16. Homeward Bound
Tinánia lay sleeping on her back, eyes half-shut and body relaxed. She was still a child by the reckoning of the elves, yet she had taken on many adult responsibilities and proved herself able. She carried herself with a certain confidence that had not been present at the start of the trip. Tathiel thought of the games she had played with Elumeril on their trip to Laketown: Tinánia was the thinker and planner but it was Elumeril who initiated and carried out the plans. Elumeril had been the leader and Tinánia the follower. Now Tinánia led, confident and strong.
Eärundra slept slightly propped on pine boughs and blankets; at an angle she found the most comfortable on her hips and leg. She still had some stiffness and pain, and Tathiel was saddened to think the wounds might not heal completely. She wished them back in Greenwood, and able to call upon the best healers, to be able to allow her hot baths and soothing massages on her sore muscles. So many things she had not been able to do for this child, and yet Eärundra had also proved her courage. She suffered her pain with resilience and tenacity. She had at times wept when the pain was too much, and how they all suffered for her until the pain deadening medications Tathiel gave her took effect. She had pushed herself to sit, then turn over, and finally walk. She gained strength, and on more than one occasion Tathiel heard her willing herself to try harder, that come spring she might walk out of the hills and home.
Legolas lay on his stomach, his little backside in the air and his legs tucked under him, his cheek snuggled into the fur. He had one hand curled round his carved toy, and the other hand twined in the short fur of the wolf pelt. The pelt had become his favorite for cuddling, and he both slept at night and napped on top of it, often petting the “woolf” and chattering to it. He usually carried one of the carved animals around with him, and was entertained for hours with the games his ellyth played with him and his beasts. His vocabulary was growing, and he could now say variations on all their names, plus name his animals and various other objects in the cave.
Smiling, Tathiel stroked his soft head and then stretching, slipped out of the cave into the cool morning air. She picked up the water skins and set them inside the cave. As was her routine, she looked to ridge above them, knowing she would not see him. Yet she harbored no doubt that he was there.
“Maer aur, mellon-nín,” she called softly, as had become her morning ritual.
The snow had melted down to just a few feet, the surface icy as the melting snow re-froze each night. It crackled throughout the day, as it shifted underneath and broke. The path to the south was now marked by a large stone; a warning that the trail was too slippery yet for safety. The path to the main trail and spring remained similarly blocked, as it had been since the morning after the wolf attack. The watcher had brought them water faithfully every morning for the last two months. Tathiel had wished to go that way, to get water herself and relieve the watcher of that duty, but they would still hear the howls of a wolf occasion, and she was fairly certain that their fresh meat one week had been bear.
The small barricades left them with essentially a small yard in which to exercise and get fresh air, which they did daily. Tinánia had taken up her bow in target practice against a tree in the clearing, and she was striving for perfection in her skills. Eärundra was quite content to play with Legolas. She pulled him around on top of the skin, riding his wolf skin like a sled. Tathiel was sure his squeals of delight could be heard for miles, and she had tried to curb his loud voice without dampening his enthusiasm for the play.
On this morning Tathiel walked to the borders of their confined yard, and in her desire to see found herself nimbly leaping into Tinánia’s practice tree. She climbed as high as the tree seemed able to support her weight, and surveyed the hills to the north and valley to the south.
The snowmelt had caused flooding all along the Carnen River. Where they normally glimpsed the sparkling waters inside the strips of trees that bordered its sides, now the waters escaped their bounds, advancing far beyond the trees on either side. On the south wall of the canyon, near the ridge that Tathiel had stood so many times to view the valley, the appearance of a waterfall was present. The immense amount of snow thawing had saturated the ground, and it ran wherever the path of least resistance led. Rock and silt had been washed down with the torrent, and whatever path lay beyond the ridge was impassable.
Tathiel felt herself both awed and dismayed by the sight. The vastness of the flooded plain was a sight to behold. In all her many years, she had never seen a flood of this proportion. She had hoped that with the melting of the snow they would soon be able to begin their trek out of the hills. Now, even if they could traverse the snow, the flooded plains and treacherous mudslides would prevent them actually going anywhere.
With a deep sigh, she climbed down from her perch and re-entered the cave.
