Ouch. My back hurt. And my ... no matter.
I hate riding.
I seldom do it, only when it is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately that means that I lack training when it comes to it.
We had paid the Lord and Lady of Lorien a visit. A hundred years after Amroth and Nimrodel were lost they had officially taken over the government of the Golden Wood and some negotiations had to be done. And though I didn't like to journey, very least on horses, I had to accompany my Lord to support him in this.
Finally we had ended the visit and were now on the path northwards to the High Pass. Elrond had told Glorfindel to look for Lady Celebrian and so did the twins.
I already feared the return. What would the study look like, missing Elrond and me for over three weeks?
Cursed. My poor ass was really sore.
I looked around, bored, and occupied myself with mental arithmetic. Our escort was less than little entertaining, being only two sentinels, Valui and Feadaeron, riding before us and the swordsmaster Rannon a hundred meters ahead to look out for danger.
We rode through a forest of small fir and pine. The horses trotted irregularly over roots and fallen branches. Heavy clouds stroked past the mountain range northwards, it was raining slightly.
I sighed and tried to find a more comfortable position on my horse, but it was useless. Suddenly the poor animal loaded with me raised its head quickly and listened. The two sentinels did likewise.
My survival senses shoot up to fully alert status. Something was amiss...
I didn't need to wait long to see my assumption fulfilled.
"Down!" shrieked Valui, and in the same moment there were several hisses of bowstrings and clangs of crossbows.
Our horses bolted, whinnying in terror. I quickly jumped off before my mount ran away with me and produced my double knives. Elrond half fell off his horse, trying to pull it down with him but the creature panicked and reared and just when it wanted to run away it was hit by several arrows and went down with a horrible death scream.
I crouched down and my eyes tried to make out our enemies. Elrond drew his sword but ducked low when another wave of bolts and arrows hissed through the forest. Valui, struggling with his horse, screamed and was reared off before his horse ran away, then with a roar of rage orcs broke out from the thicket.
I took a deep breath and sprang up, both knives ready, to welcome the first coming too near me. My Lord fought, too, and so did Feadaeron, but from the corner of my eye I saw how the sentinel fell under fierce strikes of a big battle-orc. More and more came rushing towards us, and my Lord was encircled. With a scream I brought down one orc from behind and slaughtered my way to my Lord, dodging strikes and killing precisely, like I had learned many hundred years ago.
Elrond was fighting with a huge Uruk while other orcs were pressing on him from the sides. I slit ones' throat and knocked the other one down, jumping on his face afterwards whilst my knives were already on the Uruk. But my Lord was quicker; he decapitated him before my death stroke, one from atop, one from below, fell.
I turned, black robes flying, and stood with Elrond back to back. Three more orcs were left and attacking us, but together we managed them, though I felt my Lord wince at times. My sensitive ears made out the sound of a crossbow from the right.
When we had the last orc down I immediately bolted for the thicket, hiding. Elrond was dumbfounded.
"Quickly! Hide!" I screamed and just when he began to move I heard the crossbow again. Elrond stumbled and fell into the thicket behind a tree.
I gazed out for the hidden shooter, but he wisely stayed silent now.
Heaving with shock and adrenaline, I shook off my robes. I threw them away from me and the crossbow went again, a bolt going through the black velvet. Immediately I shot out of my hiding spot and to the point where I believed the shooter was. Behind a tree I found the small orc, recharging his crossbow. My knives went through his throat before he knew I was there.
I tried to calm down my raging heart and robbed back to Elrond.
Big grey eyes looked up at me, totally shocked.
"Come on! We have to get out of here! Are you hurt?", I asked. He shook his head. "Not gravely."
I rose, survival instincts taking over. Two horses were dead on the floor and two elves, as I guessed.
"Stay here hidden, I look around for outposts and Rannon!", I hissed and left Elrond to himself.
Elrond blinked when he saw Erestor rushing away and soon disappearing in the undergrowth. Slowly his brain cleared from the fog of shock and fight rush. He pulled himself up and looked around. Such a fine, calm, beautiful path it had been and now it was covered with blood and bodies!
Elrond hobbled to Valui. The elf lay with his face down in the mud, his body pierced by several arrows. Elrond didn't need to turn him over to see he was dead.
Quickly he searched for Feadaeron, finding him in between killed orcs. Blood was coming out of his mouth and nose with every breath. His chest was split. Tears stung in Elrond's eyes when he pulled the elf up and bedded his head in his lap.
Feadaeron smiled up at him courageously. "Must... leave... my Lord... secure... yourself..." he managed to bring out. Elrond nodded and stroked Feadaeron's cheek lovingly. "I will. You saved us. May the gardens of Valinor be open to you."
Feadaeron took a deep, shaky breath. His hand cramped around Elrond's. The Half-elf stayed with him until his heartbeat stopped.
Miserable, the Lord cried over the dead elf.
The rain was falling heavier.
I slid through the thicket silently. The leaves, brushing against me, were wet and soon I was, too. I blocked out the pain I felt in several parts of my body and concentrated on my task. Reading the traces of the orcs I found that there had not been many more than the around twenty that had attacked us, but I had the feeling something was fleeing before me.
Only a hundred meters away from the battlefield I found Rannon - in two pieces. His horse was gone.
I lost no time with searching for it but followed the quite rustle before me, all senses glued to it with one single thought: Kill the orc.
Elrond threw back his head and took a deep breath. Raindrops fell an on his face, mingling with his tears.
Panting, he carried Feadaeron a little away and bedded his dead body in ferns. Then he picked up Valui and placed him beside his friend. The lithe elf seemed very heavy to him. Looking over the battlefield, he saw two dead horses, his and Valui's, and began searching their saddlebags. Again and again his head snapped up and he harked for several minutes when he had caught a sound. But nothing moved around him.
He felt very weak. The sudden ambush was a total shock. It had been twenty-two years since Mithrandir had gone to Dol Guldur and chased the shadow away. Since then not much had happened concerning orcs around in this landscape and then this sudden attack! They had never expected such and therefore his escort had been pretty weak - incautiously weak. Now probably three elves had lost their lives for his carelessness!
Feeling miserable and guilty, Elrond hobbled away from the battlefield and crouched down between ferns. He was shivering with cold and fear. Where was Erestor? A cold fist grabbed his heart when he imagined his chief advisor had run into another pack of orcs. Then he was all alone here and had lost four elves, one very dear to him!
He tried to rise and stumbled down the direction Erestor had disappeared to.
Quicker, quicker, and silent.
A swift shadow was rushing below the leaves.
Death personified, as I promised the orc before me.
I was slowly coming nearer. The little beast was surprisingly quick, probably one of the lighter Moria orcs, often used as scouts.
He knew I was behind him and ran for his life.
You won't get away with it.
Branches and thorns slit my naked upper arms, but I was heedless of it. I had learned to block out everything for one single purpose.
I was drawing nearer. Now I already heard the little beast pant. It dodged and went sideways, but I stayed behind it, coming closer and closer...
One, two, three wide jumps and I reached it. It squealed and turned, its scimitar drawn, but I avoided the blow and thrust my right knife into the brains from the jaw and used the left to shield myself.
The pitiful greenish orc fell to the floor, limp.
I searched it but found nothing of importance.
Putting one knife away, I took a stick up and used it to protect myself from the low hanging branches and immediately began the way back. I had left Elrond there, not even knowing if he was dangerously hurt! And with our fast flight I had unintentionally brought much distance between us.
"Erestor?" Elrond looked around helplessly. The heavy rain clouds kept away the light of the afternoon and under the treetops it was dim. "Erestor!?" Elrond coughed. He felt horribly cold and still he sweated. His leg hurt, where the bolt of the crossbow had grazed him. It was becoming limb and icy cold.
"I have to get further. I have to find Erestor. Erestor!"
Forcing himself to go further, Elrond didn't even realise that he was only getting a few meters ahead in the minute. His mind was enclosed in the prison of toxic.
A little breathless for lack of training I reached the battlefield. I looked around. "Elrond?"
Nothing moved. The two bodies were gone.
"Elrond?" I searched around carefully and tried to read the tracks, but it was difficult for the orcs had trampled down everything around. "Elrond?" I was becoming a little panicked. Where was he? I had told him to stay and hide, but why didn't he answer?
Had another pack of orcs come and taken the bodies away - and the Half-elf? O horror!
But no, when I looked at it closely that seemed unlikely. Nothing had changed but for the disappearance of the bodies.
