Their captors had driven them relentlessly through the night hours; stopping only once near dawn. No food or water was offered to the captives; the gags across their mouths left in place. Eärundra had stumbled and fallen as they resumed their march, receiving as payment a blow from a short strap to her back. Tathiel had not seen the blow coming, but had pulled the child closer to her and caught the second strike across her own shoulders. Tinánia plodded on ahead of them. Unable to speak and prevented from looking at Tathiel, their fears and weariness were evidenced from body language alone.
The man called softly to the others in the party and all halted. The leader walked back to the captives and the men spoke again in their language, the one gesturing again to the child. The leader grabbed Tathiel by the arm.
“I will take the gag from your mouth. If you cry out I will kill the child. Do you understand me?” he asked in the common tongue.
Tathiel nodded that she understood, and the gag was removed. She motioned to Eärundra and Tinánia. “The children, also?” she whispered.
He motioned for the gags to be removed as Tathiel whispered, “Caro al can, tithen min.”
“The children need food and water,” Tathiel turned to the leader again, continuing in the common tongue.
“You can give them whatever is in their packs. Do it quickly. If you are going to nurse the brat, do it now,” the leader answered brusquely.
Tathiel helped Eärundra take her pack off, easing it carefully around the wheal on her back; Tinánia removed her own. “Drink only a little water from your skins. Here; eat just a bit of the lembas. You do not need much.” The girls did as she bade them; their faces drawn and their eyes dull. She held them close for a moment. “Do not despair. We are not forsaken,” she whispered.
Tathiel sipped her water and ate lembas; the whole time her mind racing as she considered what to do about Legolas. Their captors thought he was her child, and she did not know if that was of benefit or mattered not at all. Of greater concern was her ability to feed this child. She could not think of a time when a female elf had been unable to nurse her infant; in human women, where death in childbirth was an unfortunate but not uncommon tragedy, the need for wet nurses was common. She had helped induce milk in new mothers who produced poorly; she had also heard of women who were not lactating being stimulated to produce milk merely by suckling. She hoped these things would work in a she-elf too, for if she were unable to feed Legolas he would surely die.
Tathiel hurriedly took her cloak and fashioned a sling to carry the baby, wrapping it around her back and positioning the child for easy feeding and to free her arms. She then found her herb chest, and mixed herself a concoction that she hoped would help stimulate milk production. She dipped a clean bit of cloth in water and dripped water into the infant’s mouth several times, and then put him in the sling and to her breast. He latched on, and suckled and she prayed silently to the Valar that she might soon have milk to feed him.
The men rested and ate and drank as well. For the most part they paid no attention to their captives, although a guard sat near them at all times. Tathiel sat upon a stump, rocking Legolas gently. Eärundra and Tinánia sat together on the ground before her, leaning against her legs as they dozed, exhausted. Tathiel felt tears gathering in her eyes as she tried again to comprehend what had happened.
They had to have known of the cave. She wondered if they may have lain in wait in that small chamber above the main cavern. They had attacked when all was calm inside. Alagos was watching at the cave entrance, silent and hidden in the shadows; his eyes on the camp in the distance. Narawen had fallen asleep, as had Tinánia and Eärundra. Tathiel had organized their packs as Rawien directed, that they might leave in haste if needed. Legolas she held in her arms as he slept. The men had dropped silently from above with only muffled thumps as their feet landed on sandy soil. Alagos had heard that noise and turned to seek the source. The axe caught him full in the chest as he turned, crushing the bones and tearing open the cavity as the axe was pulled back. Narawen awakened when a foul hand covered her mouth; she saw her son fall and she struggled, biting the hand that covered her mouth and gouging at the eyes of her captor. The man had driven his dagger deep into her chest rather than allow her to make a sound, and she died grasping that knife. Tathiel had also turned at the soft noise, and felt a sharp blade at her neck and a hand over mouth. Eärundra and Tinánia were wakened roughly, and the three were quickly gagged, and then lifted up to the secret chamber. Their captors had grabbed all the packs and supplies in the cavern, and Tathiel, Tinánia and Eärundra carried their packs and bedrolls on their backs. They had been prodded unmercifully along without rest for the entire night.
She could not comprehend that Narawen was dead. Her queen, her friend, as close as a sister. She could not comprehend that Alagos was dead. She was there when he was born. She had helped to raise him; watched every accomplishment with pride. She pushed the images of dear friends from her mind. She could not grieve now.
