For Love of a Lady - Chapter 8 - A Fleeting Death
"No! Írissë!" Elladan shouted as he ran to Írissë's side and turned her over gently to examine her wound. It was mortal. A slender gash was all that showed of it but a great deal of blood was flowing and she herself was shaking without cease. Calimmacil ran to her also and his deep concern was evident in his face. Had circumstances been different Elladan would have warned him away but he was far too worried for Írissë who lay limp and still on the floor. The other elves looked horror-struck for a moment and then wild with anger towards Gáiala.
"It is too late." Gáiala's raspy voice called out to them. He was pierced by many arrows and was lying on his back, amid a pool of his own blood, but yet he lived. Elrohir strode over to him, gripping his knife in his hand,
"She is going." Gáiala laughed evilly despite the arrows embedded deep in his body. "She will not live to see the dawn!" Elrohir plunged his knife deep into Gáiala's heart and with a sickeningly high-pitched cry he died and the evil which had inhabited Harlindon forest for so long was gone. An almost audible sigh of relief was muttered from the trees themselves.
"Írissë." Vanimeldë breathed, she crawled to her sister's side and leaned over her, as did the others. "Oh Valar, please be alright, please." Írissë tried to speak but no words would come, she held her hands over her wound to staunch the flow but it did little good.
"Lady, wait." Elladan said, his face was as white as snow yet fear was biting hot within him, "You must not crowd her, let her breathe." he worked quickly and tore some material to fashion a bandage for her but Írissë grasped his hand.
"No," she whispered in a painfully hoarse voice, "he was right, it is too late. You must go." she pointed to the trees. There were creatures in the trees coming closer and closer, enmeshed in shadow yet still there, horribly potent. Elladan recognised them as the same goblin-orcs which had attacked them once already.
"You must leave me." Írissë said urgently, her eyes fixed on her lover, "You can do nothing else." The elves sprang to their feet and drew their swords, all but Elladan who scooped Írissë into his arms, marvelled at her lightness and bore her away through the trees. Calimmacil watched them go and pondered to himself.
The orcs advanced forward with a dreadful slowness, there were very many of them and they were each clad in the same dark armour with the black star emblem of Heculo. Deep in the mountainous caverns they dwelt, ever to be called at Gáiala's need and staying ever in readiness for the times when he would call them to his aid. They were brutal and cruel and they wielded sharp weapons against their foes, wrought by the smiths of Gáiala himself from the stock of ore found in the mountains. The caverns there were great and hollow and ran for some distance along the back bone of Ered Luin. There were dens for wolves and housing for orcs, bent wholly to Gáiala's will. Many ways did he have of summoning them, often just by the great power of his thought they could be brought out yet occasionally by his open orders and by his signs from afar, such as the shrill whistle he had emitted earlier. By ways unknown to the rest they would always come, their minds bent on malice and pain and consumed by the intent to slay whatever creature should come into their path. It was for this reason, therefore, that they were formidable in their rage. They came forth, swords in hand and dismay struck each elf as they realised they were heavily outnumbered.
Few noticed the swift departure of Elladan and Írissë for they each drew their bows and Elrohir cried,
"Shoot!" At once their arrows found their marks and the foremost line of orcs fell to the ground yet still more filled the gaps and the elves' hands moved quicker than sight to fit their arrows and loose them into their foes. It was not enough though, there were ever many more orcs striding forward until suddenly one gave a great cry and they all rushed towards the elves as one, wielding their blades and shouting frightfully. The elves were plunged into battle, fierce and terrible. They were fey to look upon as they battled, eager to avenge the fallen Írissë, she whom each now loved almost as a sister. Vanimeldë seized Írissë's fallen sword and gripped the hilt tightly, she had rarely used blade before but fire ran through her blood and she hacked her way through the orcs which barred the path down which Elladan and Írissë had gone.
Vanimeldë needed to go after them, she was painfully aware that this was all her fault and she fought bravely the cruel goblins which stood in her way. For all their number they were not the most skilled of fighters and Vanimeldë found that her confidence increased after she had swept the heads off three. The fourth proved difficult for her to slay, his body was armoured more fully than the others and he bore two knives in his clawed hands. He leered menacingly at Vanimeldë as she stood proudly before him and they began to spar brutally, her eyes flicking constantly to his hands and her heart pounding beneath her breast. After a minute or two he lashed violently out and Vanimeldë gave a cry as a cold iron sword connected with her cheek, cutting downwards and deeply. A warm trickle of blood came from the wound yet it was not serious and she took advantage of his lapse in concentration to thrust her sword straight through his neck. He staggered and wavered but at the last he fell, snapping Írissë's sword in shards. When he had fallen and Vanimeldë had gathered her breath back she ran shakily down the path in search of Elladan and her sister.
