May the Valar Protect Them: 18. Frustration and Fear

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18. Frustration and Fear

Lachthoniel and Sadron sprinted down the trail, noting areas where the ones they pursued stopped or camped. Pine boughs piled on the ground at each campsite, but only for one bedroll; occasionally tiny bits of waybread crumbs or a dropped nut or berry; and at one spot Sadron nimbly climbed a tree, pulling out an arrow. He grinned as he returned; he and Alagos had helped make that arrow.

“One is injured,” Lachthoniel noted as they paused at a campsite. “See – here are markings of an adult and infant – see the tiny handprint here? Tathiel and Legolas; and here the bow was laid next to the bedroll – the outline is here – just visible in the trail dust – that must be Tinánia. The injured one must be Eärundra.”

It took them but a day to race the distance that had taken the Tathiel and the children three. The two had just left the hills behind them, and begun following the trail that snaked around the southern face of the hills when they were joined by the remainder of the warriors. Sadron and Lachthoniel quickly mounted, and the warriors turned and followed the way they had come.

“We found one spot where they had camped,” Galithon informed them.

“Was there a pile of pine boughs?” Lachthoniel asked.

Galithon nearly stopped his horse in surprise. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“We found the same at three different spots,” Lachthoniel responded. “We believe one of the ellyth is injured; most likely Eärundra.”

Ethiwen was riding ahead, and abruptly turned her mount, causing Sadron’s horse to rear up and step aside. Fear on her face, she asked, “What kind of injury? How do you know?”

Lachthoniel explained the markings they saw, but was quick to add that though she might be injured she was clearly walking unaided and carrying her own pack. Ethiwen calmed some at this news, retaking her spot in line, but all noticed she stepped up the pace some.

As they approached the town of Karan, they were unable to distinguish the trail of any one person. Many carts, wagons, horses, cattle, and feet had trod the grass and dirt, and marks were indistinguishable. The elves set up camp outside of the village as night fell. Hope remained in their hearts that Tathiel and the little ones would have stayed in the village and sent ahead for help. Even if they had gone ahead, Rawien hoped to hear word of when they had been there.

When morning came, Rawien, Galithon and Ethiwen entered the village. Bellion, Laerion and Meren explored the perimeter of the city, checking out possible campsites and wagons where people might choose to sleep. Varandil and Elunell stayed in camp with the horses, and Lachthoniel and Sadron explored the southern hills near the mouth of the Carnen.

In the village, vendors were setting up their stalls and laying out their wares. Rawien stopped the first vendor he saw, and asked the location of any inns or common houses. The small town had but one, and it was quickly found. The keeper had neither seen elves nor had any unescorted women and children rent rooms that spring.

“Where else might Tathiel have gone, if she did come into the city?” Galithon asked aloud.

“She would find those who practiced the healing arts if she had questions or needed help,” Rawien replied thoughtfully. “I do not know if she had money to pay a messenger, but if she could she would send word home.”

“She must have purchased foodstuffs,” Ethiwen added. “I do not know how they survived the long winter on nothing more than what lembas they might have had in their packs.”

“There we have our assignments,” Rawien delegated. “I will find the healers; Galithon will check at the hall to see if they sent a messenger, and Ethiwen will look around the market.”

Galithon walked around the market, and headed to the city hall. He entered the dim interior, empty this early in the morning except for the clerk.

“More elves!” the man exclaimed, rising to his feet. “Have you come to send another message?”

“No,” Galithon replied, holding his voice steady. “What do you mean, ‘more elves’? Have others been here?”

“A she-elf with her children,” the man replied. “Just about a week ago. Sent a message to your King, she did. Same place as you; I even sent the same messenger.”

“How did they appear?” Galithon asked, his gaze never leaving the man.

“They looked weary and very travel worn,” the man shrugged. “Like they had been on the road for a while.”

The man was shrinking back from him, and Galithon quickly looked away. He did not mean to intimidate the man, and he wanted any information the man could provide.

“Please, I wish only information,” Galithon raised his hand, palm up, hoping to put the man at ease. “Sit, and tell what you can of them, for we have been searching for them for some time.”