"Elrond?" I went in a circle around the battle field, looking for a trace, but it was useless. The rain made the moss and grass on the forest's floor stand up quickly and a wide strip of ground was trampled by the orcs.
"Elrond?!" I shouted, heedless of possible other enemies to hear me. I listened closely, but there was no other sound than the rustling of leaves and falling of rain. Taking a deep breath to calm down my rising panic, I picked up my robe to shield me against the rain and branches and went to search my Lord.
I had to run around the battlefield in wider growing circles. At one point I found Feadaeron and Valui, neatly bedded in ferns. That looked like Elrond's work. He had wanted to safe the bodies from possible followers and free them from the disgusting presence of the orc cadavers. But where was he?
"Elrond!" I called, "Elrond, please, where are you?"
Elrond slumped down to the floor. His body shook, otherwise he was unable to move. All his strength he needed for breathing. In, out, in out...
The poison in his veins made him feel horribly cold and his mind was foggy with panic for he had no control over his body. It was numb and stiff. He felt entrapped in it. That was it now?
He would die somewhere in the forest, all alone, his body eaten by wolfs at night?
He no longer was able to think. All he could be concerned for was breathing. It suddenly had become the most difficult task of the world.
"Elrond! Eeeelrond! Dear Valar, give me a hint, where is he?!"
Since he obviously didn't answer me if he was around at all I had to search every square meter, roaming through the bushes and always afraid to find my Lord dead somewhere.
"Elrond, please answer me!"
For a whole hour I searched in vain, now already going around a mile away from the battlefield - still no sign of my Lord.
My mind wanted to panic, the scholar in me already mad with fear, but the spy kept quiet and focussed on his task: Search until you find him. About the rest you will think then.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale...
Everything limp and cold.
What was then? No control... so tired... still longed so much... to follow him...
It would be so easy...
A sound. Someone was scattering past him, quite far away still.
"Elrond! Elrond, where are you?"
A faint voice. It could still talk. It had control over his body. Unlike him.
I said inhale!
I was becoming frantic and ran, rushing through the bushes and ferns, looking for a body on the floor.
I found one - but good fortune it was only a horse. Taking only a short look at it I found it was Rannons horse which had fled with several arrows in it but finally had died anyway. Elrond was nowhere near.
Inhale! Yes, finally, it had worked.
How difficult breathing was.
The person - probably... what was his name...
Had moved away again without finding him.
Tears ran down my cheeks. How long would I run around here, searching? Until I reached Imladris when my circles had grown wide enough? If the orcs had taken Elrond away! I would never find him and either go back to Imladris as the only one surviving the visit to Lorien or go mad searching for Elrond.
How much time had passed?
It seemed like hours.
He had managed to breathe in several times!
How did it work again?
There, sounds again! This time nearer!
"Elrond, Elrond", murmured someone and it registered somewhere in the back of his mind that he was meant.
Very slowly he opened his mouth. But what then?
No! He wanted to scream! That was what he wanted! Erestor, here! I'm here!
But he failed.
My body function was reduced to running and looking. I was all legs and eyes - and tears. Forcing myself to shove thoughts about the future away I tried not to snap. Two hours had passed since the ambush and still I couldn't find Elrond.
But I refused to give up. I would only stop searching when night fell and my strength failed me.
Breathing was going a little easier he found. The dark fog in his brain was dissolving bit by bit.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Right, very good. Brave body, responding again.
"Erestor!" Elrond breathed quietly, nearly inaudible over the rain and rustling of leaves.
The sounds of someone moving through the thicket came nearer. The concern that it could be an orc struck Elrond, but he dismissed it. If it was an orc he would surely find him anyway, so he could also shout... if he managed...
Gazing around, I realised I had long forgotten to shout. Quickly I returned to it.
"Elrond? Please answer!"
Nothing. I dove into a thicket of young pine. The fine needles brushed my face and hair.
I stopped dead and listened. Had I heard something or was my panicked mind tricking me?
"Elrond? I'll wait now a little. Are you here?"
Waited... a little... he had to try again!
Total relief rushed my mind. He was answering! Immediately I followed his weak voice and soon stumbled over him. He lay in a bed of old pine needles, strangely contorted.
"Yes," he sighed but didn't move. I fell to my knees beside him and took his hand. His pulse was very slow and his skin icy cold. What had happened?
"What happened to you?"
"Poison... arrow... numb..."
"Dear! Why... no matter. Are you cold?"
"Yes... very cold..."
I quickly shed my robe, rolled Elrond over into a more comfortable side position and covered him tightly with my robes.
Rubbing his hands and cheeks, I tried to get the blood flow back. His skin was deathly pale.
"Where is the wound?", I asked, trying to be reasonable.
"Left... leg...", he breathed weakly, still not able to open his eyes.
When I rolled up his trousers and found the tiny scratch of the crossbow's bolt, it looked harmless, but the little blood loss hinted at its poison.
"Is there something I can do?"
I had nothing of use with me, not even a water bottle.
But Elrond weakly shook his head. "It's already over. The worst .. is behind me."
I took a very deep breath. Whilst I had been running around here he had been close to death!
Crouching down beside him, I rubbed his back. It was useless to try to warm him with my body since I was cold and wet myself.
Gradually his state improved. Finally he opened his eyes and I was seldom so relieved to see the stormy grey of them.
He smiled sadly and squeezed my hand weakly. "It's alright, I made it."
Carefully I helped him up and he rested, propped against a tree. Eventually he seemed to comprehend how it had come to this and his face darkened. Fearfully he looked at me. "Are they all dead?"
I had to nod. "Yes, they are all dead."
My Lord lowered his head and tears leaked down his cheeks.
"Hush!" I quickly embraced him. "Come now, let us pull ourselves together and march on. At least we have to reach Imladris."
Elrond managed to stand and wanted to give me my robe back, but I left it to him. He, half-human, needed it more than me.
We slowly went back to the battlefield, which was in fact not much more than one and a half mile away from the place where I had found him. But running in circles it had taken me so long to reach the spot.
Elrond was growing stronger with every step, the poison dissolving.
We paused when we reached the battlefield.
"Stay here, Elrond," I said, "Search the saddlebags for the things we will have to take with us. I found three dead horses. Only mine and Feadaerons' horse escaped, though I believe mine was hit by at least one arrow. They have bolted away in different directions and I'm afraid we won't be able to find them. I will go around this place once more to ensure we are not watched when we pack. Alright?"
"Yes. But hurry, Erestor. Do not stay away for so long."
"Quarter of an hour" I said and ran off.
Elrond stared at the vanishing black shadow in wonder. Erestor, his stiff chief advisor, who had been vastly uncomfortable on this whole trip, had suddenly turned into a self confident ranger!
He had to admit he gave into his reign gladly, now he was so weak and his mind still influenced by the poison. He was not sure if he could have made right decisions now!
But he kept Erestor's words in mind and searched the saddlebags. Trying to remember his war-training he picked out the things they would need on a journey as two rangers.
I found everything still. It seemed the scout I had killed was the only one who had managed to flee or there were at least no orc packs near which were strong enough to attack us. But still other scouts could report our misfortune to where-ever, perhaps Moria, and we could be persecuted soon.
Returning to the battlefield timely after a quarter of an hour, Elrond was already anxiously awaiting me.
"I'm not late."
"Indeed, but still I feared for you."
"It seems there is no orc around anymore. When I ran away the first time I followed a scout and killed it. I hope it was the only one!" Already searching the things Elrond had piled at a free spot, I found them good. "Do you have medicinal equipment with you?" I asked.
My Lord nodded. "I have a little emergency package here with the very most important things and a bigger package is this." He gestured for a flat black leather bag.
"I believe we should take that with us." Controlling the other things, I found nearly everything I counted as important, and some things I would leave behind.
"Dry clothes, two blankets, water skins, lembas, miruvor, tinderbox, weapons. This is Feadaerons bow?"
Elrond nodded and picked it up. "It was a good bow. But I am a bad shooter. I don't think I can use it." He tried the bow and it made a loud sound when he let the string go. Elrond shook his head. "I believe this has no use."
"Neither do I. The bow is damaged." I took it from him and examined it. There was a nick in it, seemingly from a scimiatre's blow. Therefore the strange sound.
"It's useless." I picked up the other bow, belonging to Valui. It was a smaller, less expensive one and seemingly unharmed. But I was a bad shooter, too, and didn't believe I would use it anyway. "Do you want to take it?"
Elrond shrugged. "You can't shoot either?"
My Lord took the bow and arrows. "You should find yourself armor, Erestor. I have placed Valui and Feadaeron aside, over there."