Elrohir and the elves fought savagely. They held nothing in reserve and hewed their way through the mounds of orcs, enduring few injuries yet causing many. There were so many, though, too many to be beaten by so few who were hard pressed themselves to keep at bay the ones which had swamped them. Were they all to charge at once then Elrohir knew that they would not be able to withstand them with their lives. He glanced swiftly around for his brother whom he had not seen for a while. He had watched out of the corner of his eye as the wounded Írissë was borne away from the battle but had more pressing matters on his mind.
He needed Elladan though, his brother had more prowess than many here and they were soon becoming overwhelmed by enemies. Soon they would need to retire and flee for their lives, every elf knew it and Elrohir himself was aware that it was only a matter of time. He busied himself with the hideous orc who stood before him, trying in vain to pierce Elrohir with his weapon. The prince was a greater fighter than he but without any armour and many blows he dealt to the orc glanced off the thick iron uselessly. The orc-blade, however, did not often miss its intended target and Elrohir soon found himself bleeding profusely from a shallow cut to his arm. Adrenaline numbed the pain and with renewed vigour he slayed many around him until the ground was fairly piled with dead orc bodies. He could see, though, they were becoming inundated and very soon they would be wholly overcome.
With a desperate voice he ordered all the elves to fall back as soon as they may and seek the light of the sun whilst he himself leapt lithely away down the path he supposed his brother had taken.
Tears filled Elladan's eyes to look upon Írissë's beautiful face contorted in a grimace of pain. He carried her far and fast away from the orcs, leaving the others to fight them. He took her down the path to the soft glade filled with the white simbelmynë which fragranced the air and shone like delicate stars underfoot. Atop this carpet of snow he laid Írissë and leaned over her, holding his cool hand to her sweaty brow. She was clammy and shivered even though she was burning with a great fever. The wound was small but dark and when he unfastened her shirt he saw the skin around it was tinged green which meant there was some poison at work. Írissë's breathing quickened and her chest rose and fall far faster than was normal.
"My Lissë." he said, "You will be alright."
"No, Elladan." her voice was hoarse, "You know that is not so, I will not live so you must leave me."
"Never!" he grasped her hand and kissed it desperately. She smiled and Elladan could feel her hand shaking where he held it.
"I am sorry," she said, her voice barely audible.
"For what?" he asked.
"For everything. I am sorry I hurt you and I am sorry I will hurt you again."
"Oh you could never hurt me." he said, "Amin mela lle!" Írissë looked at him and her big brown eyes seemed to pierce right through him. He would have bared his soul to her had it not seemed she had already seen it. Few could withstand her gaze but Elladan loved to look at her, her hair was matted and sticky with sweat and she was visibly paling as the poison took effect but she always be beautiful in his eyes. A thin sheen of perspiration was on her brow and her eyes were growing duller, their radiance dimming. Her wound was close to her heart, and she would not live long, so all Elladan could do was hold her in his arms.
"I love you too." Írissë said, "I have always loved you. Since first I saw you in Imladris, riding home with your brother." Elladan wept silently,
"Please do not leave me." he said, "I wish not to live if you are not by my side."
"I must, it is my path." she said, "And it is yours to live and be glad. One day we shall meet again in the West." Elladan could feel his heart constrict in panic, he clutched Írissë's hand but he could feel the cold poison killing her, slowing her heart and ending her life before theirs, together, could even be begun. She tried to speak but couldn't and a slender rivulet of blood appeared at the corner of her lips. She coughed violently and held her white hand to her mouth, it came away bloody.
Elladan tried in vain to stem the flow from her wound but Írissë stopped him,
"It is too late." she said,
"Let me try." but she was right, the poison had advanced too quickly and Írissë's skin was turning black.
"Namárië," said she and the last shreds of her life began to ebb away, her heart failing and leaving her soul to soar where it would.