The man remained standing, so Galithon pulled up a chair and sat, motioning for the man to do the same.

“Three children. One an infant, probably not yet a year in age. He dropped his toy on my desk. Cute little boy. A girl this high,” he held his hand about shoulder height, “and a smaller one. The smaller one moves stiff, doesn’t have the same grace as the other two. She-elf carried the baby in here, but had a carrier on her pack for him to ride. Clothing tattered, but they were clean.”

“Did they appear hungry or afraid?” Galithon knew Ethiwen would wish to know.

“No, looked quite fine,” the man assured him. “Came in her; wrote the note and paid half the fee, then left here.”

“When?”

The man pulled out his log, and looked up the date. “June 1”

“Today is June 7,” Galithon thought. “Do you know if they stayed in town? Was she going to wait for the messenger to return?”

“That I don’t know,” the clerk kept his eyes down. “She didn’t seem too comfortable, so I doubt she would have stayed around here.”

Galithon’s eyes narrowed, his eyes intense upon the clerk. “Did anyone bother her? Harm her?”

“No, sir,” the clerk mumbled. “Some of the men stared at her, but you know it isn’t often we have a she-elf come through. Your women are quite comely.”

Galithon forced his voice to remain steady. “What time of day was it?”

“Near dinnertime,” the man answered. “Market was just closing down.”

“Thank you for the information,” Galithon stood, and strode quickly from the hall.

Rawien and Ethiwen were walking among the vendors, many of the stalls unoccupied this early in the morning. Galithon joined them, speaking first.

“They were here on June 1. They sent a messenger ahead.”

Ethiwen’s face lit up, and he quickly related the information he had just learned. She frowned at the comment about Eärundra being stiff and lacking in grace, but just having the child in her arms again was all she cared about.

“The cloth vendor in the first row recalls them entering the market area,” Ethiwen related what she had learned. “Legolas wanted to see the dogs. She said they looked tired, but had no more to say than that.”

“I did not find any vendors of the healing arts,” Rawien added. “Perhaps it is too early in the morning.”

“I think they have continued on,” Galithon said. “Let us return to camp and see what the others have learned.”

Meren, Laerion and Bellion had returned to camp, and reported that people were encamped at various sites around or outside the village, but all had been friendly and forthcoming; most fascinated at seeing elves, and none had seen any other elves in the city. Lachthoniel and Sadron had scouted up the Carnen, but saw no evidence of camps in the hills.

“They must be on their way home. They have but a six-day head start on foot. We may be able to catch them in just a few days,” Rawien smiled at Ethiwen.

Ethiwen was already swinging her pack and bedroll over the flanks of her horse, who whinnied and stamped his foot, quickly catching the excitement of his mistress. The others laughed and camp was broken within minutes.

They crossed the Carnen in town, the waters having receded enough for the horses to make it without incident. Ferries were available for crossing wagons and people across the waters. Rawien spoke to those who operated the ferries; none working that day recalled having aided a woman and children.

“We don’t operate these at night, though. We just leave one on each side of the river, and people can pole themselves across,” the old man explained.

Rawien felt a stab of discomfort; this was a place where he would have hoped that Tathiel had help and someone would have remembered them. But, they were there in the evening and the rafts were unmanned. He shrugged off the thought, and caught up with the others waiting on the west bank for him. They set off a quick pace, in hopes of overtaking the walkers in just a few days.

***

The messenger dismounted near the tall elm tree, where the river angled north and passed into the lands of King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. He had made good time, arriving in only ten days. He set the flag in the tree and then sat down beneath it, and opened his saddlebag for lunch. His horse drank water from the river and grazed. He had been here once before, and now knew what to expect. He had been instructed exactly on how to notify the elves of his presence as messenger; there was naught to do now but wait until an escort came to meet him.

It was nearly an hour later when the mounted and armed guards appeared. The messenger stood, and waited while the lead guard dismounted. He swiftly held up the message pouch, which the guard took. He opened the pouch and removed the scroll, then walked back several horses to an elf in the middle of the party. This elf opened broke the seal, and quickly read the note.