In his hidden spot on the high ridge, the Watcher sensed her sadness. These hills had seen many cold and snowy winters, and an equal number of spring floods. It would be another full cycle of the moon, plus half of another at least, before they could think to leave their cave. He knew her hopes to be dashed, that her only thought was to get the little ones safely home.
He knew he would miss them. Never had he been responsible for the direct care of others, and he found it rewarding. Yet he knew his mission was nearly complete, and that soon they would leave, returning to their homes and families. He had listened to enough of their conversations to know that the two female-children were related, but not to the adult or the infant. The adult was also not the mother of the infant, for often she sat teaching the little one the names of siblings he had yet to meet, and promises of meeting his father. Of the child’s mother, he knew only that she was in the Halls of Mandos. Already the child could speak that hallowed name.
He would miss the morning greeting.
He shifted slightly to catch the rays of the rising sun, and cleared his mind as he resumed his watch-care over them.
The ten warriors stood in a line upon the bank of the river, watching as the black swirling waters rushed past them, pushing tree trunks and debris along its path. The path of the river had widened much beyond its normal course, carving out great chunks of land. As far as their elven eyes could see, the river overflowed its banks. Mud seemed to coat everything left in the wake of the raging waters.
Rawien withdrew, seating himself on a rock, and spreading open on his knees the map they carried of this area. It had limited information outside of major landmarks. The topography was entirely missing east of the river. They did not know if heading further east and then north would provide them with better passage, more of the same, or worse terrain.
“We can no longer follow the river,” Rawien stated as Galithon sat down next to him. “This water will not be fit to drink for some time.”
“We have followed the river for it is the quickest route. We will go further east, and then north,” Galithon replied. “The detour will delay us less than these flood waters. It is also only early spring; these waters may not crest yet for some time.”
The other elves had gathered round, and the normal fare of dried meat and waybread was shared. A fire was made, for the spring nights were still cool.
“When we return, where will we resume the search?” Ethiwen broached the subject that lingered always in the forefront of her mind.
“I have been considering that,” Rawien replied. “We do not know if they made it home, or wintered in a village near the Carnen, or if other trouble befell them. We can return to the King, or we can return to the camp of Balak, and follow the trail east.”
All pondered this, for each choice held advantages. If Tathiel had made it home, further searching was futile and reunions delayed. If they had not made it home, then their search was prolonged and Tathiel and the children struggled longer alone.
“The river may make the choice for us,” Galithon finally answered. “It will be unlikely that we can cross the Carnen until we are much nearer to the headwaters. Our destination will be the southern edge of the Iron Hills. We may as well return to the camp, and see if any trail exists to the east. If it does, then we follow. The worst that happens is they arrive home before us.”
“We can send a messenger to King Thranduil when we reach the traders town,” Rawien added.
All nodded in agreement at this plan. Dusk settled around them, and in the twilight the trees rejoiced at the sound of pure voices raised in song, for never before had they heard of elven-kind. Their passing was noted in the whispering of the leaves.
“Legolas, please stay still,” Eärundra tickled him under the chin in an attempt to get his attention.
“Nononononono, play bear!” Legolas stuck his toy bear in her face and grinned.
“In a moment, elfling,” she coaxed him. “Tathiel needs you to be still for just a moment more.”
Tathiel tightened the strap at her waist slightly and stood. Legolas squealed with delight as he suddenly rose high into the air. Tathiel turned and shrugged her shoulders a few times, but the pack seemed secure.
“You can take the wiggly-worm out now,” she laughed as she sat down.
Eärundra freed Legolas from his seat and the straps that held him in place, and placed him back on the wolf-pelt on the floor. He immediately rose to his hands and knees and took off across the cave floor. Eärundra jumped in front of him, redirecting him away from the stones of the fire pit. He changed course, diving face first into the bedding, and then resurfacing a moment later, a look of triumph on his face as he held up his prized wolf.
“How are we going to explain to his father that his first word was ‘wolf’? Eärundra asked.
“I think it will be clear when they see his attachment to that wolf-pelt,” Tinánia laughed, hearing the question as she entered the cave. “What I would like to know is how are we going to get him to sit still in that carrier while we travel?”