"I have found them when I searched for you, yes. What about you?"
"I am lightly armed. And of the armor they wear - nothing will fit me."
I searched around a bit and found some more items I wanted to take with us. "We should hurry," I said while packing a rope and a pot to our equipment.
Elrond nodded sadly. "But I want to bury the two!"
Sighing, I smiled sadly. "Of course. But quickly. Is this everything we need?"
We checked on our packs one last time. We had to keep it light, for we had to travel by foot, quickly and over the mountains. We shortly pondered going back into the direction of Lorien, but dismissed the thought. The way was longer and nobody would await us there. From Imladris there would perhaps come troops to search for us when we came so late. We carried the most worthy things over to where Valui and Feadaeron lay and hid them under branches. I felt miserable, searching them for fitting armor, and only took Valui's chain mail. Elrond and I both exchanged our wetted and bloody clothes for fresh clothes from the saddle bags.
I changed with my back away from Elrond since I felt I had a nasty cut on my right shoulder but didn't want him to pamper over it now. Dawn was quickly coming and we had to leave as quickly as possible.
Searching for a spot where we could fast dig a hole we chose a place where the ground was soft and without roots. With orcish weapons we dug hastily. Elrond would have dug longer, but I urged him on.
"Dusk is coming, Elrond, we can't linger! We have to be at least ten miles away from here when we rest, better more!"
With tears in his eyes he gave in. We fetched the two dead companions and bedded them in their wet grave. Elrond said a prayer and cried when we buried the two relatively young sentinels side by side. I couldn't even allow him to rest a bit by the grave but urged him to stand up. We shouldered our packs and set into motion. When we came past the battlefield, I picked up an orcish crossbow and a pack of bolts. Elrond eyed me irritated. "I can handle this better than bows" I said.
Elrond followed me trustingly when I chose the way. "Where is Rannon?" he asked when we went away from the battlefield.
"Not far from here" I said.
"I want to bury him, too."
Suppressing a sigh, I nodded. I never meant offence and I had liked Rannon, too, very much indeed. But at the moment my survival senses told me to hurry. "He doesn't look pretty" I explained. Elrond took a deep breath.
I led him to the place where I had found the swordsmaster. Elrond gulped and turned away when his gaze fell on the body. It was lying in a pool of blood, several deep cuts on him, and the head was lying some feet away. I wished I had placed it back where it belonged, but I had been too much in a hurry to do so. Now we stood here, with the urgent need to run away but the desire to bury the dear friend. Finally I overcame my disgust and picked up the head, trying not to look at the slashed face. Elrond took the body and we carried him away until we found a hollow in the ground where we buried the courageous swordsmaster. I realised Elrond's hands were shaking and he cried again. Rannon had been a strong and loved character of the Last Homely House. He would be missed much. When we had covered the abused body with earth, we rose and prayed for him. My heart raced. Dusk was coming. The sun probably already set behind the thick clouds and we had to get away and build a shelter for the night. I was very sorry to disturb Elrond in his musing, but I had no choice. "Come."
With a last sob he turned away from the grave, straightened his composure and nodded. "Let's go. You are right. We have to return to Imladris alive. I don't know what the twins and Arwen would do..." He left the sentence unfinished.
We marched on northwards, leaving the horrible place.
There was still a light rain falling and it was quickly becoming darker. Elrond went right behind me and I felt he was relying on me. I feared the responsibility a bit but knew there was no other way. Of the two of us I was the one with the better senses, my eyes sharper, the ears keener, even the nose more sensitive to the smell of the orcs. Leading the way I rushed on with the quickest speed possible and only allowed us rest when we reached a brook three miles away from the battlefield. There was not more than a light shimmer of dusk between the pines. "Fire?" I asked.
"We need it. I believe you hide a wound from me, Erestor, and I want to tend to it. My own wounds need care, too."
"Of course." We put down our packs at the riverbank and I lit a very small fire in a group of bushes which would hopefully hide the light. "I want to see that wound now," insisted Elrond.
"You have sharper eyes than I have expected," I said when I put my cloak away and peeled myself out of the chain mail. "Or I have become more whiny."
"Not at all!!!" he roared when he saw the gash on my back. "Erestor..."
He lowered his voice. "My dear Chief Advisor. This should have been stitched up hours before!"
"There was no time for it. Neither have we time to argue now."
Elrond gave in, sighing. He tested the water and wrinkled his nose. "It is not really clean. I don't want to use it." Pulling the pot out of my pack, I put it on the fire. Elrond smiled. "It looks a bit as if you had more ranger experience than I."
Good luck it was a rhetorical question, he standing up and filling the water bottles. "I have", I thought for myself but never spoke out loud. "Much more in fact." But Elrond never knew that. I had come to Imladris a few years after the Battle of the Last Alliance as a secretary, never telling where I had come from, how old I was or where I had lived before. He never pressed me into it and I was thankful for it, since I wanted to leave my life as a spy fully behind. Now it had overtaken me again, as it seemed, graciously, since it had perhaps saved both our lives.
Filling water into the pot, we waited until it had cooked and cooled again. Out of the urgent need to be clean, being covered with blood, sweat and filth after the fight, I undressed completely and stepped into the brook. Though it's waters were muddy, I was still cleaner than before when I came out again.
I had spared the wound on my back and now Elrond washed it with the cooked water. "I have to reopen it to stitch it up correctly," he explained sorrowfully, "Or it will close up much too wide."
I nodded. "Do what is needed."
Biting my lip, I endured the treatment. Elrond was very tender and careful and in the end I found it was not that bad. I felt much better when the wound was clean and stitched up. "What about you?" I asked when he had bandaged it.
"I have some lesser cuts," he explained and undressed to examine himself.
"Can you tend to yourself?" I asked. He nodded.
"Then I will go and walk around this place to make sure no-one is behind us."
"That would make me feel better, too."
When I had put on my armor and clothes again, I slid out into the coming night like a shadow.
I found nothing hinting at pursuit, everything was calm and cosy. Very well. Returning to our little camp I found Elrond awkwardly stitching a wound on his right flank he could hardly reach by himself. His head snapped up when I came nearer and his hand enclosed the sword's hilt. "It's me!" I called and sat down.
He sighed. "Dear Valar, you can sneak!"
"Can I help you with that?"
I washed my hands, disinfected my fingers and took over the needle. Elrond held perfectly still when I stitched the dirty gash. I only hoped it would not get inflamed. Though only half-human, Elrond was not immune against illness. I couldn't use a feverish, infected Elrond here now! It seemed he thought the same and took the bottle with miruvor I offered him without reprimand. We ate some lembas, but then I began packing again.
"Go further?" asked Elrond.
"Yes, please. I would like to hide our track better. We could walk in the brook for a while to make our smell harder to pursue." I knew the moria orcs had very keen noses.
Elrond sighed and stood up. "You're right, we should hide MY smell."
Poor dear Lord, he really had complexes at times. Well, he was right, elves didn't smell but he did. But I never said that.
Extinguishing the fire completely, we tried to erase our traces, took off our boots and stepped into the brook. I led the way upwards and marched on until I remembered the fact that Elrond was indeed susceptible to illness, especially now that he was weak and wounded. "You should have said that you're cold!" I scorned and climbed out of the water. "It's no use to die of pneumonia to get away from the orcs."
"It is," he murmured, "For then only I would die and you would live."
"Pah. What use do I have without you?"
Feeling I should make up for my thoughtlessness, I began running. We ran until we were a little warmer again, but it was difficult. We both had become stay-at-homes in the last centuries and were vastly out of training. The packs were heavy on us and our clothes wet again with the constant light rain.
"I can't see anything," Elrond informed me when he accidentally ran into me. "I follow you by sound."
"Oh. Well, I can still make out some things. But not much either. Let us make some more speed. I'm looking for a camp and when I find one, we halt."
My Lord was pretty exhausted and I hurried to find us a camp for the night.
I guessed we had only put a distance of eight miles between us and the battlefield when I finally halted, but there was no use in going further. I couldn't ask that of my half-elven Lord, who was still suffering from the poison, too. Picking a wide thicket of hazel under the roof of fir I dove into it. Elrond followed. Amidst the bushes I began to weave something like a roof out of the flexible sprouts. Then I shook off my robe and spread it over the fragile roof timbering as a tent. Elrond spread out his robe under it, we placed our weapons ready, unfolded our blankets and lay down in our cosy bed.
"No nightwatch?" asked Elrond.