Bregolas had accompanied the guards, that he might read the message and determine if the messenger should be brought before the King, or paid and allowed to return home. The guards had recognized the young man as the one who had delivered the message Rawien had sent from Karan the previous fall, and had approached the King with the news prior to sending guards to meet the man. Bregolas opened the note, quickly read it, and then re-read it. It took all of his training to hide his emotion. He motioned for the guard to escort the messenger to the palace.

“The King will wish to speak with you,” the guard informed the young man. “You will accompany us to his Halls.”

It was not a question, and the young man did not interpret it as such. He knew not what the message said; and thus did not fear the contents. He was afraid, yet strangely excited to meet the elven King. He mounted his horse and found himself quickly surrounded by the guards.

Bregolas galloped ahead to the Great Hall, dismounting quickly and allowing the guard there to care for his horse, who snorted his disapproval at his master’s behavior.

“It is important, Urevio,” Bregolas called to the stallion. “I will be back soon.”

He ran into the hall, stopping a guard near the stairs.

“Is Urithral with my father?”

The guard barely managed to nod his head when Bregolas cut in, “Please see that my brothers and sisters come at once,” and then he continued on to the court of the King.

He burst in the doors, the herald unable to announce his arrival. King Thranduil rose as he saw his son enter, and all conversation ceased. Bregolas hurried to his father, giving a cursory bow of respect as he reached him before thrusting the note into his father’s hand.

Thranduil opened the note and quickly scanned the contents. He clutched it with both hands, unmoving for a moment, before raising his eyes to meet those of his sons. He quickly hid the emotion there.

“The messenger?”

“Waiting outside, Adar,” Bregolas fell to familiar language in his haste.

Thranduil turned to Urithral, and held the message out to him. Urithral strode forward, his face unreadable. He took the note, his eyes scanning it several times before handing it back. When he did, tears sparkled in his eyes and relief flooded his face. Thranduil grasped his arm, and much was spoken in the look that passed between the two men who had shared so much grief in the last year.

Thranduil motioned the guards to allow the messenger to enter, and the herald announced the arrival of the young man.

“Daras, of the city of Karan”

The young man walked tentatively forward, stopped when he saw the guard motion and bowed before the King.

“Be at ease,” Thranduil instructed. “We merely wish any news you can tell us of the one who gave you the message.”

Daras nodded, but remained silent.

“The one who gave you the note…..?” Thranduil gently prodded him.

“A she-elf, my Lord,” Daras finally managed. “Tall, with brown hair. She had three children – two female and a baby boy. The girls did not speak and the baby slept. She asked me if I knew how to get here and I said yes, for I delivered a message last fall from one of your soldiers.”

“How did they appear?” Urithral prompted.

“They looked worn – tired, and their clothing was well-used. The woman seemed relieved. I didn’t speak to her, not really, just took the message. The children were sitting at a table and I did not speak to them at all. I am sorry, my Lord,” Daras stammered.

King Thranduil smiled at him. “Thank you for the information. My aid will see you paid the remaining fee, and ensure you are provisioned for your journey home.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Daras bowed again, and was led away, a look of absolute relief on his face.

Thranduil dismissed the court, and soon only he, Urithral and his children remained. The message had been passed around and read by all. Bregolas spoke first.

“Father, may I have permission to organize a party of warriors to serve as escort?”

“You wish to lead this group?” Thranduil inquired.

“Yes, my Lord,” Bregolas responded officially.

“Granted.”

Bregolas flew from the room, for he planned to be organized and on the trail within the hour.

“I wonder where our warriors are,” Urithral wondered aloud what they all were thinking.

To this there was no answer, just speculation. The warriors had headed east, and yet Tathiel indicated they had wintered in the hills. They knew the elven warriors would return when they did not find that which they were seeking.

Word spread quickly that the return of the missing elves was imminent, and it seemed as if everyone had something they needed to do. Lathron and Celebrinduil organized preparations for Legolas’ homecoming. Traditionally the youngest child occupied the room next to the King and Queen until they came of age or another child was born. Elumeril still occupied this space. New chambers had been prepared for her prior to Legolas’ birth, but she had not wished to move after the death of her mother. Today she was excited to help her brothers organize the new arrangements of the household. She moved to her new chambers, and they planned the look of her old room for this young brother. Seamstresses were already making new clothing for him, and toys were being made or unpacked from storage of items of his older siblings that were appropriate for his age.