She stroked Eärundra’s head absently. Surely their warriors were searching for them even now. She did not know exactly how, but she knew she needed to leave some sort of token. She would have to be sure she was not seen, for the threat was already made that Legolas would pay for her disobedience.
Tathiel studied the men during the short break. She counted nine, each armed with either axe, club or whip. They had spoken little amongst themselves; what words she had caught had been in a tongue foreign to her. Only the leader had spoken in the common tongue. It was obvious they were familiar with the hills, the many turns and twists of the paths taken unerringly. She wondered what these men wanted with them. She prayed she would be able to protect these little ones until help arrived. That help would come she did not question. Elves did not forsake their own.
The leader whistled softly and all the men rose to their feet, shouldering packs. Tathiel rose also, and helped the girls to their feet. The hoods of their cloaks were still up, and she whispered to them to keep them so, to keep their ears hidden. Tinánia shouldered her pack, and Tathiel gently eased Eärundra’s on to her back. The leader called another order in the language she did not understand, and they were again gagged.
“Keep the child quiet,” the leader commanded her in the common tongue.
They walked deep into the hills, not stopping until near dusk of that first day. The men set up camp, lighting a small fire for cooking. Tathiel sat apart with the children, the rock face of the hill sheltering them on one side. Tinánia and Eärundra sipped their water and ate a corner of lembas, falling asleep soon after, their eyes shuttered in exhaustion. Tathiel fed Legolas water and then put him to her breast again, hoping at least to comfort him. She fixed her dress that had been torn that morning. Then, exhausted, she too fell asleep.
For five more days they traveled to the east, climbing through the hills on some paths well worn and others difficult to follow. Their captors gagged them only occasionally; Tathiel once hearing a faint voice and another time the hoof beats of a horse although at neither time did she sense that the ones who passed by were elves. The captives were neither beaten nor abused by their captors after that first morning. The men stayed to themselves, the leader conversing with Tathiel only to give orders in the common tongue.
Legolas had begun to fuss and cry by the second day, and Tathiel had reluctantly dissolved a few crumbs of the waybread into water and fed that to him. Fortunately it seemed to agree with him and he was content for some long hours. She still put him to suckle every few hours, and late the fourth day she finally noted drops of milk. She supplemented the milk with the waybread for only a few more days until he began to nurse regularly. She marveled, that whether with the help of the herbs, the stimulation of suckling by the baby, or merely a blessing of the Valar, her body which had known no male and borne no child could yet furnish this little one with all he needed.
Her fear that she might lose this precious son of the queen gradually diminished. He was for the most part a content baby and she was thankful. She did not doubt that the hill men would have killed him had she cried out for help, or if he had cried overmuch. In him she held on to a bit of Narawen and Alagos. She loved him in his own right too; a love that was deepening evermore as she fed him of her body. Yet she wanted nothing more than to return all three of these little ones home and into the loving arms of their parents.
Tinánia and Eärundra had spoken little in those first five days. Eärundra’s wound had healed within a day, but the shock of the experience in the cave had rendered her nearly speechless. Several times at night she had awakened in bad dreams, calling for her mother, and Tathiel slept little that she might respond immediately to calm and comfort her. Tinánia spoke no words, but her eyes missed little. Tathiel noted her watching the men, where each one was and what they were doing at all times. She looked up often at the position of the sun, moon and stars; and Tathiel smiled as she saw the child scuffing rocks together in what looked like boredom but was actually a rune for others to follow.
Tathiel had attempted to speak on two occasions to the leader, to find out who they were and what they wanted with her and children. Both times he had silenced her with a raise of the hand and a sharp look. She too had surreptitiously left small marks at their rest sites – bits of leaves that the lembas had been wrapped in; a small strip of cloth left fallen in the grass when she fashioned clean swaddling for Legolas. Even Eärundra had picked up the game and would disturb the ground and vegetation around her in small ways.
The morning of the sixth day the leader motioned that they again be gagged. They were kept in the middle of the line this time, with men all around them. After several hours they approached a small village. It had but a few thatched huts, and fewer inhabitants. Two of the men who had always led the group parted company, with a few small pieces of silver given them by the leader. Tathiel suspected they had been guides, and she memorized their faces in her mind.
The leader then led the group south, marching for several hours until a rest was called for the noon meal. This time when the leader came to remove the gag from her mouth, he brought food with him and sat down to speak with her.
“You will eat our food from now on,” he said in the common tongue. He gave her pieces of dried meat and fruit, and motioned that she should share this with the children.