Írissë walked long in darkness. Echoes of what passed beyond her consciousness reverberated around her mind but faint and far it seemed as from a forgotten world, the memories of which still lingered where they could. Írissë was sad. She could see very little for her peripheral vision was fading but all she observed was melancholy, she could see a distressed Elladan holding her in his arms and hear the cries of the orcs and of her friends as they drew nearer, soon they would find her, departed. It was as if she was watching another, strangely detached from her own body and utterly powerless for none could hear her and none could see her. Írissë found that she was not afraid, her time had come and now it was her turn to die and leave Middle Earth. A pang of grief flooded her as she realised it was unlikely she should meet Elladan for many years and she hated causing him so much despair as she saw him in. The orc calls were coming closer, they were very many but Írissë's attention was turned form them for other sounds were filling her head and drowning out everything else. A sweet music and the sound of singing came from the direction of the West, as if from the tongues and harp strings of the Valar themselves as they sat in contemplation in the Ring of Doom. It was so fair and so blissful that Írissë forgot her pain and her sorrow and turned her eyes towards the direction from whence it came.
A pale light, as if a star had descended to earth, led her noiselessly from the forest, trees and orcs passing through her pallid form with no feeling whatsoever. Then, when she was out of cover of the trees the light waned and the darkness returned, so too did the misery and grief she had died in. It began to sink in, that she was no more. The gates of death beckoned her and those that passed beyond went straight to the hallowed Halls of Mandos where their souls would be purged of all the grief they had endured in their waking life. Írissë instinctively knew this but she feared it not and wished only for an end to her suffering. The singing waxed until it was unbearably loud and it drew her fëa away from the lands of her birth and her life.
She was almost gone, her spirit was departing to dwell in Aman and yet Elladan could not let go, he could not lose her, not yet. Vanimeldë ran into the clearing, her sword broken above the hilt and a deep cut running the length of her cheek.
"She has gone?" she asked in fear.
"As good as." said Elladan, "She will not recover and her soul has already departed, it is but a matter of time before her body fails." Vanimeldë broke down and collapsed on the floor, sobbing at her loss but Elladan was strangely numb.
`Remember, son, there is always a way. Even when all seems to have been lost, walk in the darkness to seek the life which fades, it will not be too late.'
Elrond's words, clear, concise and painfully loud shot into Elladan's mind and his eyes snapped open. His father had seen this. His father knew the trials of the company and the trials of his son's heart and he had given him forecounsel for when the trials would come. At last Elladan understood and a spark of hope was ignited within him but what was he to do?
`Hearken to me, it will not be too late, take the shadowed path.'
The shadowed path? What could his father be talking about? Elladan's brow furrowed as he concentrated solely on remembering every tiny detail Elrond had said. The words became but a blur yet they were the only hope he had left. Dulled were her eyes, as dim as the forgotten lights of Illuin and Helluin of old. Her pale hand dropped to her side and Elladan leaned over her, placing his hands atop her head and letting his mind wander far from the brink of life. A journey he had never taken yet one which had long been wrapped in myth and fable. To take the path of shadows was to follow one whose time had not come and whose destiny was to lead them far from where they now lay. Having been dealt a cruel hand by fate it had been told that some would venture with their minds into the shadowed realm and, if doom permitted it, draw back the stolen life. It was unutterably risky, not the least of which was the danger that the quester would find themselves trapped there for eternity were not precautions taken. It would also leave Elladan weak, dizzy and who knew the effect it would have on Írissë, it was likely she would not recover for a long time from it.
All about him was a tumult of confusion. Vanimeldë wept heartbreakingly, her tears spilling into the white flowers, begging Elladan to do something but he could not longer hear her. He was aware, though, of the orc cries, overpowering his friends, he knew he must help them but Írissë ever came first. The stain of blood from her wound was growing and growing and her heart beat so faintly that it was barely enough to keep her from death. But death was welcoming her. The Halls of Mandos summoning her into the darkness and she was hearkening to the call. Elladan concentrated with every fibre of his being on searching for her, on breaking the binds between the two worlds. The veil between the living and the dead was dangerously thin here, in the midst of so much evil activity, and it made it easier to cross.