Tathiel’s chambers had been kept up throughout her absence, but received on this day a special cleaning. Her clothing was cleaned anew and a new gown was ordered. Even though they were not expected for at least a week, fresh flowers appeared and were replenished every other day.

Servants of the palace had also been dispatched to the home of Urithral and Ethiwen. Their chambers were also cleaned from top to bottom; their clothing washed, flowers placed, and food was stocked.

Bregolas did indeed leave one hour after the messenger arrived. Daras had departed immediately, anxious to return home and also anxious to tell everyone that he had been into the realm of the elves. No one he knew had ever done this before, and the experience would afford him celebrity status. The elven warriors overtook him later in the day. If he thought the guards of the King impressive, he found fully outfitted warriors intimidating.

Included in the party led by Bregolas was Orchalthon, who had been with the original traveling party attacked in the Iron Hills. He had outlined the attack of the Orcs and where they had lain in wait. Tathiel and the three children would be easy prey for the Orcs, and this thought was utmost in the minds of the party of fifteen that Bregolas led east.

This thought was also not far from the thoughts of the party of ten that Rawien led west. Galithon wondered if Tathiel had continued on her own rather than wait for help because of the way the men had stared at her at the hall; or if they had neither money or items to trade to afford to stay within the protection of the city; or if she simply wanted to get home. He thought it was probably a combination of the three.

Rawien led his party west, and by the end of the third day they had seen no signs of Tathiel and the children, nor overtaken them. They followed the main road that lead from Karan to Laketown, riding wide on either side and using calls known to all wood-elves. By the fourth day they were concerned. They had reached the rock formation just to the west of the Iron Hill, where the Orcs had attacked, but found no evidence that the elves had been near the area. Orcs had been there recently though. Evidence of foodstuffs, broken arrows, and a campfire were found in a hollow on the west side of the rocks. Galithon and Lachthoniel inspected the camp at length.

“Orcs have been here in the last few weeks,” Galithon said quietly. “But I do not see any signs of elves having been here.”

The warriors traveled some distance ahead, and then stopped themselves to make camp. Ethiwen paced, finally sitting down next to Rawien and Galithon in the circle of elves.

“Even with six days head start we should have overtaken them,” Ethiwen said, concern etching her face. “Surely we are riding at twice the pace they can walk. And no signs of them either,” her voice trailed off.

“Do we continue forward or backtrack, in case we missed them?” Sadron asked.

Rawien was silent, pondering that very question. If they had left the road, perhaps they did miss them. On the other hand, they had called out regularly, and heard nothing in return. It disturbed him greatly that they had no trail to follow since leaving the village of Karan. Something was not right.

“Let us go on as far as Laketown,” Galithon suggested. “If the messenger has successfully delivered his message, I would expect to meet an escort party near there.”

Rawien nodded his agreement, keeping his concerns to himself. They would reach Laketown in just a few days.

***

Bregolas reached Laketown the second day, and sent several warriors into the city to search for Tathiel and the children. The rest searched the outskirts of the city. No one camped this summer on the grassy knolls outside of the town gates; the Orc attacks to the east had led to warnings to all travelers to stay within the city walls. No sign of them was found in Laketown, as expected, and Bregolas led his party quickly onward. It was nearly a day later when riders were spotted.

“There is a party approaching,” Lachthoniel called to Bregolas. “It is Rawien!”

Bregolas’ party broke into a gallop, and the parties met a short time later. Rawien and Bregolas met, arms clasped, followed by identical expressions of dismay and confusion.

“They are not with you?” Bregolas looked all around, anxiety growing.

Rawien’s gaze dropped. “No, nor have we seen any signs of them since they arrived in the village of Karan. We had hoped when we saw you…..”

Bregolas signaled for the warriors to dismount, and the twenty-five warriors gathered in a circle to talk. Rawien told them about the events that had occurred since they had sent word to the king; and Bregolas spoke of the arrival of the messenger.

