19. Journey to the Sea of Rhûn
“Now the stars come out,” Tinánia whispered to Eärundra. “Look, there is Eärendil; we have missed very little of his journey across the sky.”
Legolas crawled over the pelts and blankets spread across the wagon bed, finally reaching his ellyth. He crawled over and up their legs; finally pulling himself upright by holding on to Tinánia’s tunic and shaking her when she did not immediately acknowledge his presence.
“Hello Legolas,” she whispered in his ear as she picked him and into her arms. “We are watching the stars. Have you come to watch the stars with us?”
“Nania stars,” Legolas agreed, resting his head against her cheek as he looked out into the darkness.
“Stars are in the sky, Legolas,” Tinánia pointed upwards. “See the bright lights? Those are Elenath.”
Legolas looked up, pointing his hand up with Tinánia’s. “Nath,” he whispered back to her.
“You are very smart Legolas!” Eärundra encouraged him. “You are learning many new words every day.”
Legolas grinned at her. “Leges an Rundra wurds.”
“Yes, Legolas and Eärundra are learning many new words,” Eärundra agreed as she kissed him on his nose. “Unfortunately, I don’t think he should be learning some of the words he has heard recently.”
“I hope he will forget them as soon as we are away and he no longer hears them repeated,” Tinánia grimaced.
“Do you think we are going to get away?” Eärundra asked softly.
“Yes,” Tinánia was resolute. “We will. Tathiel will find a way and we will help her.”
“I’m scared for Tathiel,” Eärundra admitted. “I think those men want to hurt her.”
Tinánia shifted Legolas to her right arm, and then pulled Eärundra into her left, cuddling her close. “There is one good thing about these storms,” she whispered. “Those men don’t sit out by the fire and drink and fight and say stupid things.”
“Are you scared, Tinánia?” Eärundra asked.
“Yes,” Tinánia whispered.
Legolas’ had been nearly asleep, his head tucked under Tinánia’s chin. He raised his head, and touched Tinánia’s face. “Leges cared too,” he said solemnly, then laid his head back down on Tinánia’s shoulder and drifted into sleep.
Tathiel lay near the front of the wagon, her eyes closed and tears gently trickling down her cheeks, as she listened to the hushed conversation of the children. She was more afraid than she had ever been in her life. She had been terrified when Balak and his men had murdered Narawen and Alagos in the cave; but that fear lessened as the days went on and neither Balak or any of his men bothered her. They had hardly even acknowledged her or the children. The Orc attack, the wolf attack and the rockslide had all been terribly frightening, but the fear she had felt then paled in comparison with the fear she felt now in the presence of these men.
When these men fought, they fought over her.
The man Guryn wanted her; wanted to lie with her. Tathiel knew about rape, had heard about it happening to females of the race of men. There was also the rare tale of a she-elf being raped; by Orcs or by men. Tathiel would wish to die, but who then would protect the children? Who would get them home?
How was she going to protect them and get them home?
Tathiel felt small bodies press close to hers as Tinánia laid Legolas in her arms, and then she and Eärundra crawled on to their blankets and fell fast asleep. Tathiel lay awake for some time in the darkness, feelings of hopelessness and despair consuming her as silent sobs shook her body.
The morning dawned bright and warm, the long grasses quickly drying in the sunlight after the night’s rain. Tathiel had woke before dawn, and slipped silently from the wagon to watch the sun rise. She had learned over the past weeks that the men did not wake early, the effects of the night’s drinking lulling them senseless until Hazad forced them to wake or left them behind and scrambling to catch up later. Mornings had become a safe time to leave the wagon, to stretch her legs, wash, and exercise. She washed her face and hands in water from the rain barrel attached to the side of the wagon, and then woke Tinánia and Eärundra that they might do the same.
Legolas woke up a few minutes later, stretching his arms and legs out straight on top of his wolf pelt, then he rolled over and sat up, rubbing his eyes. His hair was tousled, and he was silent for a moment as he looked around the wagon. His eyes finally fell on Tathiel, and his face brightened.
“Tafiel," he said, holding his arms up for her to pick him up. “Leges hungry.”
