8. The Village of Ban
Balak himself was chagrined. What had he done? He had kidnapped elves. How was he to know they were elves? He had never seen one before. They were talked about in tales, but as if they were myth not real! He wondered if elves were as mighty of warriors as told in those tales; for if they were, his actions may have brought their wrath to his people. He suddenly feared them; even the she-elf and her children.
His mind wandered with what choices he had before him. He could let them go; surely they would find their way back to their people.
But they knew his name, knew who he was. Their warriors would come and kill him.
He could kill them. He looked at them, standing in the line, ready to march. He did not think he could slit the throats of children, be they elves or not. He did not want their blood on his hands.
He could sell them for slaves. This released him of their care and presence, and avoided the wrath of their people. His mind settled on this idea, for it seemed the most prudent to him.
Ban his father would be angry with him. Balak was the youngest son of his father. He had many skills but little hope for marriage. Even if he did marry, he would not be the one to carry on the family name or lead the village and their people. He had hoped that bringing women and children to the village would win the favor of his father and the council of elders. Their village had dwindled in numbers; and the tradition of adoption was a custom of their people from long ago. He felt suddenly that his actions may have done more to hurt their people than it ever could have helped.
Balak chose a favored campsite to stop for the night. They would reach the village of his people the next day, near mid-day. He tossed his bedroll as far from his elven captives as possible and laid himself out flat, staring through the canopy of leaves at the stars. If he were to change his course, he would need to decide it by morning. He could head farther south and then east. How far he would have to go to find those who would be interested in slaves he did not know. Yet, his father would find out about his actions. Hearing it from another than him would surely place him further in disfavor than going to his father and admitting his mistake. Ban would need to decide their fate. Balak felt suddenly relieved that his father would decide what was best to do. His decision made, he rolled to his side and went to sleep.
Tathiel settled the children into their bedrolls and set Legolas to nurse. He was becoming more attentive by the day, bright blue eyes sparkling as he focused more on the happenings around him. He was feeding well, and already she could measure his growth. Now as she lay down to rest, his tiny hand twisted into her hair, and he cuddled the strands to his face as he contentedly suckled at her breast.
Tathiel did not sleep that night. She felt a foreboding for the meeting with Ban, that the fate determined for them would take them farther yet from their woodland home and kin; and into dangers from which she could not protect these little ones. She fingered the small dagger that was tucked into her boot. Balak’s men had not searched them, supposing that females and children would not carry weapons. Rawien’s words weighed heavy upon her mind: ‘Narawen knows what she must do. You must know also, if she is unable.’ She had nodded she understood what she must do. Even now, in the predicament they were in, she did not know how she would know when she should do it, or how; and she did not know if she was capable. She stroked the silky hair of the infant in her arms, and kissed the tiny hand still entwined in her hair. Could she take his life?
Rawien had said that the Halls of Mandos were preferable to the endless torment in the den of an Orc. But these were not Orcs – they were men. Did the same decision still apply?
Should she end all of their lives as they slept, before she knew what the morrow would bring? What if the children were taken from her? She might be separated from them; leaving them to their own fate and have no other chance to do as she had been instructed she must. Tears flooded her eyes, and splashed gently from her cheeks to the head of the infant in her arms. Legolas let go of her breast and turned his face to hers. He cooed softly, his hand reaching to her face. His small fingers explored her eyes and nose and mouth with the sweet uncoordinated movements of the very young; his eyes sparkled and he smiled. Tathiel felt her heart melt as she watched his carefree movements.
“I think we will choose life, until there is no other option before us,” she murmured softly to him. “There is much for you to see and do in this life, little one, and many who await your homecoming. I will protect you as best I can and return you to your father as soon as I can; that is my promise to you and to Eärundra and Tinánia too.
Tathiel cuddled him close again, softly singing a lullaby, and waited for dawn to come.
The village of Ban was not much to behold. It’s proper name Tathiel never learned and she doubted it ever graced a map. A long stone house was the main building; smaller rock and thatched huts spread out around it. A small spring fed a creek that ran behind the stone house. Women and children were washing clothing and filling water jugs as they entered the village, and they quickly surrounded the arriving party. The return of Balak and his men was cause for excitement, and it seemed that every hut emptied to greet them as well. Tathiel and the children were cloaked, but their presence was immediately noted. Balak did not stop to speak to any of those that greeted him and pressed forward to the stone house. Balak motioned Tathiel to sit on a tree stump near the building and left several of the men to watch them. He then entered the building and the door closed behind him.
The villagers were curious about the strangers in their midst and several approached to peer at them more closely. Each time they were waved away by the guards. Voices were occasionally heard from within the building, rising and then falling again in intensity. As time pressed on Tathiel removed her pack, and motioned for Eärundra and Tinánia to do the same. She gave them a portion of lembas and water to drink while she fed Legolas. The villagers watched them from a distance; some leaving and then returning as one might watch an animal on display for entertainment, waiting to see what it would do next.