Tathiel grimaced, “That I do not know. Sitting still and being quiet are not behaviors normally asked of one his age. I am hoping he will be amused by the many new things he will see.”
Tathiel continued work on the carrier, as the squeals and sounds of play filled the cave. She had taken apart one of the extra packs that they had brought with them when they escaped from Balak. She lined it with the wolf-pelt, and using the knife cut holes for Legolas’ legs. She knew if she wrapped him so he couldn’t kick he would loudly announce his displeasure with the arrangement. She used the straps from the horse’s bridle to hold him in place in the pack, and then fastened the whole thing to the top of her own pack, which she must carry. So far the arrangement appeared as if it might work, but she had yet to try it with her pack fully laden.
“I went to the spring,” Tinánia announced.
Tathiel looked up in surprise, “Were the rocks removed?”
Tinánia nodded. “From both sides. I called to him, to give me a sign if I should not go that way, but none was given.”
“Tell us what you saw!” Eärundra joined the conversation.
“The snow is melted everywhere I looked, even on the higher passes. The area where the rockslide trapped us is covered in mud again. The spring still bubbles, and now has a little stream carrying the water away. I saw a fawn with its nana, just down from the spring. I have not yet gone through the gorge.”
“I will go. I have longed to see beyond our small yard,” Tathiel replied, nearly out of the cave, the laughter of the children following her.
Tinánia sat down on Legolas’ pelt and he immediately crawled to her, his pace fast.
“He is almost running on his hands and knees!” Eärundra giggled.
Legolas piled himself in Tinánia’s lap, grabbing at the ties of her tunic and pulling himself upright in front of her. He tugged on the braid tucked behind her ear, and laughed. He wobbled, then, finally toppling over and landing hard on his bottom. He paused a moment, lower lip quivering.
“He stood! Yeah!” Eärundra was cheering and Tinánia clapped her hands.
The quivering lips broke into a brilliant smile, and Legolas bounced, waving his arms along with them.
“Leges tood!” he proclaimed back.
Eärundra eased herself down onto the pelt, sitting next to her sister, Legolas facing them both.
“Legolas, tell Tinánia what you learned today. Say Ada. Ada,” she encouraged.
“Ada!” Legolas replied, grinning.
“Who is your Ada, Legolas? Say Ada is King!”
“Ada King!” Legolas shouted back, again bouncing, little arms waving in front of him.
In his excitement he tumbled over, and rolled to his back, feet in the air. He saw his booties, and immediately grabbed for them.
“Booees off!” he crowed, deftly plucking one off and throwing it at Tinánia.
The ellyth dissolved into laughter, and soon all three were lying on their backs on the wolf pelt. Legolas grinned, grabbing at braids and chattering variations of all the words he knew. Eärundra and Tinánia laughed until their sides hurt and they had to stop for breath.
Tathiel walked down the path to the gorge, and came out on the ridge. It had been months since she had been able to come this way, and she held her breath as she beheld the beauty of spring that had come upon the land. The buds on the trees had burst into full leaf, and the receding floodwaters of the river now glimmered through the green canopy that bordered it. The grass remained brown and flat in the areas recently covered with overland floodwaters, but the vast plains that ran between the hills and the river were already green, with brief glimpses of early spring flowers visible.
Tathiel stretched her arms to the sky, her face upturned to the sun, as she drank in the sights and smells of spring. Ethuil had always been her favorite time of the year, a time of new birth and new beginnings. This year her heart sang in joy, for soon they would be heading for home. Already in her mind she imagined the first meeting of the King and his son; saw the child with his siblings and she could feel Legolas enveloped in their love. She pictured Tinánia and Eärundra racing into the waiting arms of their parents. She could even picture herself enveloped in the arms of one she hoped would welcome her home with that same heartfelt joy.
Overhead, on the rock ledge, the trees murmured their joy that spring had at last come. The watcher sat high in the branches, blending into the leaf canopy and the trunk as if he were wrought of the same materials. He leaned against the trunk, feeling the life flowing through it, and agreed with it that soon their visitors would be leaving. He had traveling provisions prepared. Tonight he would leave them what they needed for their journey home.