“Good morning, elfling,” Tathiel said as she picked him up and hugged him close for a moment, kissing him on the forehead.
She washed him up and changed him, and then fed him bits of soft dried fruit and lembas crumbs. He crawled into her lap, tugging at her tunic. She looked around the camp, and noted that only Hazad was awake. He was caring for the horses, feeding and saddling them for the day’s journey. She settled herself against the wagon wheel, out of sight of the other wagons, and untied her tunic. She enjoyed this time with Legolas; he was so active now that quiet times to cuddle and sing to him were a joy. He still nursed with her hair twined in his fingers, eyes closed and little body cuddled against her. She listened to the quiet sounds of Tinánia and Eärundra talking as they ate their breakfast, and let her mind drift to home.
She dreamed of their homecoming; of the joy the parents of the ellyth and Legolas would feel at being reunited with their children. She pictured Legolas with his siblings; in particular Elumeril and Lathron, who would be most taken with the elfling. She envisioned a long hot bath and sleeping in a real bed. In her daydream she could feel Rawien’s arms around her. She was sure he was one of the warriors who had been searching for them. While she knew it was his duty, she wondered if he also cared for her.
She imagined waking in the morning, and having nothing to fear.
She heard someone approaching her, and opened her eyes just as a Guryn kneeled next to her, his foul breath on her cheek. “Pretty elf,” he growled, “you are going to be my pretty elf.”
She cried out in surprise and jumped to her feet, her quick reaction knocking Guryn off balance. He fell to the ground, landing on his backside. Her tunic was yet untied, and Legolas had begun to cry at this sudden interruption to his breakfast. She backed up, clutching Legolas to her.
“Stay back!” she warned him.
Eärundra and Tinánia had jumped to their feet when Tathiel cried out, and stood watching Guryn stalk her. Guryn charged, grabbing Tathiel by the arm and pulling her to him. She struggled against him, trying to protect Legolas, who was sandwiched between their bodies, screaming. Guryn slapped Tathiel across the face, and grabbed Legolas from her, flinging him several feet into the tall grass.
“No!” Tathiel screamed, trying to run to the now silent infant. Guryn grabbed her by the hair, pulling her back hard to the ground. He fell on top of her, pinning her beneath his considerable weight. With one hand he attempted to secure her hands over her head; with the other he fondled her exposed breast.
Tathiel fought back in a way she had never fought before. She kicked at him, scratching at this face, and finally heaving him off of her. He landed on his back, and she jumped to her feet, racing to where Tinánia and Eärundra were leaning over Legolas.
Hazad had heard the screaming and commotion, and ran to the side of the wagon. He saw his brother regaining his feet, already in a forward charging motion after Tathiel. He ran himself, tackling his brother from behind and they both fell to the ground. Hazad pinned him.
“Stop! I told you not to touch her,” he hissed at Guryn.
Guryn struggled for a minute, finally conceding to his brother. Hazad let him up, allowing him to sit. Guryn had bloody rivulets down the side of his face, and a bruise on his cheek.
“That is one strong she-elf,” he muttered. “Breaking her is going to be a challenge.”
“She is not for you! I told you,” Hazad growled at him, “leave her alone. She is to be the wife of Tal-Elmar! He will deal with her, if need be.”
“He is not man enough to deal with the likes of her,” Guryn spat.
Tathiel had run to the children; Eärundra sat nearly hidden in the tall grass and Tinánia kneeled next to Legolas. His face was beet red, his eyes large and he was panicky, his hands waving frantically in the air.
Tathiel gently picked him up and held him loosely in her lap, whispering soothing words to him. He finally drew in a breath of air, and then another, the gasps both frantic and painful. On his third one he let forth a bellowing scream that Tathiel was sure could be heard for leagues around them. Scream followed scream, and then finally he just sobbed, large tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Tathiel, what happened to him? Why couldn’t he breathe?” Eärundra asked, her hands shaking and tears coursing down her cheeks as well.
“He hit the ground hard and it knocked the breath out of him,” Tathiel explained softly as she rocked him in her arms.