“They must be somewhere between Karan and here,” Bregolas said finally. “What harm other than Orcs might have befallen them?”

Rawien was silent, a nagging disquiet growing in his mind. He listened to Galithon and Bregolas debate Orc activity and where they were last seen; how easy of prey one she-elf and three elflings would be; and the wish that they had remained in the safety of Karan and waited for their escort. Finally he spoke.

“Perhaps Karan was not safe,” he stated quietly.

All voices silenced at this soft pronouncement, as each took in this thought and processed it.

“The clerk in Karan said she was not ‘comfortable’ and he did not think she would stay in the village,” Galithon repeated the words he had heard.

“The men at the river crossing had not seen any elves, and no woman traveling with children,” Rawien added.

“So Orcs are only one of the dangers they faced on the way home,” Bregolas finished.

Rawien stood and walked from the circle of elves seated on the ground. He looked east, towards Karan, and then at the Iron Hills and north towards Erebor. He turned back to the group.

“Bregolas, by your leave, I will take a group back to Karan. I wish to interview more of the people of the town; see if any strangers had been seen that day; see if anyone had left he village around June 1, which is when we last have sightings of them,” Rawien said.

“We will scour the lands from the Iron Hills to Erebor,” Bregolas nodded his assent at Rawien. “If Orcs have taken them, we will find them.”

The warriors remounted, and Bregolas sent two of his elves with Rawien.

“Let us have messengers travel in pairs. Send word to us when you know something; we shall do the same. If we find nothing, we will return to the Halls of the King and await word from you there.”

Bregolas squeezed Urevio’s flanks lightly with his knees and led his party north. Rawien and his party returned east.

***

The young woman and older man sat in their stall in the marketplace, selling potions and remedies to the townspeople. Occasionally some made appointments to see the healer at his house, and twice he had left to tend to minor injuries and illnesses amongst the people of the village. It was mid-afternoon when the young woman noticed the elves in the marketplace. The two male elves looked familiar to her, and she thought they might be the same two that had come into the town nearly a year before seeking a messenger. The she-elf she did not recognize. The woman nudged the man next to her, and guided him with her eyes to the trio.

“I think they are the same ones that were here last fall,” she whispered.

“I think they all look pretty much alike,” the man grunted. “But, this is the second appearance of elves in our town this month. Do you suppose these three have anything to do with the she-elf and children that were here earlier?”

“I would find it hard to believe if they did not,” the woman replied. “We should have asked her to stay with us.”

“You did try, daughter,” the man answered. “She wished to keep going.”

“I am going to ask them if they know her,” she whispered, standing.

Just as she stood, the trio did notice her and approached the stall. One of the male elves stepped forward, and bowed slightly.

“I am Rawien of the Woodland Realm,” he introduced himself. “I am seeking one of our people who is a healer, who was in this town on June the first…”

The woman’s face lit up, and she nudged her father, interrupting the elf. “I knew it!”

“Knew what?” Rawien asked.

“That you must be somehow tied to the she-elf that was here several weeks ago,” she explained. “We so seldom see elves, and to see two groups in less than a month….well, I just knew you had to be connected somehow.”

“You spoke to Tathiel?” the she-elf of the trio asked as she stepped forward.

“She did not say her name,” the woman answered. “She purchased two bottles of massage oil, and then asked where she might hire a messenger for a fortnight trip. My father sent her to the city hall. We asked if she needed somewhere to stay, but she said they wished only to continue. My father told her if she wished to camp, then she should do so on the northeast side of the city, since the ground was still so muddy and wet on the west side. He told her that a ferry would help her cross in the morning. Then she left and went into the hall.”

“Did you see her when she came out? Did you see which direction she went?” Rawien asked.

“No,” the man answered. “She arrived near sundown, and we packed up our goods after she left. We did not see her again.”

“Is she well?” the woman asked tentatively.

“We have not seen them,” Rawien replied. “The messenger reached his destination and an escort was sent to meet them. We were several days behind them. We did not overtake them, nor did the escort. We have not come across any signs of them.”

“I am sorry,” the woman replied softly. “She seemed so anxious to be home, and those three darling children too.”