"Who should? We both have to sleep. And I believe I hear someone approaching us in sleep, too. You can sleep calmly, Elrond, concentrate on resting and healing."
My Lord sighed.
I sharpened my ears for all sounds of pursuit and waited. But Elrond didn't fall asleep. I heard him yawn often and he tossed and turned. Stretching out my hand I felt he was cold. Without a word I drew nearer, threw my blanket over him too and pressed my warm body against him. Elrond stilled. "Am I not stealing you strength?" he asked insecurely.
"No, by all Valar! We are only on our way without proper supply for a few hours. I'm far from being exhausted."
He sighed again and was still. After half an hour it seemed to me that he slept.
We both woke regularly, checking on our surroundings. It was useless to try to see something, it was completely dark, so we had to rely completely on our ears. Sometimes the wind shook the firs, roaring, and immediately our heads snapped up. But listening for a few minutes we found everything still. Not even many animals seemed to be near. Sometimes there was rustling of a small animal, weasels perhaps, but no orc.
I rose early in the morning, took my knives and went out. It had stayed satisfyingly dry in our improvised tent and I felt rested enough. Lurking through the thicket I searched for water and perhaps something to eat. I found a small brook, maybe it even was the same we had walked through yesterday, since its waters were similarly muddy. I was looking forward to reach the higher mountains, where clean water awaited us. But I was concerned for my Lord. Perhaps we should have taken the road back to Lorien after all - it would become pretty cold up around the pass. Since we originally went by horse we hadn't planned to stay at the higher altitudes for long, but by foot we would be forced to endure at least one night up there, though our clothing was not fitting for that. Already now I decided that I would take care for a proper night-camp in the colds for my Lord. I refilled the water skins and picked up some hazel nuts. Hey, it was late autumn and we practically sat amidst food!
Elrond stretched out and it struck him that he should not be able to do so easily, since there should be another elf beside him. Immediately he was wide awake, gazing out and listening. Erestor was not beside him. It was still dark, but he had the feeling it was going towards morning. Fumbling around he found the double knives Erestor had placed ready were gone. So he was already awake. Only a minute later he had the impression someone was coming and took the sword in his hand. "Who's there?" he asked in old quenya and received a light laugh.
"It's me, Erestor." Soon afterwards the dark advisor came through the bushes and crawled under their tent.
"You were away without your robe!" Elrond scolded, but I only shrugged.
"It would have hindered me in the bushes. Hazel?" I offered him hazel nuts and he took them, gladly munching on them as our breakfast.
"How is your wound?" he asked.
"Well. I nearly don't feel it anymore. And you?" I stretched out a hand and touched his forehead. "A bit feverish?"
"Really?" He rubbed his brow. "I don't think so. Your hand is icy cold and I'm still comfortably in bed."
We finished our little breakfast and Elrond struggled to get up. Both our robes were pretty wet and we threw them over the backpacks.
"Is there water near?" asked Elrond.
"Only the dirty brook we already know."
Elrond sighed and sniffed at himself. "I must bathe. I feel horrible."
"It's too cold," I argued when we pressed out of the thicket again.
"And dirty. Lets go a little further, perhaps we find another creek."
I led the way northwards, but turning slightly west to get further up into the mountains. We had already left the secure paths with the horses days before the ambush to have a short cut. If we wanted to get back to the path we would have to go east and down again and it would take us much longer, so I chose to try the cross country road.
We didn't talk much on our march, concentrating on walking and looking out for danger. I was confident that we could climb the High Pass in the evening when we marched on like that. We only made minimal pauses to rest and eat a bit.
"Do the sentinels have a hut up here somewhere?" I asked, though I was pretty sure I should know it if it were so.
Elrond indeed shook his head. "They had, once, but it was abandoned. I think Glorfindel said it lays in ruin. What?"
I had frozen in place when I had turned back to Elrond, gazing past him. The half-elf turned, too, troubled by my gaze. "I can't see anything," he whispered, trying to pierce the undergrowth with his gaze.
"Stay here!" I ordered, left my pack and wanted to sneak away, but Elrond held me back.
"Don't go alone!"
"I can do that!" I hissed impatiently and pulled away, then slid off into the forest.
Elrond waited impatiently, fearing for his Chief Advisor. But only after a few minutes he came back.
"We're followed by wolves," I whispered and shouldered my pack. "Five at least. Lets hurry."
We ran and I led more upwards, trying to go for the treeline.
But after quarter of an hour Elrond halted. He was heaving and limped. "I can't flee them," he explained breathlessly. "We have to fight."
I clenched my teeth. "Alright. We won't be able to sleep calmly otherwise anyway. Lets look out for a good place to get on them!"
We searched around and found a hollow near the treeline. We climbed through it and positioned ourselves on a rock, the treeless mountaintops behind us, the thinner growing forest in sight.
Elrond took the bow and held an arrow ready, but he whispered: "I'm a miserable shooter. I am not even sure that I will hit at all."
I loaded the crossbow and lay down beside him. "I will. Lets try to bring down two before they reach us. Three or four we can manage with swords."
I took in every sound, trying to find out if the wolves were still behind us. We didn't move, though we grew tired after nearly half an hour, but then I finally heard something. "They're coming," I said and closed one eye to aim with the other, my finger at the trigger.
The wolves made no sound, but suddenly one came out to the clearing, sniffing around on the floor. I made no move, but Elrond slowly pulled the bowstring. I only hoped he would wait until a second wolf was visible, but I didn't dare to tell him so since the wolves would surely hear us with their sharp ears. The shady looking wolf howled unhappily. It obviously was the omega, being send out to the danger by the alpha as a bait.
Elrond's hand began to shake. He slowly let go again. But then I made out the face of one wolf lurking in the shrubs.
"Shot him!" I said and Elrond immediately pulled at the bowstring. The omegas' head snapped up. "Now!" I shouted and simultaneously the bowstring sang and the crossbow clanged. The shady wolf howled and wanted to flee, but in that moment others broke loose from the forest. I recharged as quickly as I could and Elrond tried another shot but didn't hit. When I had the crossbow ready the wolves were already climbing our rock and I shot one right in the open fang. It fell to the floor. I threw away the crossbow and produced the double knives, Elrond was already on his feet with his sword at hand. Two adult wolves attacked us, howling and roaring, and the shady omega came after them, fearful but nonetheless biting. They came from one side and Elrond was between me and them. He slashed about with the sword and blood sloshed around. One wolf went down, but the other jumped at my Lord. It was too near for Elrond to reach it with his sword, so I jumped forward, reached around him and slit the wolf's throat from two sides just when it tried to bite my Lord's face. Elrond backed away and we both tumbled down, the wolf landing on us.
Ouch. Elrond alone was heavy enough, and with a wolf added it was ... not amusing, to say the least.
The omega fled, howling, when he realised he was the only one left. Elrond rose carefully, throwing the wolf off, and turned to me. "O Erestor, that was a dangerous move! Dear Valar, are your bones alright?"
I grimaced when I sat up and touched myself. "Yes, nothing broken."
"Elbereth, you didn't need to reach around me! I wanted to back away and hit."
"It would have been too late for that." I stood, rubbing my hurting back.
"Are you really alright?" asked Elrond uncomfortably, "I'm so sorry."
"It was not your fault and yes, I'm alright." I was only thankful that I hadn't accidentally injured my Lord with the double knives I never had let go. Sheathing one, I approached the wolf with the other. It was still breathing, but it was definitely dying. The other one Elrond had hit with the sword was already dead, his neck split. I looked down into the hollow. One wolf was limping around there, growling quietly and running in circles. It was unable to climb the rock and it's steps were increasingly insecure.
Elrond looked questioningly at me. "What's wrong with him?"
I pointed at the crossbow. "I used the bolts you have learned to know a bit too closely. He's poisoned just like you."
We slid down the rock and approached the animal carefully. It didn't even react on us and tumbled over on it's own accord.
"Let's leave it," suggested Elrond, "it's a she-wolf, perhaps she can find a new pack if she survives. I don't believe she or the omega will follow us."
I nodded. "Alright." Climbing up again, I picked up the wolf I had killed with the shot in the fang. "We'll have a warm night tonight" I explained when I began skinning it.
"Aren't the skins too heavy to load ourselves with?", considered Elrond, but I shook my head.
"You will be thankful to have them, I promise."
So we skinned all three dead wolves and rubbed the skins clean with sand and leaves. I pierced holes into the front- and hindleg of one side and put a cord through them, like that we could use the skins as coats around our upper bodies, the inside turned out as a shield against rain, too. The third skin we carried rotationally when we marched on.
