagon, then entered from the back. The man lay sleeping alone on a pallet in the middle of the wagon floor. Galithon withdrew a gag and rope to bind the man’s hands, and then waited while Lachthoniel slipped in the front. At Galithon’s signal, Lachthoniel covered the man’s mouth, while Galithon quickly tied the gag across his mouth, and then flipping him to his stomach bound his hands. The man had awakened when his mouth was covered, but ceased struggling almost immediately when he felt the cold blade of Lachthoniel’s knife at this throat.
Lachthoniel tossed the man easily over his shoulder. Galithon exited the wagon first, and then waved Lachthoniel to follow. They joined Bellion quickly, the entire raid taking less than two minutes to accomplish. They reached the edge of the hills and their horses, Lachthoniel swinging the man up to Bellion, who held him in an iron grip all the way to the elves’ camp.
Rawien, Sadron and Laerion met them as they rode into camp, a mere hour later. Bellion dismounted then picked up the man and depositing him into Rawien’s care.
“That was quick,” Rawien grinned at Galithon. “No problems, then?”
“No,” Galithon answered, loud enough for the man to hear. “They had few guards on duty.”
The man was seated on a rock, Sadron and Laerion standing so close behind him that the man could feel the warmth of their bodies. Rawien and Galithon stood before him, forcing him to crane his neck back that he might meet their eyes. A small fire burned in their midst, and torches were held by others around them.
“You will answer our questions for now with a shake of the head for no, and a nod for yes,” Rawien instructed the man in the common speech. “Do you understand me?”
The man nodded.
“Did you kill a hill-man named Balak in the Iron Hills?”
The man hesitated a moment, finally nodding his head when Laerion nudged him with his knee.
“Did you kill the women he had with him?”
The man looked surprised, but shook his head vigorously.
Rawien and Galithon exchanged glances.
“Did you take the slaves he offered?”
The man’s eyes showed his frustration, and again he shook his head no.
Rawien nodded at Sadron to remove the man’s gag. Laerion unsheathed his knife at the same time, and held it within the man’s line of sight. The man eyed the long curved blade, then turned his eyes to Rawien again. He did not show fear visible to most, but to the heightened senses of the elves it was palpable.
“Speak,” Rawien commanded.
“The man Balak had no women in his camp or slaves to sell us,” the man spat.
“How many were in the camp when you arrived,” Galithon asked neutrally.
“Four sleeping. Lazy pigs,” he spat again. “Balak had neither the goods nor the slaves he promised.”
“How did you kill them?” Rawien asked.
“I slit Balak’s throat myself,” the man answered without remorse. “My men took care of the others in the same fashion.”
“Why?” Galithon was more curious than anything.
“He promised a pretty she-elf to sell, with goods. I do not care to be deceived.”
Rawien felt Galithon’s hand on his shoulder, and forced himself to relax. Rawien gestured to Galithon, and they both rose and walked a short distance away, leaving the man to Sadron and Laerion.
“You believe him?” Galithon asked Rawien.
“I sense no deceit in him in this matter,” Rawien admitted. “He knows enough to confirm he was present. He knows there were no women; he confirms the number of men and manner of death. He could be lying about Tathiel.”
Rawien and Galithon returned to the man, this time sitting on rocks near him. They said nothing, just watched the man. He did not squirm, but met their gazes with his own.
“May I ask a question?” he asked.
“Who is one she-elf that so many of you would try to recover her?”
“We would recover any one of our own that was missing,” Galithon replied blithely.
Satisfied, Rawien nodded to Sadron to gag the man again. Bellion returned on his horse, and placed the man before him.
“You will be returned to you camp. I appreciate your answers to our questions,” Rawien said and Bellion, Sadron and Laerion left to return the man to his camp.
The remaining seven gathered round the campfire, as Rawien and Galithon related the details of the interrogation.
“Tathiel escaped,” Ethiwen said quietly. “She took the children on a horse, and she escaped.”
Rawien was silent for a moment, glancing at each one in turn, finally resting his eyes on Ethiwen.
“Let us break camp as soon as the others return. We may as well begin our journey back this night.”
Idhren sell = wise child
inu-draug = she-wolf
An mín cuinar, I hannad = for our lives, I thank you
mellon-nín = friend of mine
Min maer innas aphad, nín mellon = Our good will follows, my friend