Tathiel glanced at the children, noting their tenseness and knowing that her own apprehension and excitement was affecting them. Even Legolas was subdued in his carrier on her back, his feet kicking gently as he sang softly in his baby voice words only he could understand. She smiled at Tinánia and Eärundra.
“Are we ready, ber ellyth?” she asked.
Tinánia grinned, and taking Eärundra by the hand started marching toward the city. Tathiel laughed out loud then.
“Let us follow, Legolas, the brave ones are leading the way!”
They reached the town late in the afternoon. The markets were busy with activity, as the inhabitants purchased and traded for the foodstuffs and household items needed for their families. Several people stared at the strange foursome, for they had not often seen elves. Stray dogs wagged their tales and ran to the ellyth, who patted their noses and stroked their backs. Legolas was enraptured by these furry creatures, and began clamoring to get down. Tathiel eased her pack to the ground.
“Cease squirming, tithen min, and I will remove these straps,” she whispered in his ear, as she tried to loosen the straps.
She finally extricated him from the pack, the whole process delayed several times over as he kept pushing and pulling and tugging to be released. He flung himself out of her arms, landing on the hard ground in front of one of the dogs. Tathiel nearly dove on top of him, concerned for how the animal might react, but the dog merely wagged its tail and licked his face.
“Woolf!” Legolas shrieked with glee, his hands tugging at the dogs fur at his neck.
“No, that is a dog, Legolas. Dog,” Eärundra corrected him. “Say ‘dog’.”
“Dawg!” Legolas agreed, still lying on his back, the fingers dug deep in the dog’s fur as the dog sniffed him and licked his chin.
Tathiel picked him up, gently prying small fingers from the dog’s fur. Legolas struggled for a moment, finally quieting when Tathiel told him firmly, “No.” He knew the tone well enough to know she meant it. His attention then turned to all the activity around him. For the first time since he had gained his voice, words failed him and he gripped Tathiel’s tunic tight in his hands.
Vendors in their stalls, wares hanging from bars and hooks, called their prices and described their goods. Shoppers weaved amongst each other, examining items of interest and negotiating prices. At the far end of the market were the husbandmen and butchers; cows, sheep, and chickens available for purchase live or butchered.
As they moved into the throng and the sounds increased, Tinánia and Eärundra found themselves pressing into Tathiel’s side, each with a hand gripping her tunic. Legolas was nearly buried in her neck, hiding his face just enough that he could see, but imagined no one could see him. Twice the small ellyth had been into Laketown, but accompanied then by warriors who picked them up and carried them above the throngs of people who towered above them, and whose packages always seemed in danger of knocking them in the head.
Tathiel moved determinedly forward, searching for a stall that might belong to a vendor of the healing arts. It was at such stalls that she had spent time with people of the race of men, and where she hoped to find where a messenger could be hired. They walked the length of the market, stopping at the end to admire the young calves for sale, then passing to the next row and walked nearly the length of the market again. Finally Tathiel saw an old man and a younger woman seated in a tidy little booth, dried herbs hanging in bunches from ropes strung about the stall. On their table sat rows of glass bottles, some containing dried herbs, others tinctures and oils. She stopped in front of the stall, bowing slightly.
“I seek vials of massage oil; a relaxing lavender and sandalwood perhaps?” she inquired.
The man immediately sorted the vials on the table, and procured two for her. He opened the containers, allowing her to sniff the aroma. She nodded her acceptance and asked the price. He offered her a fair price, and she accepted with dickering. Practitioners of the healing arts considered it terrible form to quibble if the asking price was fair.
“You are visiting our city?” the man asked, noting their packs. “Do you have need of other items with which we might assist?”
Tathiel smiled, relief visible on her face.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied formally. “We have but one other immediate need. Where might we hire a messenger?”
“A messenger for a short or long journey?” the old man inquired.
“Perhaps a fortnight each way, if the messenger has a good horse,” Tathiel answered.
The man pointed at a building near the corner of the market. “That is the hall of the city. Those available for such work may be found there, or someone will notify them of the need.”
The woman had not yet spoken, but had been studying the four before her. She recognized them as elves, and her memory was stirred to a similar request for a hired messenger. She never knew what the message entailed, for the elves had stayed only long enough to write the note and hire the messenger before they left the city.