Along the treeline the march was relatively easy. There were no trees in the way and we could take a straight way and little shrubs and bushes gave us cover and it's roots held the stony floor stabile.
"Can you call anyone farespeaking?" I asked when we made a pause, eating lembas.
Elrond shook his head. "The only people I could reach are Círdan, Mithrandir and Galadriel. But I already tried. I'm not concentrated enough, I don't think Galadriel heard me and the other two would be of no use."
After some more hours we had to cross a clear, cold creek. "I would really like to bathe," insisted Elrond.
I stuck my hand in the water and shook my head. "It's icy."
I had to laugh when my Lord looked up at me with pleading eyes, as if I could forbid him anything at all. "Besides that I'm am your Chief Advisor and give council and not your master who gives orders... alright, alright. But lets go down a little, back into the wood were the wind is not that sharp."
We wandered down the creek, looking out for a good place to cross it, too, and went into the forest. When we found a fallen timber that was reaching far into the creek, I said: "Lets get over here. Then you can bathe. It would be useless to do that before."
Elrond nodded and we began the climbing. The foul timber was slimy and slippery. We had to crawl over it on all fours awkwardly, I was going first and slashing down branches in our way. The last six feet of the creek were not covered by thicker branches. "Jump?" I shouted back over the roaring of the water.
"Whatever, we have to go over."
But no! For what had I taken the rope with me! I crawled backwards a little and bid Elrond to take it out of my pack. Then I threw one end over a thick branch of a tree standing near the river bank we wanted to reach. With a stick I pulled the end back to me and had both ends in my hand. Pulling the rope straight, I looked back at Elrond and grinned. "I'll try this stunt first."
Carefully I stood up, took the rope as short as I could and jumped, pulling my legs to my body. Swinging over towards the tree, my feet touched the water surface and I nearly dashed into the log, only halting in the very last moment. But I was over. Putting my pack down, I threw one end of the rope to Elrond, binding the other one securely around the thick log.
"I'll have my pack over first" Elrond announced and I nodded. He knotted the backpack to the rope, carefully balancing on the slick timber, and threw it over to me. He nearly tipped when he did that and fell to his hands, but managed to hold himself. Gazing into the water, he shouted: "And my clothes, too. I'll be wet sooner or later anyway, but I will need dry clothes to dress." That was reasonable and so he undressed on the timber, folding his clothes and binding them into a sack made out of the wolf's skin. That bag he threw over to me too and I caught it and placed it aside. Then he swung over himself and tada, it worked. He only landed with his feet in the water and hastily jumped out. "Curses, that's really cold."
I quickly gave him his robe. "Let's make a fire." We chose a cosy spot where the river bank was sandy and surrounded by bushes.
I went to collect wood whilst Elrond made a small fire. "And now? Do you still want to go in there?" I asked when I dropped a pack of dead branches beside him.
Elrond sat near the fire, huddled in his robe and shivering. "I don't think so. But still I want to wash." Fetching water in our little pot for him, I placed it in the fire and heated the water. Whilst it was warming, I searched for plants. You could use many plants as soap, easiest of all nettle. I found enough of those and cut it. They were not stinging much due to the late time of the year, and back in the camp I mashed them between stones an collected the "soap" in a piece of bark.
Then we bathed Elrond like you would do with someone ill - limb by limb. First he rubbed his right arm with the nettle soap and I helped him rinse it with the warm water, then we quickly rubbed it dry with a corner of my robe whilst another pot of water was warming. Like that we washed Elrond, me helping him and only turning away when we came to his private parts to grant him some solitude.
"Ah! I feel much better," he said when he dressed again, "Though I would love to have fresh clothes, too."
"No chance. Perhaps we can wash them over night, when we find a good spot for a camp and enough wood for a fire."
"Maybe we should stay down here in the forest?"
"I wouldn't like that. Forest is much more dangerous than open space."
"Says the noldo."
"Would you prefer to climb into the trees for cover?" I teased.
Elrond chuckled. "Surely not."
I undressed, too, hung up my clothes around the fire to warm and dry them thoroughly, and stepped into the creek. It was horribly cold, but I at least could be relatively sure that I wouldn't get ill. When I came out again, I felt very refreshed and slipped into my warm clothes.
"Very well. Let's go on and find us a good camp for the night."
"But when we want to have a fire up in the mountains we will have to carry the wood."
"We pull it after us in the skins."
So we did it. Collecting wood on our way, we piled it on the third wolfskin, wound the rope around it and pulled it after us. Like that we began to climb the mountain.
Now that we were out of the woods we realised where exactly we were and could go straight for the High Pass. My feet and hips hurt and I doubted that Elrond felt better, but I wanted to make some way to prevent us being forced to have another nightcamp in the cold altitudes tomorrow.
We went straight northwards until we reached the path leading up to the High Pass. Now Elrond knew the way well and I didn't. I had seldom used the pass and Elrond took over the lead now. Encouraged by the fact that we had reached acquainted space, we marched on, eating some lembas and berries we found on the way.
But when dusk fell, I looked sideways for shelter. "Do you know a spot were we can rest?" I asked.
Elrond glanced around and shrugged. "It looks like this nearly everywhere up here. What do you think would be a shelter?"
"A ... ah, well, I wanted to say a cave, but that would not be likeable to you, would it?"
"A deep cave definitely not, but I would be thankful for gap or niche."
"Dare to go separate ways?"
We gazed down the way we came from. The treeline could be seen as a dark frontier, and behind it was grey fog. It looked pretty uninhabited. I was rather sure that nothing was pursuing us anymore, if it had at all.
"I believe we can," concluded Elrond likewise. "I take the right side of the way and you the left. We go westwards for a mile and meet there on the path again."
So we separated and roamed the space to the sides of the path. I found niches and gaps, but nothing was really inviting. It all were places that would do, but there could be more comfortable ones.
After half an hour I met Elrond on the path again. "I didn't find anything that would be exactly good, but some spots where we could spend the night."
"Then I believe we can go to where I found a nice little cave and even water near."
Nodding, I shouldered my pack anew. "Lead the way."
Elrond had found a small cave with high, fleeing roof, not going deeper into the rocks than nine feet, looking out to the west. So the rocks shielded us from the wind coming from the east and close to the cave there was a small crystal clear creek. "Excellent," I praised and unpacked. "I would love a hot meal, I must say."
Elrond laughed. "So would I."
I sniffed and looked around. Though the altitudes were a hostile place, there were still some plants that grew and animals that lived here. Picking up the bow and taking the arrows from Elrond, I said: "I'd use the crossbow, but since it's bolts are poisoned it won't do to shoot something for us to eat."
"You really want to go out hunting?"
I felt a little hurt by the mistrust my Lord obviously had against my hunting skills. But well, he didn't knew I had lived for many decades alone in the wilderness. And looking at my normal attire as a Chief Advisor it was hard to be guessed at.
Therefore I only nodded. "Will you prepare a cosy sleeping room for us meanwhile?"
"Of course. But please, Erestor lets make out a time when I can await you back here. I would die with fear if you came late."
"I'll need some time." I looked up. It was still cloudy, but the clouds up here in the high mountains where thin and often there were gaps and holes you could see the sky through. It seemed there was a moon in the east. "Let's say three hours at most. But since we can only estimate, don't take it too neatly."
Elrond nodded, a little insecure. "Be careful, Erestor."
When I had just made a few steps, he sprang up. "Wait!"
I sighed. "What?"
"You can hardly shoot with the cut in your back. The muscles were injured!"
Grumbling, I tried it and unfortunately found that he was right - it hurt immensely. Changing hand's didn't really help. "I want to hunt!" I growled and my gaze fell on the crossbow. Though it was orcish, it was good work - well, in things of weapons the orcs often did a good job. "What do you say about the bolts?" I asked and picked them up.
Elrond examined them carefully.
"There is a paste on them, seemingly lipid-resolved."
I took some bolts and scratched the paste off, then I cut off a piece of my shirt and wiped the bolts clean. The poisonous piece of cloth I hid under a stone. "Do you think that will do?"
"I think so. But watch your prey closely. We should be careful if it shows signs of toxic."
"It won't have the time to do so."
Finally I went off, with the heavy crossbow on the right arm. I loaded it when I was far away from Elrond and sneaked through the rising shadow.