Tinánia had been sitting next to Eärundra, comforting her as Tathiel consoled Legolas, when she saw Hazad approaching them. She jumped to her feet, and leaped between him and Tathiel. He stopped in front of her, and then went to brush her aside as he continued forward. Tinánia did not move from her spot, and Hazad nearly tripped over her.
“Move out of my way, child,” Hazad said in a low voice, his anger barely contained.
“You will not harm Tathiel or Legolas!” she informed him.
Hazad stopped and sighed. He met her gaze, and was taken back by the intensity and anger in her eyes. He found himself lowering his own eyes.
“I am trying to see if they need assistance,” he explained.
Hazad stepped around her, and knelt in the grass near Tathiel. He looked at the infant, his face red, his features grimaced, hands clutching Tathiel’s hair and tunic. He still sobbed, hiccups now wracking the tiny body as well.
“Is he injured?” Hazad asked gently.
Tathiel shrank back from Hazad’s hand as he reached to touch Legolas’ head. He withdrew his hand and moved back a pace.
Tathiel ran her hand up and down the small body, feeling each limb and bone. He cried out when she touched his shoulder, but only for an instant. A few small bruises already appeared on his legs and his little tunic was torn.
Tathiel stood and walked back to the wagon, quickly moving inside. Eärundra followed and then Tinánia. Tinánia gave Hazad a pointed look before she crawled in.
Hazad rose with a sigh, and picked up the remains of their breakfast. He hitched the horses to the wagon, and resumed the journey.
Inside the wagon, Tathiel continued to rock and hold Legolas until he calmed. He snuggled close to her breast and resumed suckling, more for comfort than for food. He held her hair and tunic tightly in one hand, the other hand dangled limply in Tathiel’s lap. She gently slid the tunic back off his shoulders and saw the bruises there.
“He must have landed on the ground on that shoulder,” Tathiel murmured. “It is not broken, though, and he will recover quickly.”
Legolas’ grasp on her did not loosen until he fell into deep sleep. Tathiel gently pried fingers from her hair and clothing, and placed the sleeping child in Tinánia’s arms.
Tathiel turned her back to the girls, but not before they noticed the bruising and welts around her breast where Guryn had grabbed her. She washed the skin quickly, and retied her tunic before seating herself next to the children again.
“I did not know there were men who would harm an infant,” Tinánia said softly, hugging Legolas close. “I did not know this evil existed.”
Tathiel trembled, fear still coursing through her. Hazad had taken their weapons. She saw little means of escape, for there were more men in this group, scattered among different wagons and they ate and slept at different times. And she was afraid. She knew now that Guryn would kill the children; would rape her if he could. Hazad held them captive, and yet he was also their only protection. Even if she could overpower or somehow incapacitate him, their fate would be far worse in the hands of the other men.
Tathiel drew her knees up to her chest, and buried her head in her arms, willing herself to stop shaking. She must watch, must hope for means to escape. She felt Eärundra’s arm slip around her leg, and remembered how terrified the ellyth must be. She raised her head and straightened, then drew Eärundra into her lap and Tinánia and Legolas into the crook of her arm. They sat silent and afraid, and drew what comfort they could from each other.
Hazad led the small caravan all that day, stopping only occasionally to rest and water the horses. He set food and water inside the back of the wagon, but did not look inside. They traveled until dark, making camp under the light of the moon.
It was a clear night, and the men sat inside the circle of the wagons. Guryn was already drinking, as were several of the other men. On this night Hazad did not sit with them. He placed himself next to the wagon, his knife in hand, along with a club and his whip. The only person in the group that had challenged him about the elf was Guryn. Hazad feared he might lose his prize, his new ‘daughter’, if the men were to band together with Guryn in his efforts to have the she-elf.
The children could become a problem, Hazad knew. He had had to bring them with him when he captured the she-elf. She would not have come so easily if she had not had her children to consider. Tal-Elmar was a good man; he might accept her children and raise them. Then again, perhaps he could find people that wanted them in the village. The oldest one looked to be of marrying age in just a couple of years. The younger girl could help some family with a passel of young ones to watch.
