9. The Hunt
“There are nine men, one elf and two elflings, and one pack horse unridden,” Galithon summarized after some time. “They moved at a good pace for some hours. No others but one have been this way, nor has rain fallen since.”
They continued for several hours, stopping at dusk for their own camp. Galithon inspected the site carefully, pocketing several items of interest. Once he deemed the site cleared, the elves began to set up their own camp.
Galithon approached Rawien as he tended the fire. He sat down beside him, and opened his hand. A tiny scrap of linen and a piece of broken leaf lay in his palm. Rawien looked carefully at the pieces.
“A piece of cloth likely used for swaddling an infant and a leaf in which was wrapped waybread,” he said softly. “Tathiel is leaving us tokens to follow.”
Galithon smiled. “Would you expect any less?”
“No. She is wise. She will weigh the risk of leaving us tokens against the harm that might occur to them,” Rawien replied. Inwardly, he smiled. He had very high expectations.
It was during the last watch of the night that Bellion roused the camp.
“Orcs,” he hissed quietly. “Not many; maybe ten, approaching from the east.”
The elves remained silent, and on guard. The Orcs stumbled upon them quite by accident. Too dark for arrows in the shadows of the hills and trees, they were defeated in hand combat quickly. The elves took no injuries except for a few bruises and scrapes which Varandil tended.
The elves resumed their tracking at first light, finding the tokens easily in the daylight.
“Here Tinánia left a scraping in the rock; they are nine captors and four captives,” Ethiwen called.
At the next campsite, “They are uninjured and the baby is well!”
On the fourth day of their tracking they came to the tattered huts of a small village of hill-men. Galithon noted that here the other one tracking them had ceased to follow. Rawien and Galithon approached the village, while the others remained hidden in the hills, bows drawn. A man came to meet them and they conversed in sign language and some semblance of the common tongue. It was here the elves learned that two had been guides and been paid for their time. The man denied the two who acted as guides were in the village, but out hunting.
Hidden in the brush, Laerion and Bellion watched the hills around them. With keen elven eyesight, they noted movement to the north of the village. Two men were approaching the village, concealing themselves in the brush and moving stealthily forward. Galithon and Rawien both noted the movement and positioned themselves so the man to whom they were speaking was between them and the approaching men. The man indicated he had nothing more to say, and turned to walk away. Rawien called to him, asking who the men were approaching them, and why they hid themselves? Bellion say the glint of the blade first, and loosed an arrow that took down the man holding it. Laerion’s arrow took down the second.
The village man stopped in his tracks, and slowly raised his hands, indicating he had no weapon. Meren and Ethiwen relieved Bellion and Laerion, who joined the others at the village. They searched the tattered huts, finding only a few women and children. Sadron and Elunell retrieved the bodies and brought them to the huts. One of the women fell to her knees, wailing in lament for the dead man who was apparently her husband. She raised angry eyes to the elves, but could not meet the calm stares that were returned.
“The men who hired these two,” Rawien pointed to the dead men, “when did they depart? Where is their village? You will answer these questions.”
The man was shaking in fear. Never had he seen an elf, and the intensity of the looks given to him aroused fear and shame in his heart. He told them all he knew, which was little. The leader thought he was stealthier than he really was. They knew his people to be to the east near the ore mines and his name was Balak. The man confirmed the captive elves were uninjured and they had an infant with them.
When they judged the man had told them all he knew, the elves departed. The women and children were dirty and ragged, and the elves pitied them. But the dead men had faced a just penalty for their crimes and they felt no remorse for their end.
“Even so I pity them,” Galithon said as they departed, “for there are at least some amongst them who are innocent and will suffer when winter comes and there is no hunter to bring home the kill.”
Ethiwen was tougher minded in her defense, “Pity them, yes, but I would expend all my energy in knowing that our own do not suffer hunger and privation this winter.”
The elves departed to the east, easily resuming the tracks and gaining steadily on the ones who preceded them.
Tathiel was awakened on the third morning in the hut by the sounds of someone opening the door. She quickly was to her feet, placing herself between the door and the bed where the children lay sleeping. She recognized the old man as Ban, the father of Balak. He had not spoken to them since he had pronounced his doom upon them two days earlier. They had been kept in the hut, away from prying eyes. The guards had brought them water, dried meats and fruits daily; this had been their only contact with the village.
Ban stared at her in the darkness, no emotion evident in his face. He had hardened his heart to the fate he had doomed them. He motioned her to sit. He disliked having to look up to a female.
Tathiel sat, her gaze still focusing unflinchingly upon the man before her. Ban hoped to intimidate her with his own glare, but found instead that he could not meet her eyes for long. This angered him more; but though he could not intimidate her with his presence, he still had the power of life and death, freedom or slavery, over her and her children.
“Pack your things,” Ban finally said. “My foolish son and his men will lead you to the south and east. You will join a caravan to the east, far from here.”
Tathiel started to speak, to argue with this man, but he raised his hand to her and pointed to the baby on the bed, “Any argument, any attempts to escape and I will crush his skull upon the rocks.”