I had no idea what I was looking for, I simply sneaked and harked. Rabbits crossed my path, but they are not feeding a hungry elf. But my ears twitched when I made out the cackling of wild geese. That was tasty! They were crossing the mountains in flight, an even V of big birds. I ran to get below them and be able to see them against the slightly enlightened clouds, sat down, raised the crossbow and waited until they were over a place I could easily reach. Clang! The crossbow went and one goose fell from the sky. Direct hit! I believed one was enough and ran to find my prey. The goose was dead, had broken all bones crashing against the rocks. "I'm sorry, my good bird. May Vana forgive me." I took it up and ran back to our camp.
It felt like coming home. A small fire was burning. Elrond sat on a wolf fur, huddled in his robe, and I found he had really washed his underclothes and laid them out around the fire. "Ah! Erestor! You come early. Were you successful?"
I presented him my goose. "But it had no time to show me if it was poisoned."
"Give it to me. Lets go and disembowel it a bit away from here."
Elrond stood and I followed him with a torch. Above a deep gap he slit the bird and examined the flesh closely. "Looks good, the veins are wide. I believe the goose was dead so quickly that the poison wasn't transported far away from the hit with the subsiding blood flow and the bolt is right in the bowels. I think it's secure."
We threw away the entrails and cut out the flesh around the bolt, too. Back to the camp I began plucking the goose and soon it was frying over our fire. Dear Orome, you know how tasty simple goose can be without salt or spice after a long day of marching high in the mountains! In mutual satisfaction we ate the whole bird, being totally full afterwards and very sated.
"That was good", Elrond sighed and stretched out on the floor.
"True. Only hunger makes you able to really savour a meal"
"I'd go to sleep."
Elrond had already spread out two wolfskins on the floor of the cave. We placed our backpacks at the entrance against cold air coming crawling over the floor, rolled the stones from under the fire into the cave has hot water bottles and lay down on our comfortable furs.
"Didn't I say you would be thankful to have them?" I asked when I covered our upper bodies with the third pelt.
Elrond smiled and nodded. "Oh yes, I am." We huddled together for more warmth - it was around zero - and covered with the two blankets and the fur, with the warm stones at our feet, it was really cosy.
"Good night, my Lord."
"I think I'll have", munched Elrond happily. "You too."
We slept much better than the first night outside. I rose in the early morning, a light shimmer of dawn was just rising in the east. It was horribly cold and I quickly fetched Elrond's underclothes, still lying around outside, and stuffed them under the blankets where I had lain. I went to relieve and refresh myself, drank from the clear river and shuddered. Dear Valar, that water was cold! Looking around for something to eat I found nothing but some liches. Not exactly better than our lembas bread. Returning to our camp I lit a fire.
Elrond woke from the noise and stretched. "Ah! I slept very well."
"In comparison to the last night - surely."
"Where are my... a! You think of everything, Erestor."
I smiled. "That's my job."
"I knew that was your job as a chief advisor in Imladris, but I didn't know you had the same qualities as a lost survivor of an ambush out in the wilds."
When he had dressed he joined me at the fire and we ate lembas for breakfast. Whilst Elrond refreshed himself, I already tidied up our camp and made our packs ready. Before sunrise we started our march across the Pass.
Not much happened on it. There's hardly anything interesting in the altitudes. We crossed the highest point around early afternoon and began the descent immediately. Our desire was to reach the treeline before dusk and find us a good camp and hiding before darkness made it impossible. So we rushed a bit and now and then one of us stumbled. Soon our clothes were in rags and our hands rough. Once we took a shortcut down a slope, using the wolfskins as sledges. I had quite some bumps afterwards!
We mainly followed the young Bruinen on a secret way the sentinels used. Unfortunately we didn't meet anyone of those. In the evening we had barely reached the treeline, some small pines standing around in groups. That was good enough for hiding. We chose one group of low crippled pine and crawled under their branches. Since this was the home of a badger already, we unfortunately had to chase him away. It stank a little due to it, but still it was better than nothing.
Picking some pine cones I served pine nuts, lembas and water from our water skins. The wood we found here was too wet, so be had to do without a fire. It was pretty cold, and that we again huddled together in our wolf-furs didn't make it exactly better since both our bodies were cold. Like that we needed much time to go to sleep.
In the morning we rose stiff and frozen. We drank our last sip of miruvor to warm us up a bit and ate the lembas. Now we had nothing left. When he shouldered his pack I realised that Elrond was a little wobbly on his feet. Not only due to the cold. Stepping up to him I placed my hand on his forehead and took his pulse. "Now you are definitely feverish."
My Lord nodded tiredly. "I'm afraid so. Good that it is only two or three more days to Imladris in the worst case - when nobody comes searching for us."
"Which wound is it? The one at your flank?"
"No, it's the one here", he carefully touched his left upper arm.
I had a look at it but there was nothing I could do but putting some healing salve from Elrond's emergency kit to it. Knowing he was tired I set a slower pace, pausing regularly. When I was sure that nothing would attack him, I left him with our backpacks around noon and went hunting.
Yet I didn't find anything but the cadaver of a deer, several days old, obviously killed by a bear. Dangerous. I made a mental note to look out for signs of a bear's presence.
After one hour vain searching for living prey I returned to Elrond. He lay sleeping between our packs. Damn, he was really ill!
I sat down on a mossy space near the riverbank of the Bruinen and thought. What was better? Urging Elrond on though it cost him strength but reaching Imladris or the patrolling sentinels earlier or sparing his strength and going slowly?
I decided the last version was better. I couldn't afford to risk having him break down. Having made that decision I rose again to find something to eat and my gaze met the river. Fish. Tasty. Nourishing. Hard to catch. But hold! A good bait was just at my reach! I ran to the dead deer. When I turned it over, horrible stench broke out and I saw thousands of worms in the body. Perfect.
Though I am pretty immune to disgust, I used my double knives to cut out some pieces of rotten flesh and worms and transported them to the river on a branch of pine. Walking up the riverbank I chose a spot where there was a little sandy bay. I cut some more branches and built a fence in the water, leaving only a small gap for fish to get into the bay. Then I threw the stinking bait into the bay and crouched down beside it, the branch ready. Totally still, I waited. First came a whole swarm of gudgeons. They came through my pine fence, too, and nibbled at the stinky meat. I trained my patience. Gudgeons weren't really tasty and far from feeding. But soon after them followed trouts. Yes! That was what I wanted!
The first came carefully and scared the gudgeons away when it suddenly shot forth and snapped a worm. When it realised nothing horrible happened (yet) it ate on, biting the meat and collecting worms. Soon after this first trout followed others - seeing that their companion was feasting undisturbed, they wanted to have their meal, too, and came into the deadly bay. The gudgeons returned too, after a while, and when there were six trouts and many gudgeons in my trap I slowly lowered the branch and then suddenly stuck it into the water. The fishes were trapped and shot around, panicked. I quickly bent down and plucked the trouts out of the pine branches. Two escaped through holes in my fence, but four I managed to pick up with my hands and throw to the dry land. Soon after this deadly disaster, as I realised when I disembowelled the trouts, the gudgeons were back and now ate the intestine of the bigger companions they had feared before.
Now that we had reached the forest I managed to find enough dry wood to make a fire. I collected fern and some more cones of fir and pine and while the trouts, two together in the pot, cooked with the fern vegetables, I picked out the little nuts as a dessert. When the first two fishes were ready I woke Elrond. He had slept fast and his hands and feet had become cold. I quickly sat him at the fire and served our dinner. Elrond was still sleepy but soon he was eating hungrily. He ate three smaller trouts and I the only bigger one. Since he was still not sated after our pine nuts dessert, I lurked back to the trap bay and fished out some gudgeons with a fir branch. Roasted over the fire, the small fish made a good snack. "We have to go now, Elrond, and make some speed since there seems to be a bear near."
My Lord nodded. "I feel better now after the hours of sleep and this delicious meal. Lets go."
Though Elrond had carried the pot in his pack before, I inconspicuously put it into my pack and carried the third wolf fur, too, making it easier on my good Lord.
Leading the way, I went down the Bruinen further. Sometimes we had to go away from the river when there were obstacles like thickets, rocks or gaps next to it, but mainly we held the course. After an hour I realised scratching traces on the trees. This was the border of the bear's realm, it seemed, and we now hopefully left it.
Sometimes Elrond bumped into me when I stopped suddenly. I realised he followed me blindly, too much absorbed in concentration on walking and not stumbling with fever. I had to take good care if I didn't want to lose my dear Lord!
When evening came we fortunately had reached the lower parts of the mountains, the air was remarkably thicker and warmer under the treetops roof. There were less pine, more fire and sometimes beeches and birches. Both were most welcome, since I already had a plan for a tasty supper.