But he had to get them to his home in Agar. Guryn had attacked the she-elf this morning, and Hazad did not doubt he would do it again. He had not realized how strong a female elf could be. She had flung Guryn off her as if he weighed little more than a child. Hazad shook his head at the memory of the morning. Perhaps he should be glad for the children, for if they were not present the elf would likely escape. He was glad her son was not injured badly. Guryn was bad tempered and violent, and Hazad knew he mistreated his own wife and children. He did not approve, but he would never intervene. Guryn’s family was his problem. It was not for Hazad to interfere.
Hazad looked around the fire at the men. He could probably split the caravan in half. There were at least four men he could trust; or at least trust them once they were away from Guryn. He would take four wagons and leave Guryn with four. He would instruct Guryn to follow the river, and he would take the plains. There was some danger, of course. They were much better equipped to fight as a larger group, but it was a chance worth taking.
Hazad spent the night guarding his elves and his wagon. He would deal with Guryn come morning.
Bregolas halted his warriors at the gates that led to his father’s realm. He knew the guards had already sounded the call that they had returned, but he dreaded facing his father; dreaded having to tell him the news that they had not found Tathiel, Tinánia, Eärundra and Legolas. His warriors waited silently behind him, some with heads bowed and eyes downcast, and some stared straight ahead, expressionless. Bregolas took a deep breath and urged Urevio through the gates.
A small crowd had gathered, including King Thranduil and Urithral, on the steps to the great Hall. All faces were eager, expectant and anxious to greet and welcome home the elves who had been missing. Smiles faded and countenances fell as the warriors stopped in front of the King. The absence of the missing children was glaring. Bregolas dismounted, and walked to his father.
“Where are they?” Thranduil asked hoarsely.
“We did not find them, Adar,” Bregolas chose the familiar tone. “We met Rawien and his warriors east of Laketown. They had tracked them to Karan and were just days behind them. They should have overtaken them, but did not.”
Looks of disbelief and shock appeared on the faces of the gathered elves. Urithral reached out and grasped Bregolas’ arm, his hand trembling.
“Where is Rawien?” Urithral asked.
“He returned to Karan to search for further clues to what might have happened to them after they sent the messenger. Rawien had reason to believe that harm may have befallen them in Karan; that they did not leave the village as planned,” Bregolas explained. “We hunted Orcs. Tathiel and the children would be such easy prey if they were caught alone by a band of Orcs. We have spent these last weeks combing the hills and plains from the Iron Hills to Erebor. We found that Orcs had returned to the place where you were attacked, and we followed that band west to Erebor. They are all dead, but we found nothing to suggest they had taken the children. No signs, nothing,” Bregolas paused, his voice trembling.
“Rawien sent word that there was a man from near the Sea of Rhûn who left Karan the same day as Tathiel sent the messenger. Because of the floods, there were no other travelers in the town except him and his men. Rawien said others in the town believed he was watching Tathiel – was ‘taken with her’ were the words they used. Rawien chose to follow them on more gut suspicion than on solid clues or facts,” Bregolas finished.
Thranduil’s hands were clenched, and the rage in him growing as Bregolas spoke.
“What kind of man steals people?” he growled, his voice rising. “What kind of man takes an elf and three children, and leaves with them? What kind of man preys on those so small and young, and unable to defend themselves?”
The last words were spoken nearly as a roar, and everyone had stepped back from the king, even his son.
“It shall become law in this realm that any child who has not reached his majority shall not travel beyond the borders of the realm without special dispensation. It shall become law in this realm that none but guests shall enter the safety of this realm without permission. It shall become law in this realm that no man shall pass the borders without an invitation from the King!”
Thranduil slammed his fist into his hand, then turned and strode forcefully back into the Hall.
Bregolas bowed his head, tears threatening to spill from his eyes. He patted Urevio on the flanks and allowed one of the guards to lead him to the stables. The gathered elves had started to disperse, some walking away alone; others staying to share their grief with others in small groups. He heard murmurs of shock around him, both over the incident and the King’s reaction. He walked to the entrance of the Great Hall, stopping at the grief-stricken form of his father’s advisor. He gripped Urithral in an embrace and felt him shake with silent sobs. Bregolas felt his own hot tears spill from his eyes.
“You should go to your father,” Urithral said after a moment.