“Do you have people near here?” she asked.
Tathiel looked surprised. “I do not believe so. Have….have you seen others?” she asked, feeling hope rising in her heart.
“Last fall, near harvest time, two he-elves came into the city, also requesting a messenger. They did not stay long and I at least have not seen them since,” the woman explained. “It had been long since we had last seen elves in our town. Sometimes in Laketown, but not here.”
Tathiel felt as if her tunic might rip, and reached down with her free hand to gently loosen Eärundra’s, and then Tinánia’s hands. They were both staring at her, and then at the woman, wide eyed. She felt tears welling in her eyes, and quickly bowed her head.
“Thank you,” she said, and gripped the woman’s hand.
“You are welcome. Do you need somewhere to stay? You look like you have been long on the road.”
“Long, yes. Very long indeed,” Tathiel replied, grateful for the kindness. “We have what we need, and wish only to continue our journey. Thank you; I will go see to the messenger now.”
She turned, and guided the children in the direction of the hall when the man’s voice stopped her.
“The river remains difficult to cross in places and the lands on our west side are not yet fit to camp upon. If you plan to camp, stay to the east of the city and begin in the morning. There are rafts to help you cross at the end of the main street,” the man waved his hand in the general direction of the crowd.
“Thank you for your kindness,” Tathiel called over her shoulder, acknowledging the man’s advice.
They entered the hall, their eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness within. Men sat upon benches, some with their feet propped on tables; others amusing themselves with games. A heated argument in one corner could be heard throughout the hall, with accusations of cheating being countered with claims of inferior goods. Tathiel’s arm tightened around Legolas, and she felt Tinánia and Eärundra press closer to her.
A desk sat to the side of the hall, near the far end. Tathiel walked the length of the hall, well aware of the eyes that followed them, the conversations that stopped. She reminded herself to breath in and breathe out with each step, until finally they reached the desk.
A man sat there, studying the papers in front of him, although Tathiel knew he had watched them arrive and walk to the desk. She waited patiently for the man to acknowledge her; it was in the end Legolas that gained his attention when he dropped ‘woolf’ on the man’s desk, then nearly dove on to said desk to retrieve his cherished toy.
“May I help you?” he inquired, slowly looking down the length of her, then back up, barely sparing the children a glance.
“I wish to hire a messenger,” Tathiel explained.
“To go where?”
“To deliver a message to King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm, in the Greenwood,” Tathiel answered softly. “If the messenger had a good horse, I would imagine a fortnight in each direction.”
“You have money?” the man asked brusquely, taking in their well-worn clothing and packs.
“Yes,” Tathiel stiffened.
“Enough for the fee,” Tathiel answered tersely.
The man laughed. “No offense meant, little lady. Do you have the message prepared?”
“No, I need ink and parchment,” she relaxed slightly.
The man opened his desk drawer and handed her the needed supplies. He wrote a fee on the corner of the sheet. Tathiel glanced at it, and replied, “Half now; half when the message is delivered.”
The man laughed yet again, and wrote the terms next to the fee, initialing the number and motioning her to do the same. When she had finished, he handed her the supplies and waved her to the nearest table.
“Janal, move. Sit there, and write your note. I will round up the messenger. He will leave this eve, if you so desire.”
The man Janal moved from his spot, settling his large frame at the next table, never once taking his eyes from her. Tathiel, Tinánia and Eärundra all removed their packs and set them down, and then sat on the benches. Tinánia took the now sleeping Legolas, and held him that Tathiel might write.
Tathiel spread the parchment in front of her, and pondered for a few moments what exactly she might say. How did she tell the King that she was bringing his infant son home and she wished him to meet them; or better question – how did she write this without smearing the ink with her tears?
Suilannad, King Thranduil,
Tinánia, Eärundra, Legolas and I write you this message from the town center of Karan. We have wintered in the mountains, and seek our way home. A messenger we send ahead to speed news of our arrival to you. We follow on foot, and respectfully request an escort meet us.
We are well. Tinánia and Eärundra wish their parents to receive this news and come to them as soon as they may. Legolas is a fine child. He grows strong, and knows many words.
We look forward to being home.