Tinánia’s squeal woke Tathiel from sleep, Eärundra stirring next to her and Legolas nearly popping upright. Tinánia dropped a pack next to them, then sprawled down next to it and began removing items.
“Look at all that he left! It is time!” she exclaimed. “It must be time!”
Dried strips of meat, dried fruit, nuts, and edible roots, foods all nourishing and compact enough to carry, were arranged in numerous small packages, each one of sufficient quantity to last for several days. A slightly larger bow and new arrows were included for Tinánia, who squealed again as she saw the intricate design carved into each shaft. Tiny moccasins made to fit Legolas were wrapped in a small hooded cape.
Eärundra had joined Tinánia in digging through the package, awed at the kindness shown them and amazed at the beauty and thoughtfulness behind each item. Legolas crawled over their laps, digging into the pack and snared a new toy with one small hand. He tumbled over them, and sat content, inspecting the duck that had been added to his toy collection.
Tears streamed down Tathiel’s face as Tinánia and Eärundra held up each treasure for her inspection. A goose was handed to Legolas, who bounced with glee. Eärundra handed her a scrap of hide that was carefully folded and wrapped in oilcloth. She opened it and stared at it, stunned. It was a detailed map of the hills, showing her exactly the route she should take, the final destination clearly marked as the Woodland Realm of the elves in the Greenwood. She buried her face in her hands. They were going home.
Tinánia and Eärundra stood near the entrance, their packs securely fastened, cloaks tucked carefully through loops for easy access when nightfall came. Tathiel had set her pack outside the cave, and held Legolas in her arms. In one corner of the cave lay the items they could not carry; the extra pack and some of its goods. They had their bedrolls, and each of them had opted to bear the extra weight of a wolf-pelt; Legolas soon to be wrapped in his.
Legolas was dressed in a tunic of soft deerskin, made from that left by their benefactor in early winter. He had on the new moccasins and cape, and his wolf-pelt was draped over Tathiel’s arm. He carried his wooden wolf; it was his most beloved toy and Tathiel figured the least likely to go flying from small hands.
They all turned and looked one last time at what had been their home for nearly nine months. No tears were shed, for the joy of their destination was still too strong. Eärundra led the way out of the cave, and they stopped under the ridge where Tathiel had spoken her daily morning greeting to their friend.
“Mae govannen, elvellon,” she called to the hill. “You have held our lives in your hand all these many months. If not for your kindness and watch-care, we would surely now be in the Halls of Mandos. We owe you our life-debt, mellon-nín, four times over. There are no words adequate to express our gratitude for all that you have done. Hannad, muin min. Navaer!
Tathiel, Tinánia, and Eärundra all bowed, then Tathiel put Legolas into his carrier and shouldered her combined pack-baby carrier. The map led them through the gorge and onto the ledge and the trail that led down into the valley.
Legolas, facing backward in his pack, held up his toy in the air, and called “Navaer!”
The watcher left the canopy of the tree and appeared on the cliff edge, his hand raised in farewell to the small child, who waved his hand excitedly in return at the being he saw, a grin on his small face. “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, tithen min,” he murmured silently to the child.
Legolas was the only one to ever see their friend.
Tathiel led them down the trail along the canyon ridge. They came across many spots that showed evidence of rock and mudslides, and several times they had to carefully pick their way through the debris that still littered the trail. One spot along the trail narrowed so tight to the wall, with a long drop to their right, that they each kept one hand on the cliff wall, the other on the person in front of them, a length of rope tying the three together in line. To Tathiel’s relief, Legolas seemed to sense the tension, and ceased the constant wriggling and bouncing that normally defined his movements.
They were a half day on the trail when they came to a small alcove sheltered by an overhang of rock above them, and shaded by a tall tree that grew into the trail on the other side. Tathiel chose this spot for their camp, ever watchful of Eärundra who had begun to lag. Tathiel eased out of her pack, and released Legolas from his bindings. He kicked and flung out his arms, nearly causing Tathiel to drop him, in his joy at being free. She hugged him close, and he tore at her tunic, the fresh air stimulating his appetite.