Bregolas nodded and stepped aside, allowing Urithral to pass him and return home to his silent dwelling. He entered his father’s court and found the room empty. Continuing to the family quarters, he checked first his father’s room but found that room strangely silent as well. He had turned to leave when he heard a noise coming from the next chamber. He pressed his ear to the door of the room that had been prepared for Legolas, then quietly entered, and saw his father kneeling at the side of the small bed, his face buried in the blanket. Sobs racked his body. The glass of the window was broken, as was a lamp that sat on the bedside table.
Bregolas stepped carefully through the broken glass, and knelt down next to his father. He saw that Thranduil’s hand was bloody, shards of glass still in the cuts. Bregolas wrapped his arms around his father, and felt Thranduil lean into him as his grief poured through him. He held his father until he was still, the emotion spent and poured out.
“I am sorry Ada,” Bregolas whispered to him. “Come, let me tend your hand.”
Thranduil rose, and was about to speak when he saw a flash of blue in the doorway. Elumeril flung herself at him, heedless of the broken glass and her bare feet. Thranduil picked her up with his uninjured hand, and Bregolas gently pulled shards of glass from the bottom of her feet.
“Come, before we have more injuries,” Bregolas escorted them from the room, closing the door behind him.
Thranduil carried Elumeril to the family living area, where Bregolas tended their cuts. Celebrinduil and Elenath joined them there, and they sat in the quiet and comforted each other in their grief.
“Where is Lathron?” Thranduil asked after a short while had passed, and he had not joined them.
Screams and cries of terror filled the air at that moment.
Lathron swept up the broken glass and closed the shutters to the room. He disposed of the lamp and straightened the covers on the little bed. He sat down upon it and closed his eyes as his mind drifted to the south.
He saw a beautiful baby boy, talking and playing with a carved wooden toy. He was eating, and then nursing when someone grabbed him by the arm and threw him. He saw the child lying on the ground then, his face contorted as he struggled for breath. Lathron gasped as if his breath had been knocked from him, and covered his ears at the screams that he heard, scream after piteous scream. He heard pain and fear and panic in that little voice, and saw those same emotions reflected on the little face. Lathron shook his head, tried to make the vision cease, but it continued. He saw bruises on the little body and heard the angry voices of men yelling in the distance. Then sobs. Lathron cried out for it to stop.
The door to the room flew open, and Bregolas and Thranduil raced inside. Bregolas saw Lathron on the floor, curling into himself, his hands covering his ears as he cried out over and over again for it to stop. He ran to him, dropping onto the floor and wrapping Lathron in his arms.
“Lathron, it is me. Lathron, do you hear me? Lathron!” Bregolas called to him.
Lathron heard his brother’s voice, heard him call and finally felt himself drawn back into awareness. It took him a moment to realize the yells he now heard were his own, and he forced himself to stop. He opened his eyes and removed his hands from his ears, and saw Bregolas looking down at him. Over Bregolas’ shoulder he saw his father and behind him, Celebrinduil.
Bregolas pulled Lathron upright, and let him lean against his chest. Lathron was still breathing hard, his heart still racing. Bregolas steadied him with his arms, and tried to will his calming energy into his brother.
Thranduil sat down on the bed next to them, and waited until both of his sons were calm and aware, and Lathron able to speak. Lathron looked up at his father, and feared rejection and harsh words for allowing himself to be overcome in this way. Instead he saw compassion.
“What did you see, Lathron?” Thranduil asked gently.
Lathron was silent, his hands shaking as the vision was once again clear to him.
“Someone hurt Legolas, Ada. Someone threw him – tore him from Tathiel’s breast and threw him into a field,” Lathron spat out the words. “He was hurt, Ada. He was screaming in pain and fear. There were bruises……. What kind of monster abuses a baby, Ada?
A cry from the doorway reminded them that Elumeril was still present, and Thranduil held his arms out to her again. She slid from Celebrinduil’s arms, and ran to her Ada on bandaged feet; clinging to the strongest anchor she had in this terrible storm of grief.
“Ada, we have to save Legolas before the bad men hurt him again,” she sobbed against his shoulder.
“We will, nín sell, we will,” he murmured into her hair.