Your faithful servant,
Tathiel handed the note to Tinánia and Eärundra that they might read it. They handed it back, silent; tears in their eyes. Tathiel rolled the note, and sealed it with the official wax seal of the city of Karan. The town clerk had returned, and he offered Tathiel a leather pouch. She slipped the note inside, and returned it to him along with the required payment.
The messenger had arrived, a young man with an honest face. He smiled at her, and took the pouch.
“Have you been to the Halls of King Thranduil?” she asked respectfully
“Yes, my lady,” he grinned. “I delivered a message there last fall.”
She sighed with relief; he would know the way; would know the signal for getting the attention of the guards to gain an escort to the King’s Halls.
“Thank you,” Tathiel said warmly. The messenger strode from the hall, and mounting his horse, left on his errand.
Tathiel and the young ellyth shouldered their packs again, and Tathiel carried Legolas in her arms. The nodded good bye to the clerk, and then left the hall the way they had come. Tathiel led them slightly north on the east side of the city, to find a clearing to camp for the night before heading west in the morning.
The men arguing in the corner had ceased their discussion when the elves had entered the hall. The one had left immediately. The other remained seated at the table. He watched the woman, saw her kindness with her children. He thought immediately of his mother, and then his thoughts drifted to his son. A slow smile spread across his face. He waited until she had finished her business, and when she left the hall he followed at a discreet distance. He noted when she stopped in the camp area on the northeast side of the village. A plan formed in his mind, and Hazad returned to the common house in which he had wintered.
Ethiwen scowled at the mud that seemed to cover everything she wore, her horse, and her pack. A journey they had hoped would take but one week was nearly done, but in twice that time. For safety’s sake they had walked their horses across the field of mud that spanned as far as their eyes could see.
“There is a stream ahead, with clean water,” Galithon approached her. “We will make camp near there.”
Ethiwen glared at the mud again, and then looked up sharply when she heard laughter. The rest of the party was laughing at her. She looked at herself, thinking she must be exceptionally dirty, but they were all equally filthy.
“If looks could kill, this mud would be dead!” Sadron chuckled.
“I thought that scowl was the property of her husband,” Laerion added.
Ethiwen raised an eyebrow at him, “How would you know that?”
Laerion laughed, but had the grace to blush slightly. “I have been on the receiving end on more than one occasion, my lady,” he bowed to her.
Ethiwen reached down, as if to pick the mud off her boot, and instead retrieved a finger full and flicked it at Laerion, catching him on the chin. “I think someone needs a bath.”
Laerion grinned, and caught Sadron’s eye. Before Rawien or Galithon could move, the two had rushed Ethiwen, picked her up and ran to the creek, dumping her rather unceremoniously in the cold water.
Much scuffling and laughing occurred before the others joined the three. Ethiwen dunked Laerion, and then rolled Sadron face first into the water. He flipped her back, submerging her completely before she knocked his legs out from underneath him, sending him sprawling on his backside. Laerion was quickly back in the fray, knocking them both over. After several minutes they desisted. They were all soaked, but much cleaner.
“I would have prevented that if I could,” Galithon admitted. “But I think it did her some good to physically work out some of her frustration.”
Rawien just smiled. He waved the others to the water, and with Galithon set up camp. Sadron and Laerion were assigned to wash the horses– downstream from the bathers – while others took on the task of washing clothing and blankets.
It was a much cleaner party of elves – and horses - that laid themselves to sleep that night. Clothing an spare blankets were freshly washed and hung in the trees, which rejoiced at the laughter and songs of those that first taught them to speak.
The next morning they proceeded to the spot where they had helped to bury Balak and his men the previous fall. Meren was the one who had noted the tracks heading east, and she directed them to the area. Galithon examined the spot.
“I did not expect to find a trail,” he admitted. “Snow and mud have removed any traces.”
“If they escaped, I also do not expect that tokens would be left,” Rawien reminded them all.
They headed east then, following what seemed the most likely course to their eyes. They branched off several times, exploring side trails and paths. Near the end of the second day of their search, a call from Lachthoniel brought them all running.
He was standing in a small clearing beneath several tall conifers, a broad smile on his face, one arm wrapped around the trunk of the largest tree.
“They have been here!” he called as the others joined him.