“Why do they watch us so?” Tathiel felt Eärundra’s warm breath on her cheek as she whispered in her ear.
Tathiel glanced up at the watchers. “They may seldom see anyone outside of those who live here. They are curious about us,” she answered softly.
The door to the stone house finally opened, and an older man with a striking resemblance to Balak approached the captives. Balak followed his father, his face slightly reddened but his head still held proudly. Tathiel rose as he approached, as did the children.
Tathiel did not know what an imposing figure she made as she stood, as she was taller than this old man. He did not like having to look up at her, and he did not like the proud look in her eyes. Ban was angry with his son for having wasted time and precious money on such an ill-considered idea instead of doing as he had been bidden. He had brought trouble to the village. Of this Ban was sure, for though he personally had little interaction with the elves, he knew of their skill in battle and he doubted not that the killing of two and abduction of four would enrage them.
In his heart Ban knew what he should do: set them free and perhaps even escort them to Laketown. Discipline his son or let the elves extract what satisfaction they wished.
Anger entered his heart instead, for in the courage it took for these she-elves to face him he saw arrogance. The fear that was hidden in their hearts he mistook for pride. Ban heard that elves were fair, strong and immortal; they suffered not from illness or old age; and they cared no longer for the troubles of others. He saw in his small village the ravages of hard winters and illness and death. Pity forsook him then, and his decision was made without the captives having any chance for a plea or request for mercy.
“Take them to Salo’s old hut and guard them there,” he said with eyes blazing. “I will find when the next caravans head east.”
With that grim pronouncement he turned his back and re-entered the stone house and closed the door.
The warriors of Mirkwood left the palace gates at dawn and followed the Forest River to Laketown. They followed the road north of the city, and headed upon the eastern trail they had taken only nine days earlier. The pace was hard, but not grueling. It was of no use to tire the horses so early into a journey of unknown duration.
The events of the prior week had heightened awareness of all in the party. Shadow had returned. They felt it strongly in the forest; and it intensified now again as they approached the site of the earlier Orc attack. Rawien halted the party a league from the rocks where Elryndel had fallen. Dusk was fast approaching; if the Orcs had returned to this den they could expect a nighttime attack. Camp was set at the top of a gently rolling hill. Laerion and Elunell took first watch as the others settled in for rest.
Elunell heard the unmistakable sounds of an approaching band of Orcs on the second watch. She alerted the camp with a low whistle, and all came to wakefulness immediately. Laerion and Sadron moved silently into defensive positions near the horses; the others spread out with weapons ready. Rawien moved near Elunell and watched the approach. His keen eyes detected nearly twenty-five attackers; most armed with swords and knife but at least several bows were present as well. Rawien motioned Meren and Bellion, the best distance shooters in the party, to the rise of the camp with permission to fire at will. Bellion released the first shot, taking down the first Orc in the pack. Meren quickly followed, picking off the one right behind him. The Orcs returned fire, and arrows flew in both directions.
Laerion and Sadron were soon in hand combat near the horses, and Rawien moved to assist them. Losing horses or supplies this early in the journey could severely hamper the success of their mission.
“Sadron, left!” Laerion called.
Sadron spun left, his knife cutting across the exposed neck of the approaching Orc. The Orc’s own longer sword slashed Sadron across the midriff as he collapsed, and Sadron fell to his knees. Laerion was to his back instantly, slashing through an attacker approaching Sadron from the rear. He saw another Orc raising his bow to fire upon Sadron at the same time, and then saw that Orc fall, neatly skewered by an Elf arrow from his right. Bellion had moved to a flank position with his bow and was firing nearly continuously at the Orcs as he gained clear shots; Meren had taken the other flank in a mirrored position. Laerion took down the remaining Orc near him and quickly scanned the horizon near him. He saw no more forthcoming, and turned his attention to the battle beyond him. Rawien and Galithon were firing at the few remaining Orcs as they fled back to their rock stronghold. Varandil was attending Lachthoniel, who had an arrow in the calf. Ethiwen and Elunell were approaching him. He turned his attention to Sadron.
“Sadron,” he dropped to his side.
Sadron was on his knees, his knife still in hand. Laerion took it from him and eased him to the ground. “You are supposed to move back when someone swings a sword at you,” he teased, bringing a small smile to Sadron’s face.
“I wish you had told me this before the battle,” he answered, his hands still covering the wound to his abdomen.
Ethiwen and Elunell set to help immediately, bringing blankets, bandages and clean water. Elunell examined the wound.
“It is not too deep,” she said at last. “I do not believe any organs are injured. We are going to clean this well and bandage it. How is the pain?”
“Present but tolerable,” Sadron admitted. “Just do not make me laugh. That hurts.”
Elunell smiled. This was Sadron’s first non-training injury. It was good he could maintain his sense of humor through it. She cleansed the wound, then bound it with Laerion helping Sadron to sit so she could wrap the clean linens around him.
Rawien and Galithon had returned from a brief chase towards the Orc den. Laerion sat on the ground with Sadron leaning against him as Elunell tied off the bandages.