Eärundra had dropped to the ground, her pack already serving as pillow as she stretched out tired and sore joints. Tinánia sat attentively at her side, offering her water and bits of nuts and berries. Tathiel smiled, relieved, and she settled against the wall and set Legolas to nurse. He curled against her, his cheeks flushed from the sun, and he reached up his free hand, pushing himself up when he did not find that which he was seeking.
“Mine!” he said, a small scowl on his face, as he pulled on the braid behind her ear.
Tathiel laughed, and freed the braid, allowing him to weave his fingers through her loose hair. Satisfied, he snuggled back to her breast, her hair curled with his fingers against his cheek. Tired eyes drifted closed, and he suckled until he drifted into sleep.
Tathiel laid out her bedroll and placed Legolas’ wolf-pelt on top of it. She laid him in it and wrapped him loosely in its warmth. She placed the toy wolf in his hand, and he cuddled it to his chest. Tinánia sat down next to him, and watched over him. He moved so quickly now that to leave him unattended so near a steep cliff was an invitation to disaster.
Tathiel moved to Eärundra, and laid the child’s bedroll on pine boughs that Tinánia had collected. She spread the wolf-pelt on it, and then added her own for more padding. She gently lifted Eärundra, who was already asleep, and laid her on the makeshift bed. She could feel the tight and cramped muscles, muscles trying to protect the poorly healed bones and joints they supported.
In her medicine chest were vials of oil; she opened one and massaged the soothing oil into Eärundra’s lower back, hips and legs. She felt the muscle gradually loosen, and the child relaxed into deep sleep. After tucking blankets around her, Tathiel crawled into her own bedroll and snuggling Legolas in the crook of her arm fell into light sleep, aware now that their protector no longer watched over them.
They took the trip slowly, allowing Eärundra to build up strength and stamina, and Legolas plenty of opportunity to get out and play off his restless energy. It took nearly two weeks to leave the hills and cross the distance westward to the trader’s village just east of the River Carnen. They camped that night within elven sight of the village. It would be their first contact with people, and Tathiel took this last night to evaluate the opportunities civilization could provide.
They might find a messenger to precede them; to deliver a message of their journey home to the King, and aid could be sent; an escort allowing Eärundra to ride instead of walk with a heavy pack. They could replenish food supplies, purchase with what little coin Tathiel carried in her medicine chest, dried meat and cram, the waybread of men, to finish their journey. Tathiel even allowed herself the luxury of thinking of a warm bath and a night’s rest in a real bed.
She would not waste resources on luxuries, but the thought of a messenger being sent, and aid meeting them on the road home filled her heart with longing. She sat on her bedroll, back resting against a tree, Legolas cuddled in her arms; and she decided they would venture into the village come morn.
Ethiwen stood on the highest rise near their camp she could find. For four months they had battled cold and wet weather; delays waiting for floodwaters to recede; and at their most remote sites, far to the east and north they had battled Orcs twice and, to their horror, men once. The men were Easterlings, a rather ragged group who bore the remnants of savage weapons. They were thin and starved looking, and had happened upon the elven party quite by accident. The elves had offered them food, and perhaps due to the inability to effectively communicate, the men had attacked. All were eventually slain in a very one-sided battle, truly the worst any of the younger elves in their party had ever experienced. They had not fought or killed men before, and the act was both distasteful and disturbing. It was but one more example of the evil they had experienced in the eastern lands.
From the rise, Ethiwen could make out the eastern most edge of the Iron Hills. Rawien had estimated that at their current pace they would reach the camp from which they were now sure Tathiel and the children had escaped, in one week.
While she doubted they were still in the hills, she harbored hope that they were not far ahead, that soon she would see her children. Her heart raced, and had Elunell not come for her, she might have stood on that hill the entire night. Her mind was fixed on them and home. Soon she would have them home.
Ethuil = spring
ellyth = elf-maidens (plural, I think)
Maer aur, mellon-nín = good morning, my friend
Mae govannen, elvellon = Well met, elf-friend
mellon-nín = friend of mine
Hannad, muin min = thank you, dear one (thank you in Neo-Sindarin)
Navaer = farewell (neo-Sindarin)
Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, tithen min = A star shone on the hour of our meeting, little one
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.