“We thank you for the information and appreciate your kind words,” Rawien replied. “We plan on asking around town if anyone else saw her. If we had more questions, how might we find you?”

“We are here in the market most days,” the old man replied. “You may find us here, or in that building, on the corner there, where we live and treat our patients.”

Rawien thanked them, and they went next to the city hall. Galithon approached the clerk again, who recognized him immediately.

“The messenger returned this morning,” he said, surprised. “He said the message was delivered, he had met your King, and been paid in full for his service.”

“All of this is true,” Galithon replied. “I come seeking information.”

“I have told you all I know,” the man answered defensively.

Galithon raised his hand in supplication. “The she-elf and the children have not arrived at home, nor were we able to find them on the trail. An escort that left within hours of your messenger also did not see them. The last place they were seen was here.”

“She left here, going right out that door. I did not see her after that.”

“Was anyone else here when she left? Did anyone leave right after her?” Galithon questioned.

“There were many men in the hall,” the man remained defensive.

“Were any not from this area? Did anyone leave right after her?” Galithon asked again.

The clerk was silent for a moment, thinking. He recalled the rather loud argument going on in the corner, Janal sitting at the next table, the men playing cards. The argument ceased long before the messenger came to get the message.

“I can only think of one who was not from the town. I do not remember his name, but he argued with Mahal the trader that day. Mahal may remember; he has a store several buildings down the street, on your left. I don’t remember when the other man left. Your elves departed and I returned to work. I paid no attention.”

“Could you write down the names of the men you do recall? We would like to ask them if they recall anything about the direction our people took when they left, or if anyone left with them,” Galithon asked.

The clerk sighed, reluctantly taking out a piece of paper and ink. “Give me some time.”

“We will go speak to Mahal and then return,” Galithon replied.

Mahal’s store was easy to find, and the man behind the counter responded to the name when they greeted him with it.

“More elves,” he said as he looked up at them. “Well, well. What can I get you?”

His voice and mannerisms were kind, and his mouth was upturned in a perpetual grin. He came out from behind the corner, ready to begin showing them goods.

“We seek only information at this time,” Galithon said. “We appreciate any help you can give us.”

“Ask away,” Mahal replied, seating himself again on the bench by his counter.

“You said ‘more elves’ a moment ago. Have you seen others?” Galithon asked.

“A she-elf and elflings were here a few weeks ago. Saw them in the city hall talking with the clerk,” Mahal answered. “I needed to return to my store, so I did not speak to them.”

“The clerk said you were arguing with a man not from here. Did he leave with you?”

“Hazad,” Mahal muttered darkly. “That man is a stubborn as a mule and about as bright as one too. Kept insisting he had paid too much for his goods because he had to pay to stay here all winter after the heavy snows and a lame horse prevented him from leaving. How those two circumstances should determine my prices, I do not know.”

“Hazad,” Rawien repeated. “Where does he hail from? Do you know any more about him?”

“Someplace far south. Didn’t ask the name of the town. He stayed at the common house, might ask old Sarzan about him. He had to put up with him and his people all winter,” Mahal answered.

“Did he leave the hall with you?” Galithon asked again.

“No, he sat back down at the table when I left. Come to think of it, he seemed right taken with that pretty elf of yours,” Mahal laughed.

“Thank you for the information,” Galithon replied. “We will go to the common house, as you suggest.”

“All the best to you,” Mahal called as they left. “Be sure to come back if you need supplies!”

The common house was on the other side of the marketplace. They knocked on the door, and a hunched old man answered the door.

“We seek a man named Sarzan,” Rawien said. “Mahal sent us.”

“I am Sarzan,” the man answered.

“We seek information about a man named Hazad that stayed here this last winter,” Rawien explained.

“Hehe,” Sarzan cackled gleefully. “Mahal did not like that man; no he didn’t. Hazad bothered him all winter about the price of his goods.”

“Can you tell us where he was from, and when he left?” Galithon asked.

“Don’t know the town name; some place down near the Sea of Rhun,” Sarzan answered. “Left on June 1 in the night though. He paid his bill that morning. Came in and got his things that evening and they left at dawn. Couple of his men stayed here – one his brother. Guryn was his name. All left that next morning.”