They all heard the whispers as they gathered round: the trees spoke of their joy at meeting the young elves, how they had greeted them and slept beneath their protection for a day.
The trail became easier then, for the ravine to their north and the rock face to their south channeled them one direction. They came to the spring, and here the trees were most helpful, for they had spent the long winter with the young elves nearby and recognized these as more of their kind. Lachthoniel found the cave, and it was Ethiwen’s cry that brought them running.
Ethiwen knelt in the corner of the cave, the discarded pack and goods before her, and she wept for joy.
Galithon explored the cave, noting the rock-packed opening at the rear, the remains of the fire pit, and then poking through the items left behind. He had been further along the path, and seen evidence of the unstable cliff wall and the rocks cleared off the path. They had not gone that way. They had not returned the way they had come. He slipped out of the opening and turned to the right, south, and followed the trail through the gorge, finally coming out on the ridge. Tracks had been left; very light and perhaps imperceptible to the mortal eye, of three walkers.
“They have been this way recently,” Rawien said behind him.
“A week or two,” Galithon confirmed. “They no longer have a horse, and travel on foot. Shall we explore ahead, see if the path is suitable for horses?”
Rawien grinned, and the two sprinted forward at the same moment. Rawien was the faster runner, and leapt lightly along the path. They halted as the path narrowed.
“They moved most cautiously here,” Galithon felt the cliff wall. “Our horses will not be able to pass here.” He glanced ahead. “Or further along this path.”
The two returned to the cave, where the rest of the party awaited them. There was much soft talking, noting items around the clearing. The tree which had been used for target practice, the arrows from Tinánia’s small bow barely penetrating the bark, but leaving a mark nonetheless; marks of child’s play – tiny hands and feet that crawled in soft dirt leaving the faintest of tracks.
Decisions were quickly made. Lachthoniel and Sadron were the fastest runners, and would follow the canyon pass. The rest would backtrack, and meet them on what appeared to be a more well-worn trail far below. They wasted no time. The ones they tracked had only a several week head start, and were on foot and moving slowly. Hopes rose among them all to soon overtake them.
Hazad returned to his room, and surveyed the items on the bed. He already had the wagons packed, and had only to add his personal items. His men expected to leave at dawn, and they planned to follow the river all the way to the Sea of Rhun and their home beyond. This last year had been one of the most trying of his adult life, and he was glad to be leaving. Trapped by a snowstorm and then delayed by floods, he longed to return to the more temperate climate of the hills of his child-hood home.
He thought of the woman he had just seen, and was reminded of his mother. She was long dead, but remained forever in his thoughts. He had found a wife himself, and indeed been content with the marriage. She had borne him seventeen sons. It was his son he thought of now, his youngest son, Tal-Elmar. Named for his grandmother, for he inherited her good looks and spirit. His son was worthy of a woman as unique as his own grandmother.
Hazad saw no flaws in his plan. He quickly gathered up his things, and slipped out quietly into the night. He packed his few things into his personal wagon, and then found his brother Guryn. He enlisted his aid, finally agreeing to allow Guryn a small share of his profits in exchange for his help. Guryn arranged for the rest of the party to leave at dawn, as scheduled, then joined his brother.
They left the wagon on the outskirts of town, to the east of the village, for their home lay east of river. The village campgrounds on the northeast side of the city held only the camp of the woman on this night. They approached the camp stealthily, noting the children asleep in their bedrolls. The woman appeared to hear them, and sat up, alert.
“Who is there?” the woman called, alarm in her voice.
One of the children roused, and the woman appeared to whisper to her.
Hazad knew he had to act quickly, or they might raise an alarm and spoil his plans. With a quick motion to his brother, they darted into the camp. The woman saw them coming, and attempted to free herself from the infant curled with her in the blankets. Hazad reached her before she was loose, and grabbed he by the hair, clamping one hand over her mouth. Guryn quickly gagged her, and then grabbed for the older child, who held a dagger in her hand. He twisted her small arm painfully with his one hand, while clamping his other hand over her mouth. She dropped the dagger, and he gagged her, then quickly drawing forth a length of rope bound her hands and feet. The smaller girl awoke in the scuffle and was quickly bound and gagged as well. The infant they only gagged, then pushed him into the woman’s free arm. The other arm they tied to her side. Hazad and Guryn each tossed a child over their shoulder, and prodding the woman to walk they hurried to the wagon. The children were dumped inside and left where they lay. The woman’s feet were tied, and then strapped tightly to the binding at her waist that held down her bound arm. Her free arm held the baby, and they bound him to her. It was possible to free herself, but not without dropping or injuring the baby. The men hurried back to the campsite, quickly gathering up the packs and bedrolls, and covering all evidence the woman and children had been there. It was an oft-used site, and would be difficult for anyone to know these had been present.