“You are supposed to move away when someone swings a sword at you,” Galithon told Sadron helpfully.
“Do not make him laugh,” Laerion said as he laughed himself. “He has heard that lesson repeated once already.”
Rawien looked to Elunell, “How long?”
Elunell looked thoughtfully at Sadron. “One day,” she answered.
Rawien nodded and smiled encouragement to Sadron. “Rest, take something for the pain if you need it.”
Bellion and Meren were standing watch near Varandil as he attended Lachthoniel.
“Poisoned?” Rawien inquired.
“It appears clean,” Varandil replied, indicating the arrowhead and broken shaft on the ground.
Lachthoniel grinned up at him, “I can ride immediately.”
“I am sure you can. I think we will rest here the remainder of the night. I do not think any Orcs got away,” Rawien answered, “and any who did are not coming back here tonight.”
The injured tended, the others divided to clean up the area. Orc bodies were removed from the camp and piled a short distance away. Meren and Bellion walked around the battlefield, collecting arrows that might be reused or repaired. Laerion built up the fire and settled Sadron near it and Lachthoniel hobbled over that the two injured might keep each other company.
Galithon stood with Rawien, watching the moonrise.
“Where are your thoughts, my friend?” he finally asked.
Rawien was silent a few moments longer, before answering, “It was men who attacked those in the cave. I do not know that Orcs and shadow played a role. I am considering we have two enemies here; each with different purpose. Our immediate purpose is the return of the captives; but I sense the return of shadow will have far reaching consequences. In what way the two may intersect I do not know.”
“Let us hope that shadow does not prevent us from accomplishing our mission,” Galithon replied. “Battling Orcs across the plains will only slow us down and keep us from our purpose.”
When dawn came Sadron pronounced himself fit to ride. Varandil and Elunell examined the wound again and found it nearly closed, even the redness fading. “You heal fast, even for an elf,” Varandil said in surprise.
Sadron just smiled. “We have a job to do.”
Tathiel surveyed the inside of the hut silently. It had but one room, with a small table and two chairs and a dirty bed in the corner. Still, she supposed it might be better than sleeping outdoors. The nights were growing cool and it would offer some protection from the elements. She glanced out the small window. Their guard was seated outside near the door. He was not attentive and she felt he would likely fall into sleep. The hut was at least on the edge of the small village, affording them some privacy from prying eyes. The small creek ran just behind the hut, and a copse of woods stood on the other side of it.
Eärundra and Tinánia had carried their packs inside, and sat now on the two chairs, watching her patiently. This was as close to being alone as they had been since the night in the cave. Tathiel smiled at them, and then seated herself on the edge of the bed. She carefully removed her cloak and Legolas from the carrier she had fashioned. She changed his swaddling, and then looked at Tinánia.
“Will you hold him for me while I make up the bed?
Tinánia did not speak, but her eyes lit up and she held out her arms. Tathiel handed Legolas to her, positioning her arms and showing her the proper way to support his head. Eärundra moved quickly to her sister’s side as they looked enthralled upon the bright eyed cooing infant. He was awake and his eyes open, his little hand grabbing at strands of hair dangling in his face.
Tathiel spread their bedrolls over the dirty mattress, then took the water jugs near the door and opened the door. The guard jumped to his feet, but calmed when she held out the water jugs. He motioned her to the creek, where she quickly filled both large jugs. The hut had a small hearth, with some wood still piled near the door. She built a small fire, then heated water. She washed Legolas first, then helped Eärundra and Tinánia clean themselves and wash their hair. She bathed herself last, before tackling the clothes they had been traveling in. All of their packs had been dumped in the hut too, and in one of the spare ones she found relatively clean clothing for them to wear. Never had a bath and fresh clothing been more welcome. She hung their clothing to dry over the backs of the chairs and over the table. Tinánia and Eärundra sat on the bed with the baby, and she joined them. Now, in the privacy of the hut, two young elleth were finally able to ask their questions and share their fears and hopes for rescue; and their grief for they now knew death. Tathiel told them of the Halls of Mandos and how Manwë would keep Queen Narawen and Prince Alagos and Elryndel until they were healed of any hurts, and someday when they all went to Valinor they would see them again. She told them even now she was sure that the warriors of Mirkwood were searching for them, and their parents would be waiting for them to come home. She asked them to continue to be brave, for they had already been as brave as any elf could be, and to help her with baby Legolas, that this little prince might someday meet his father the King, who did not yet know him. With those reassurances and assignments, two tithen elleth fell into sound sleep and did not wake until morning.
Tathiel watched them drift into sound sleep and then turned her face to the window. The stars shone bright in the night sky, the same stars that she watched from the canopy of the forest. She hoped direction would come to her, what to do. She could survive in the wild, for a time, and then make her way home if they could but escape. The hut faced to the south. She wanted to go west – away from the stream and the woods behind her. She could head south into the lower hill country and then turn west. She would hope that help would be coming from that direction. With her thoughts set upon this hope, she too drifted into elvish dreams.
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.