Thranduil carried Elumeril to Elenath’s room, and the girls slept together that night, Elumeril wrapped in the arms of her sister, as they had not done in years. Thranduil sat with them until Elumeril was asleep, then kissed Elenath on the forehead.
“Maer dû, Elenath,” he whispered. “Im meleth le.”
Thranduil joined his sons in his study. Bregolas had opened a bottle of wine and four goblets were already filled. Lathron had been plied with a few sips and some color had returned to his face. He still appeared shaken and Bregolas sat close to him.
“Lathron, nín ion, I am sorry for asking you to repeat again what you saw. Is there any more you can tell us?” Thranduil asked.
“I could hear the men yelling around me, but not their words. I feel like I became Legolas – like I was him screaming and it was me that couldn’t breathe – but I couldn’t sense the things around him – just in him. I am the one who is sorry, Ada. I was not paying attention to those kinds of details. All I could see and feel was Legolas,” Lathron replied sadly.
“Did you sense at the end if he was recovered?” Bregolas asked him gently.
“I think so. He was nursing again, and being loved. That is all I could tell.”
“Tathiel will protect him with her life,” Thranduil said absently.
“Ada, I fear that the men hurt Legolas to get to Tathiel,” Bregolas said pointedly.
Thranduil sighed. “I have tried to consider what motivation the man had for stealing Tathiel and the children. If the man was ‘taken’ with Tathiel, I suspect that she is the goal. The children may be used as bargaining chips to make her do as they wish.”
The four elves considered this, and the implications of that statement. The children would be considered expendable; merely pawns to be disposed of when they ceased to be useful. And Tathiel….it was heinous to even consider what they might do to her. A she-elf forced to bed would likely willingly give up her life. Tathiel would not leave the children unprotected and alone; which might leave her subjected to ongoing torture and degradation.
“Adar, I could lead a war party down the Celduin, and meet up with Rawien somewhere near the juncture of the rivers, or further ahead at the Sea. More of us searching, more of us able to fight, Ada,” Bregolas said. “Orc activity has increased in that area, according to the patrols. There are fears that shadow has returned to Dol Guldur. At least we can eliminate any Orc bands we find in the area and help ease their way home.”
Thranduil was silent for a moment. He struggled with feelings he thought selfish, of not wanting another child of his at risk. He subdued those thoughts quickly and turned logically to the question at hand. The idea had merit.
“We will sleep on the idea this night,” he finally answered. “We will discuss it in court tomorrow, with the captains. Please ensure they are present, Bregolas.”
Bregolas and Celebrinduil departed; Lathron stopped as Thranduil motioned for him to stay. Thranduil observed him steadily. He was still trembling, still pale; though better than he had been.
“I am sorry you suffer so,” Thranduil finally said. “Will you sleep this night? Do you wish to have someone with you?”
Lathron was silent for a moment. He was a young elf by how elves reckoned years, but far too old to be babysat. How did he admit that he did not wish to be alone?
“Ada, I will ask Bregolas to sleep in my room this night,” he murmured, eyes downcast.
Thranduil embraced his son and escorted him to his room. Lathron prepared for bed and a few minutes later heard the door open. He smiled, thinking Bregolas had come at the request of their father. Instead, there stood his father.
Thranduil tucked into bed a son who had not needed such care in several centuries, and then laid himself down in the adjacent bed. The room was silent, but Thranduil saw the slight shake of Lathron’s shoulders as he lay curled on his side.
He rose and stepped the few feet to Lathron’s bed. He lay down next to his son and pulled him into his arms. Lathron held on tight to his father as he wept, and Thranduil felt hot tears fall upon his fingers and hands. He held Lathron and soothed him, until the tears ceased and he had fallen into deep sleep, before crossing back to the spare bed. He lay awake for some time, his emotions raging between extreme anger at the men who had done this, and fear for the missing. Thoughts of vengeance settled on him, and he found himself wishing to kill those men who had harmed his infant son. It was late in the night before sleep overcame him.
ellyth = elf maidens
Elenath = stars
Adar/Ada = Father/Dad
nín sell = my daughter
Maer dû = good night
Im meleth le = I love thee (you)
nín ion = my son