“A female elf and three children were here that day,” Rawien told him. “Did you see them at any time?”

“Nope, someone else asked my wife about them. Never had no elves stay here.”

“Did Hazad mention any word of them?”

“Not to my recollection,” Sarzan shook his head. “Paid his bill and left his room tidy, that’s about all I can say of his leaving.”

“Did you have any others staying here then?”

“Nope, the floods kept most people away. Hazad and his people were the only ones here these last months, and they left soon as was practical,” Sarzan replied. “Floods are bad for business.”

“Thank you for your help,” Galithon bowed slightly to the man.

The three returned to the city hall, and the clerk presented them with his list. All of the men except for the one who argued with Mahal were local, and the clerk indicated all lived in town. When the name Hazad was given, the clerk did recognize it, but had no other information about the man.

Disappointed and frustrated, the three returned to camp to mull over all they had learned and discuss it with the rest of the warriors. The accounts of all they interviewed were discussed at length as they examined the words and motivation of each person.

“I don’t think they even crossed the river,” Rawien summed up the discussion. “My gut instinct tells me they were taken by Hazad and his people.”

“Wouldn’t an Orc attack seem more likely?” asked one of Bregolas’ warriors.

“They left a clear trail from the cave to the village. They were told where to camp and then to cross the river in the morning. No one remembers them crossing the river, and yet many people remembered them being in the village. Every place we visited made comments about our elven heritage. Had someone helped them cross, they would remember it,” Rawien defended his position. “The only foreigner in these parts besides Tathiel and the children is this man from the south. He leaves that night or in the early morning, unseen by any. I do not know if he truly fancied Tathiel, or if that was an interpretation by Mahal, but my heart says they have gone south.”

There was a long silence as each person considered the words.

“Then we go south,” Galithon finally stated. Then he grinned, “Again.”

There was a light ripple of laughter around the circle at that, but general assent among the group. None wished to turn back. When morning came, the two warriors from Bregolas’ group left to deliver the message. Should Tathiel and the children be found, a messenger would ride down the Celduin to notify them.

The warriors stocked up with provisions at Mahal’s shop, much to his excitement. He also offered a promise that if the pretty she-elf returned, he would personally offer her coin to pay for a room at the common house until an escort could arrive to meet her. Rawien thanked him, and visited the healer’s house as well, asking them the same help of them. The healer restocked Varandil’s supplies free of charge, and sent them on their way with their best wishes.

It was mid June when the ten warriors departed south along the still muddy Carnen River road.

***

“If you aren’t going to have her, let me!” Guryn yelled, nose to nose with his brother.

“She isn’t for you! She is for Tal-Elmar and you will not touch her,” Hazad yelled back, each word punctuated by a stab of his finger to his brother’s chest.

In the back of the wagon, Tathiel huddled in fear, Tinánia sitting to her side, and both Eärundra and Legolas in her lap. Tears ran unchecked down Eärundra’s face. Tinánia’s hands were balled into fists, and her eyes flashed both fear and fire. Legolas was silent, his face buried in Tathiel’s neck and his little body stiff. Tathiel silently rocked them; glad her own arms were wrapped about small bodies, for otherwise she would shake in terror herself.

For several nights they had heard this argument, and each footstep near the wagon brought fear. They had not left the wagon in days, for even Hazad seemed to fear what might happen to them. He brought them a crude chamber pot for them to relieve themselves, and food and water. He even cleaned and rinsed Legolas’ swaddling as needed. While Tathiel was thankful for these small kindnesses, she feared that one night he would not be able to stop his brother or the other men.

“You are drunk! Go to bed and to sleep!” Hazad yelled again at his brother.

They heard the sound of glass shattering as a liquor bottle was broken against the wheel of the wagon.

“I said give her to me!” Guryn’s words were starting to slur.

There was the sound of a scuffle, and then Guryn’s face appeared in the opening to the back of the wagon.

“Come here, pretty elf,” he cooed at her, before he was jerked backwards, falling hard to the ground.

They heard sounds of Guryn being dragged away, still mumbling his threats, and then the camp was silent.

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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