“My name is Balak, son of Ban. My father is the head of our village.”
Tathiel had set Legolas to nurse beneath her cloak, and now chewed a small piece of meat the man had given her. She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye.
“What does Balak son of Ban want with me and my children?” she inquired neutrally.
“You will become part of the village,” Balak answered nonchalantly, pausing to eat another piece of the meat.
“We already belong to our own village,” Tathiel replied.
Balak stared at her. “You and these,” he said, motioning at the children, “now belong to our village.”
“I do not understand why you would wish that we become part of your village?” Tathiel argued. “We are not of your people. We wish to return to our own kind.”
“Our village is in need of women. Many we have lost to sickness. You have children already,” he pointed again to the children. “You will have more and our village will grow.”
He paused again, staring at her. “You are strong and fair. Your children have much stamina. Your seed will mix with our seed and our people will be hardier.”
“The first and second born do not mix in this way,” Tathiel replied, shock in her eyes. “It is a rare thing to do so and cannot be commanded or forced!”
Balak appeared confused by her comment, and finally waved his hand at her. “Who is to say which among us was born first?”
And Tathiel realized that he did indeed believe they were of the same race.
Balak finished his meal and stood to leave.
“I will not bind your mouths if you remain quiet. We have entered into lands long known to my fathers. Those who live here will not aid you. I will present you to my father in three days.”
Two days later they passed near the open mouth of a large cave. The ground in front of it was well trod, and paths led away from the opening in several directions. Balak nodded at several men he saw, but did not stop or speak to them. All eyes followed them; their stares boring into Tathiel’s back. They followed the southeast path, the trees finally obscuring the cave behind them. Balak stopped as he saw before him an old dwarf.
The dwarf was indeed quite old, his beard and hair snowy white and braided to his waist. He sat upon a flat rock smoking his pipe, watching them with keen interest. As Balak approached, the dwarf used his walking stick to help push himself to his feet and bowed slightly before the man.
“Balak son of Ban,” he greeted him solemnly.
‘Ain, son of Alon,” Balak returned the greeting.
Ain gestured to Tathiel and the children. “Did you go so far as the Greenwood to kidnap these of the first born?” he questioned, his voice gruff but his eyes dancing.
Balak appeared confused again. “What is this you call them? The first born? The woman used those same words earlier and I do not understand their meaning.”
The old dwarf threw back his head and laughed. The laughter dissolved into coughing, and the old man had to sip from his water skin before he could continue. He walked back towards Tathiel, but stopped before Tinánia, who was closer to his height. He reached to push the cloak from her head, but Tathiel grabbed the material and stopped him.
Ain laughed again. “So the she-elf is hiding this from you!” he said gleefully.
He twisted Tathiel’s wrist until her grasp broke from the cloth and pushed the cloak back from Tinánia’s face. He smoothed her hair back behind her ears, exposing the delicately pointed tips.
“They are elves, Balak! Have you never seen an elf?” Ain roared again.
Balak stepped before the child, and grasped her face in his hands, turning her head from side to side. Tinánia reddened slightly at the close inspection, but did not cry out or pull away. Balak did the same to Eärundra, and then approached Tathiel. He pushed the cloak from her head and examined her ears.
“Show me the baby,” he demanded.
Tathiel carefully unwrapped Legolas from her cloak and pulled the swaddling away from his head. The ear tips were less noticeable on one so young, but unmistakably pointed.
Balak took a step backward. Then, without warning, he drew back his hand and struck Tathiel across the face.
All heard the sound of hand striking flesh, and any of his men who had not been paying close attention to the conversation found themselves drawn to the incident unfolding before them. Tathiel’s head jerked from the force of his hand, but she did not stumble or cry out. A small trickle of blood ran from her lip. Balak raised his finger to her lips and wiped the drop of blood away. He stared at the blood on his finger, wondering how different she was from him, then returned his gaze to her.
“What does this mean?” he snarled at Ain.
Ain chuckled. “It means your father will not want them, nor should he. Elves are strange creatures, my friend. They are best left to their trees as they serve no other useful purpose.”
Balak growled. “I shall find a useful purpose,” he spat the words out. “I have not spent good silver to receive nothing for our labor.”
He glared again at Tathiel as Ain continued to grin.
“The men of the east might prize such as these for slaves,” Balak said slowly.
Ain just leaned upon his old stick and laughed merrily at the words as he turned and hobbled away.
Caro al can, tithen min = do not cry out, little ones