When we came past a cosy spot for a camp I halted though it was not yet dawning. From light alone we could have marched on for another hour, but Elrond was exhausted and the place inviting. The Bruinen flowed slowly here and was broad. A big fir had fallen into it and where it was disrooted was a hollow protected by the upturned roots.
I told Elrond to stay and rest and went to make our camp as cosy as possible. With my knives I cut down fir branches and brought them to the hollow. Piling them up I made a shielding against the cold and slightly wet floor and a soft mattress for us by the way. With our packs as head- and footboard I restricted it. Then I collected some wood, made a fire to warm Elrond and went off to find us the supper.
The beeches' nuts were just raining down with their funny three-winged leafs and I only had to pick them up and collect the nuts in the pot. I found some thickets of dog rose, too, and picked the lightly crumpled haws. On my way back I slit the bark of some birches and pulled off the light yellow inner peel. I did it the way that the birches wouldn't die from it, always only taking a narrow piece off. With all this I returned to the camp. First I was shocked - Elrond wasn't there! But after a minute he came back, had only been away to relieve himself and drink water from the river.
Over the fire I roasted the beeches nuts. They were tastier and easier to digest when roasted. Whilst Elrond already ate his portion, I cut the birch peel into stripes and cooked them. Out came a slightly sweet soup with many fine noodles. Whilst eating a part of that, I peeled the haws and we took them as dessert.
"Again, a perfect dinner. You really astonish me," said Elrond, yawned and stretched out on our mattress. I held one wolf fur near the fire and warmed it, then I gave it to him and took the next one, doing the same. Like this I got him warm again, even his icy feet at least a little.
"I'll walk around the camp and see if it's secure" I said. Elrond only nodded slightly. He seemingly already was half asleep. I only hoped he would not be attacked. But when I sneaked through the forest I found nothing that hinted at danger and returned to the camp satisfied. After extinguishing the fire I crawled under the blankets and wolfskins beside him, took his icy feet between my calves to warm them and went to sleep.
Elrond was unquiet the night, often turned around mumbled in sleep and fever. In the morning I had to shake him awake. His eyes were hazy and his movements slurry. We ate the rest of the birch noodles as breakfast and picked some haws on our way when we marched on. Since the Bruinen fortunately took a relatively direct way to Imladris I was confident that we could reach it in the evening when we marched on quickly this day, but since Elrond's state was not so good I went for the option to go slower and come to Imladris later but spare his strength. He often needed pauses and was sometimes so cold that we had to make a fire and warm him up before he could go on. Like that we didn't manage to make much speed and in the late afternoon we still were thirty miles away from Imladris and I feared we wouldn't even manage to reach it tomorrow.
I practically pulled Elrond along, always eastwards. Since the Bruinen became broader and separated into several arms on the high plateau, we had to leave it - southwards, for we never crossed it to get to the "right" side, the northern side were Imladris was located.
I just was lost in musing when suddenly my ears peaked. There were sounds before us! Without thinking I grabbed Elrond and shoved him off the path we were on down the slope on the right. We slid into a hazel thicket and hid under it. Elrond wheezed beside me and my hands went to the knives at my sides but then thought better of it and grabbed the crossbow.
The sound drew nearer.
I recharged the crossbow and had my finger on the trigger, my eyes fixed on the path. I would defend my Lord against everything, be it a dragon! But soon I realised that the sounds were not made by dragons, not even orcs. It was horses. Putting the crossbow down, I peeked out and soon two riders came into my view. I sighed deeply. Elrohir and a sentinel. They halted at the point where we had left the path and gazed down to us. Our slide was clearly visible for the trained eyes. Elrohir whispered something to the other one and they drew back a little. I heard a whistle sound and soon afterwards more clattering of hooves was audible and angelic seneschal Glorfindel showed up together with Elladan. He slid from his stallion and hid behind it - they obviously awaited an attack from down here. In that case I would have a surprise for them.
"That's nice receiving" I shouted and crawled out from our hiding. Standing up, I made myself clearly visible and soon heard Elrohir shout: "Erestor! Thank the Valar!"
The twins came rushing down the slope. "Dear, you look horrible! Where is Ada?"
"He's here with me."
In that moment ruggedly looking Elrond crawled out of the thicket, too, and Glorfindel immediately gave the reins of his horse to the sentinel and came down.
He would never have done that for me alone.
I helped Elrond up and the twins stormed on him, hugging and petting him. "Ada! Ada! What by all Valar happened?"
With a tired nod Elrond gestured to me and I explained: "We were ambushed. We are the only survivors of our group."
The twins made big eyes. "What? Ambushed by orcs?"
"Are the others all dead?" asked Glorfindel shocked. I nodded.
Tears swelled in Elladans eyes and he clasped his father's hand. "Rannon, too?"
"Yes, Rannon, too."
"When and where was that?" asked Glorfindel and gave Elrond a supporting hand as if I wasn't enough to hold him.
"Four days ago somewhere near the Gladden River."
Elrohir took Elrond's pack off and carried it when we climbed up the slope. Glorfindel helped Elrond but none ever thought of helping me. Bah. When we reached the path and horses, I explained details to them. "It were around twenty-three orcs. They lurked on us, killed Rannon, who was a little ahead, and then shot on us. The horses bolted and fled, three are surely dead."
"And Valui and Feadaeron are dead, too?" asked Glorfindel again.
"You went all the way here on foot?" Elladan seemed astonished.
"Yes. And Elrond is feverish for an infected wound."
"We have to get him back to Imladris quickly." Glorfindel was already taking the saddle-bags off his stallion and gave it to the sentinel, who took them on his horse.
"Will you ride with me?" asked Elrohir and eyed the crossbow I still had in my hand mistrustfully.
"Yes, thank you," I growled. Elladan took my backpack, the sentinel the small rest of Elrond's and I mounted the horse behind Elrohir whilst Glorfindel took Elrond before him.
"And wolves you killed, too?", asked Elrohir when he realised the furs.
"Yes. But that was not half as dangerous as the orcs and very useful in the end."
Glorfindel was already hastening away and Elrohir hurried to follow him. "We found you were late. You said you would be back with half moon and that is now two days past. We searched the path you should come from the whole day," explained Elladan.
"It is good that you came to us. We would have needed at least one more day to get back and I must say to be in Imladris this night is really enticing."
"You will be at a warm hearth an served tasty food," promised Elrohir and I smiled.
I hate riding. Still. It doesn't really make it better that you have an elf in front of you who is named "elf rider" and is a very good horseman. That makes you feel even clumsier and stupid when he tells you what you have to do though you are eighty times older than him.
The bumps I had received from the slide down the High Pass were hurting and I was stiff from the cold. Dear Valar, I thought I had crushed most delicate parts of mine. At least that would have solved the problem I had with desiring Glorfindel by erasing the desire.
Dear Elbereth, I was seldom so happy to reach Imladris! Sentinels had announced our coming and Lady Celebrian stood at the entrance when we came riding into the Main Yard. I slid off the horse, finally on even ground again! And saw how Elrond struggled. Glorfindel went down and caught him, but the jump off the horse made Elrond's circulation fail and he grabbed his forehead and swayed on his feet. Glorfindel tried to hold him steady.
Immediately I was with him, ripped his hands away and lowered my Lord to the ground. Kneeling there, Elrond recovered after some seconds and could stand again. He leaned on me and I supported him, climbing up the stairs. Celebrian came down, concern in her eyes, but stopped two steps away from her husband.
Well, he was unshaved, rugged and smelling. After an ambush and several days of surviving in the wilds and wandering the mountains. I held him tight.
"My dear Elrond! What happened? The sentinels told me of an ambush!" chattered the Lady.
"Yes, we were attacked," sighed Elrond, "And only we two survived. Please, get me into my rooms." I realised I was meant and immediately headed for the staircase of the Old House.
Elrohir soon was on Elrond's other side, chasing Glorfindel away, and we supported him climbing the three stairs up to the attic where Elrond had his chambers. "A bath", he pleaded and I smiled.
"Of course. Elrohir, can you fetch Lindir? Elrond has some wounds that have to be taken care of."
"Alright, if you're sure you want to help here instead of rest yourself?"
"I'll be right back."
Elrohir left and I expected we would have some minutes until he returned, probably with a whole bunch of others in tow who wanted to be sure that everything was done for the Lord of Imladris. As if they couldn't be when they knew I was around.