A flood of emotions ran through Tathiel: anger, defiance, fear and finally acquiescence, for she knew she could not defend all the children should Ban or the others attempt to harm them. She lowered her gaze from him and rose, placing the children’s clothing into their packs.
Ban felt powerful, yet foolish. He had threatened a mother with the death of her son, and she had bowed to him. Yet she was a powerful elf, and he enjoyed making the powerful feel powerless – even if his tactics were underhanded.
“Balak will come for you,” he said as he rose and stalked out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
Tathiel breathed deeply and closed her eyes, calming her racing heart and slowing her breathing. She beckoned the children, awakened by Ban’s outburst, bidding them to dress and eat quickly as they would be leaving soon. She packed their packs carefully – including all the blankets from the extra packs; the warmest of the clothing; extra cloth for swaddling; cooking utensils and flint; lembas and daggers – until she had sorted the most important items into the packs the three of them would carry. She packed the extra packs as well, in the hope they would be brought with also. She had just finished when Balak came for them. Tathiel placed Legolas in the carrier and fastened it snugly to her chest, then put on her cloak and pack. She helped Eärundra and Tinánia do the same. She saw fear in their eyes, and she spoke softly to them, “na ber ad, tithen min” as they left the small hut and headed again into the hills.
They traveled in the same fashion as before. Balak led the group; Tathiel and the children were near the back of the line with a guard behind them at all times. Balak did not speak to them, nor did any of the men. They had short rest stops when Tathiel could care for the infant and the children ate of their waybread. They traveled on roads well worn, with a horse and small cart this time. Tathiel was unsure of the purpose of the cart, but their extra packs had been tossed in it and for this she was grateful. They had been two days down this road when Balak motioned for a rest stop. He conversed briefly with his men, then left with one of them. They stayed at this spot for the afternoon, and when he did not return by dusk, the men made camp. No words were spoken to Tathiel. She sat with the children, Tinánia holding Legolas as she and her sister spoke softly and played baby games with him. Tathiel watched the men. They were now only four, with two sleeping. They did not seem perturbed by the length of time Balak and the other had been gone, so she assumed that things were moving according to his plan. As had become her wont, she laid escape plans for the situation they were in. She considered what she could carry, how fast they four of them could move; what weapons they had and what the motivation would be of their captors to reclaim or kill them. She also considered what she might do to harm or slow those that might pursue them. Thus far she felt their odds of success far too low to even consider such an attempt. But in this moment, when the number of captors was reduced to four and Balak as leader away from the camp, she saw the highest probability of success.
Tathiel took her herb chest from her pack, and withdrew some crushed root of valeria. She made some slight noise then, rousing the guard nearest to her. She motioned to the water they had heating on the fire, and he brought it to her. She had on several other occasions asked for hot water when they had it, and brewed it into a tea; no suspicion was raised by doing so this night. She poured herself the water; and in doing so slipped the root into the pot of water. The guard placed the pot back on the rocks near their fire.
Tathiel watched them all closely as the night wore on. She prepared the children to sleep, but bade Tinánia and Eärundra to silence but to stay awake. The men used the water to make their own hot drinks, and within a short time all four were soundly sleeping. Tathiel made a slight noise and no movement occurred. Breathing in a deep breath, she decided now was the time and she gently beckoned Tinánia and Eärundra to rise. She helped them slip their packs on, then tied Legolas’ sling around Tinánia until he was snug. She caressed him silently hoping he would make no noise, and to her relief he continued to sleep soundly. Tathiel slipped soundlessly to the cart, and grabbed the extra packs. She loosened the stake to which the horse was tied, and hung the packs over his sides. She motioned the children to her side, and silently left the camp, heading west and south. As soon as she was out of earshot of the camp, she lifted all three children to the back of the horse and quickened their pace.
Balak returned to camp at dawn, traders from the east in hand. It had taken some negotiation on his part to convince them to come see those he had to trade as slaves, for the eastern men were in disbelief as to the value of such slaves as three children and their mother.
He noticed first that all his men were soundly sleeping, and he kicked the first he saw. As that man roused slowly, he looked quickly around the camp. His elves were gone. The horse was gone. A low growl escaped him as he kicked each of the men awake.
“Where are they?” he demanded of the one he had left responsible.
The man was too sluggish to respond, and merely looked helplessly at Balak and the eastern men behind him. Balak felt the sharp blade at his throat and stopped, silent.
“What is this?” said the eastern man, slowly pressing the tip into Balak’s throat. “You have deceived us, my friend. Do not promise and then fail to deliver. It is a costly error.”
Balak sputtered, the pressure on his throat too great for him to speak. The eastern man motioned for his men to search the camp. They did so, finding no goods and no slaves as Balak had promised.
“You pay for your deceit with your life, son of Ban,” the man whispered in his ear as he slit Balak’s throat.
Balak gasped, and sagged to the ground as his life’s blood drained from him. As he drifted to death he realized his men had paid the price as well. The elf had beaten him after all.
na ber ad, tithen min ----- be brave again, little ones
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.