The wagon left town in the quiet of the night, heading south along the road.
In the back, four terrified elves wondered what awful circumstance had befallen them; all their hopes of reaching home were dashed, and tears of despair washed silently down their cheeks.
ber ellyth = brave elf-maidens
tithen min = little one
Norui = June
Suilannad = greetings
For a little background on a few of the new characters I will be introducing, please read the excerpts below. Christopher Tolkien wrote that he believed the story of Tal-Elmar to be set during the time of the Numenoreans coming to Middle-Earth. There is little developed of the story, but these initial characters are wonderfully developed and were exactly what I needed for this next part of my tale.
Hazad and Tal-Elmar are borrowed, out of what little context they are given, from the chapter entitled “Tal-Elmar”, The Peoples of Middle Earth, History of Middle Earth Volume XII edited by Christopher Tolkien. I have excerpted a few passages:
…….there lived in the green hills of Agar an old man, by name Hazad Longbeard. Two prides he had: in the number of his sons (seventeen in all), and in the length of his beard (five feet without stretching); but his joy in his beard was the greater. For it remained with him, and was soft, and ruly to his hand, whereas his sons for the most part were gone from him, and those that remained, or came ever nigh, were neither gentle nor ruly. They were indeed much as Hazad himself had been in the days of his youth: broad, swarthy, short, tough, harsh-tongued, heavy-handed, and quick to violence.
Save one only, and he was the youngest. Tal-Elmar Hazad his father named him……..He was tall…with light grey eyes that would flash to fire, if he were wroth;…..
For Tal-Elmar had a strange belief…that the old should be treated kindly and with courtesy, and should be suffered to live out their life-days in such ease as they could…………
Hazad loved this youngest son dearly, in return for his love, yet even more for another cause which he kept in his heart: that his face and his voice reminded him of another that he long had missed. For Hazad also had been the youngest son of his mother, and she died in his boyhood; and she was not of their people. Such was the tale that he had overheard, not openly spoken indeed, for it was held no credit to the house: she came of the strange folk, hateful and proud, of which there was rumor in the west-lands, coming out of the East, it was said………
Now Buldar, father of Hazad, has been in the army of the king…..and he brought back from the war as booty a wound, and a sword, and a woman. And she was fortunate; for the fate of the captives was short and cruel, but Buldar took her as his wife. For she was beautiful, and having looked on her he desired no woman of his own folk. He was a man of wealth and power in those days, and did as he would, scorning the scorn of his neighbors. But when his wife, Elmar, had learned at length enough of the speech of her new kin, she said to Buldar on a day: ‘I have much to thank thee for, lord; but think not ever to get my love so. For thou hast torn me from my own people, and form him that I loved and from the child that I bore him. For them ever shall I yearn and grieve, and give love to none else. Never again shall I be glad, while I am held captive among a strange folk that I deem base and unlovely.’
‘So be it,’ said Buldar. ‘but it is not to be thought that I should let thee go free. For thou art precious in my sight. And consider well: vain is it to seek to escape from me. Long is the way to the remnant of they folk, if any still live; and thou wouldst not go far from the Hills of Agar ere thou met death, or a life far worse that shall be think in my house.’……..
Thereafter Elmar said no more on this matter; and she was indeed a woman of few words while her life lasted, save only to her children. To them she spoke much when none were by, and she sang to them many songs in a strange fair tongue; but they heeded her not, or soon forgot. Save only Hazad, the youngest; and though he was , a were all her children, unlike her in body he was nearer to her in heart. The songs and the strange tongue he too forgot, when he grew up, but his mother he never forgot; and he took a wife late, for no woman of his own folk seemed desirable to him that knew what beauty in a woman might be…….