Sitting Elrond down on a stool in the bathroom, I quickly heated the oven for water and helped Elrond out of the torn robes and filthy clothes. "I could use a shower first," he realised when he looked down at himself.
I smiled. "Would be a good idea." First I threw a large towel over the oven and then helped Elrond to have a short shower to get the worst dirt off. Wrapped in the towel, he waited for the water to heat up.
"Can I borrow a robe from you?" I asked when I shook out of my rags.
Elrond smiled. "Of course. If you find something you'd wear."
"They won't be too tight," I teased when I stepped into the shower and washed myself - with cold water to have the warm spared for Elrond's bath. The door just opened when I was on my way from the bathroom to Elrond's sleeping room completely naked and damn it I had the impression, from the corner of my eye, that it was Glorfindel who came in. Cursed seneschal! I quickly hid in the sleeping room and found me a robe. When I opened Elrond's wardrobe I understood why he had smiled. He had nothing, not one single robe, not even a shirt in black. Bah.
I chose a dark blue robe instead and dressed in it. It was much too wide and too short for me, but it at least covered the more important parts. When I came back to the bathroom Glorfindel was there and fussing over Elrond like the elves tended to do: uselessly. They simply didn't know what to do when someone was ill. I shoved Glorfindel aside and turned the tap to fill the tub. From the several bathing oils Elrond had I chose one that had camomile in it - stopping infections and good for his wounds. When the tub was filled I helped him up and into it. Elrond sighed blissfully when he finally was in the hot water.
"That's damn good. You know, there would not have been much I had missed on our journey," he said to me, "If it hadn't been for my wound's that I couldn't savour it."
Glorfindel blinked, irritated. But I smiled, took up a comb and combed Elrond's mane of thick, dark brown hair, now a little greasy.
A few seconds later Lindir came in. "Good evening my Lord, I can hardly express how happy I am to see you back here." Then he shortly bowed to me, "Erestor." Thank you for your kind words, minstrel.
I bit my lip. Nobody ever said he was happy to see me having survived the ambush. I heard that Celebrian and the twins were in the living room, too, and with four elves the bathroom was much overloaded. But I refused to be chased away and Lindir, shortly looking into my defiant eyes, realised that it would be less dangerous to turn to Glorfindel and send him out. Then he thankfully closed the door and we were alone. "Where are your wound's my Lord?"
Elrond showed Lindir his wounds and the healer found it really was the smaller wound on his upper arm which had caused the fever, not the deep gash on his flank we hat stitched up together. Lindir produced a special salve to suck out the poison from the wound and promised to mix up a tea against the fever. When he was just about to go and opened the door, Elrond called him back. "Lindir, wait! You haven't looked at Erestor."
Lindir turned and gazed at me, the thought visible in his eyes: What is there to look at?
"He's injured, too," explained Elrond, "Erestor, down with the robe, you have subdued your pain long enough for my sake." My face became bright red and I angrily kicked shut the door through which a curious Balrog-slayer was looking in. Stupid warrior! Elrond chuckled. At least he was back to his good mood. Sniffing, I undressed and Lindir looked at my wounds. Some still hurt, that was true, but most of them were already nicely healed. But when I gazed into the mirror at my reflection I saw why Lindir was so shocked. I looked as if beaten up, my body covered with bruises, cuts and blue marks.
"You look worse than him!", exclaimed the healer. "Come with me to the healers wing, please!"
"No!" I immediately shouted. "Elrond, tell him to leave me be!"
My Lord leaned back, sighing. "Lindir, I believe it will be better to treat Erestor as far as you can here and now and then leave him to me." Thankfully Lindir obeyed, gave salve to my bruises and bandaged the worst wounds. Afterwards I quickly dressed in the robe again.
"What else can I do for you, my Lord?"
"Nothing," said Elrond, "Thank you, Lindir."
Finally the healer left. But as soon as he was gone the twins pressed in and the Lady and seneschal behind them. "Are you alright, Ada?"
"Yes, Elladan, I'm alright now."
Elly, Celebrian and Glorfindel fussed over Elrond.
Only Elrohir turned to me and smiled sadly. "What about you?"
"I want to leave," I grumbled, but had four elves in my way. Good Elrohir pressed past them, making way for me, and I followed him out into the living room, leaving my poor Lord to his doom with the other three.
With a deep breath I sat down on the sofa and Elrohir poured me wine from his father's bar. "Now that we finally have some peace, tell me the whole thing please," he said and sat down across from me.
"We were ambushed four days ago in the afternoon. After fierce fight we killed all the orcs safe one who escaped. I pursued him, knowing that he could fetch help, and left Elrond behind. He was still on his feet then, but when I came back after I had brought the orc down he was gone. Yet the bodies of Feadaeron and Valui were neatly placed under a tree away from the battlefield, so I believed Elrond had been so far alright to do that. After two hours vain searching I finally found him lying in a thicket - he had been grazed by a poisoned bolt. A yes, where is the crossbow?"
"I believe the sentinel brought it to the armoury."
"They have to be careful with the bolts, they may still be poisonous. Elrond was paralysed and had tried to find me before he broke down. When I found him the worst was already behind him and a little later he was on his feet again. We made our backpacks, buried the two dead companions and a little later Rannon, too, and began the march to the High Pass."
"Why didn't you turn back to Lorien?"
"We hoped that you would come to search for us when we were delayed -that wouldn't happen in Lorien for they didn't await us there."
"Like that we went away for the rest of the day, tended to our wounds as good as we could and slept in a hazel thicket for the night. The next day we made much speed in the beginning, but then were attacked by the pack of Wolves. We killed three, one fled and one was poisoned with the orcish bolts. Taking the furs with us we went further, had to cross a river and halted a while on it's bank to wash. We made it to the altitudes that day and had a cosy camp and wild goose for dinner."
The bathroom door opened and Elrond was accompanied out by three personal guardians. Useful, in your own rooms.
I continued my tale and Elladan stuck with us in the living room while Celebrian and Glorfindel went to Elrond's sleeping room with him, but left the door ajar.
"The next day we crossed the High Pass and had the next night camp at the treeline on this side of the Misty Mountains. In the following day Elrond's fever rose and we had to go slower. We had eaten up all lembas and drank the miruvor, so I had to take care of the food, too, and like that we only went slowly down the Bruinen, where we had another camp and then the day after you met us on the path."
Celebrian had come from the sleeping room and now clasped her hands. "Then you had nothing to eat for days? I'll have you brought a dinner immediately."
I could only shut my eyes and try not to snap. Good luck my Lord came to my rescue when he came into the living room, sat down beside me and grinned. "No, my dear wife, we were far from starving. Erestor served me with most delicious meals all the time. We had goose roast, birch noodles, pine nuts, hazel, cooked trout, roasted gudgeons, haw and what else?"
"That was it mainly," I sighed.
"Yet I still could use something to eat. But simple bread and cheese will do, what about you?" I nodded thankfully. Feeling uncomfortable in the borrowed and too short robe, even being completely naked under it, I took the blanket from the sofa to cover me up, pulling my naked calves under it. Elrond watched me affectionately. "My Chief advisor is not only the brain of Imladris but also my personal saviour, body guard, orc hunter, healer, cook and leader. I believe I wouldn't have survived without him."
My cheeks went crimson and I felt all eyes on me. Ashamed, I hid my face in the blanket.
A servant brought us the desired dinner and Elrond, now being much better after the bath and in the warmth of his chambers, began to tell of our adventures.
At some point, when it came close to the wolf thing, I excused myself and fled.
Finally in my rooms I immediately dressed in my fitting, black clothes. Cursed, my knives were still in Elrond's bathroom! I hoped nobody had found them. But that forced me to return timely to pick them up. When I came to my Lord's chamber he just told how I had made the birch noodles. I smiled uncomfortably when all eyes were on me curiously, and disappeared in the bathroom. Thank the Valar, the knives were still hidden under my ragged clothes. I put the belt on under my robe and picked the rags up. Passing through the living room I said: "If you excuse me, I need a bit of sleep. I believe you are in good hands, my Lord."
"To many," he chuckled and I made my leave before someone could ask me about the knives Elrond had probably mentioned or my use of an orcish crossbow.
Dear, was I thankful when I finally was in my bed that night!
My Lord was quickly back on his feet under the care of the healers and new patrols were set up to secure the pass and find the origin of the orcs which had ambushed us.
From that time on the people looked differently at me. With more respect, even awe sometimes. It seemed great deeds of heroic slaughter still gave you a better reputation than heroic deeds of diplomacy, preventing great slaughter.
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