A dark shadow enveloped his mind suddenly in grey and his earthly body fell suddenly to the floor with a jolt. He could hardly see anything, the world was wrapped in a grey mist which his eyes failed to penetrate and every sound seemed far away, distant and unimportant. Everywhere was blurry and grey, currents of air were visible as wisps of smoke and the land seemed to subtly shift and change before his eyes. Elladan was afraid, never had he encountered anything such as this and the world of darkness he had entered was alien and strange. He called Írissë's name out to the night, if night it was here, but his voice was muffled and he resorted to sweeping through the forestland with his mind, seeking Írissë with his consciousness alone and gliding with the speed of thought. At last he found her, her spirit standing on the very edge of Middle Earth, gazing out to the Sea before she soared to greet Mandos and the waking dead.
"Írissë." his voice was as loud as a shout but came out only as a whisper yet she turned her head.
"Elladan?" she looked confused, "Why are you here?"
"It is not your time," he said swiftly, "you must return with me, please." She looked uncertain, Elladan could not hear the maiden voices singing in her ears, could not feel the overwhelming urge to leap from the cliff edge and follow the path through the stars. Írissë was torn by her inner struggles, she wanted to go, to leave the world behind but every time she looked at Elladan she thought of their life together that awaited them and the risks he must have taken in following her this far. Minutes passed in silence, Elladan's heart thudding monotonously in his breast, praying she would come to him. Írissë took one lingering look out at the grey seas and with a monumental effort of spirit and mind she wrenched herself free from the calling. Her face was childlike but she walked back to Elladan slowly and put her hand in his, letting him lead her away from the precipice over the waves. Travelling as quick as thought back into the forest they found their corporeal bodies and stood before them. The world of shadow was intermingled with the world of the living. The two spheres were merged as one together, born at the dawn of time and anything that existed in the real world was imitated in the echoed one. They were not the same, though, even as Elladan looked at Írissë he saw her outline change and move and he supposed the same was happening to him. He could see the figures of the people whose souls were in the other world but they looked different to Elladan and Írissë. The latter faces were pale and wan, blurry and greyed, but the objects existing elsewhere were dark and clear, every detail picked out painfully sharply. Time seemed to pass differently as well, mere seconds would appear to have gone by as both Elladan and Írissë watched the scene before them unfold curiously. Both living, but one only just. Elladan noticed they had been joined by Elrohir who was standing over his brother with a look of horror. Vanimeldë as well looked dismayed and Elladan understood,
"He thinks I too am dead," he murmured and Írissë nodded. It was time for them to return before their supposed deaths were lamented to greatly. With a sickening rush and a blinding flash of thousands of colours Elladan and Írissë lay on their corporeal forms and allowed themselves to be made whole again by the converging of their fëar and hroar. Elladan gasped suddenly and shivered for he had grown very cold.
"Brother!" Elrohir embraced him thankfully, "I thought you were gone!"
"No, I am fine." he struggled for breath, "It was not her time, I had to go after her."
"You didn't..." Elrohir did not finish before Írissë opened her eyes as well and glanced around with elation as she realised she yet lived. And then she was in Elladan's arms and he was kissing her face and lips in joy, lost in his own rapture.
"I thought I had lost you." Elladan said softly, touching her face with his fingers and she replied with shining eyes,
"Never would you have let me go." and she kissed him passionately on the lips, glad only to touch and taste him once more.
"Brother?" Elrohir choked, so glad was he to see Elladan alive. His eyes were filled with wonder as he comprehended a little of what had just passed here. Closing his eyes, he said a silent thanks, turned his back graciously and returned to seek the others which fought still with the orcs. Írissë tried to sit up.
"Stay." Elladan said, "You live but you are still grievously wounded and all I can do here is stop the poison from furthering." Írissë nodded again,
"Do so," she said and winced in pain. Elladan took three dried leaves from the inner pocket of his cloak and crushed it between his fingers.
"Take her hand, lady." he spoke to Vanimeldë and Írissë gripped her sister's hand furiously tight and screamed with pain as Elladan crushed the herb into her wound, sending a fiery dart to all corners of her body.
"Shh," he said and held her tightly, "it is over now, it is over."
Elrohir soon returned, looking fearful and troubled, Elladan noticed a large red cut running down his arm and bloody stains on his clothes.
"Elrohir what is it?" he asked, gripping his sword and helping Írissë tenderly to her feet.
"There are too many," Elrohir said, looking greyed and much older, "I have ordered the others to head for sunlight. We cannot defeat them all, there are just too many." Elladan looked fell for a moment and his eyes hardened towards the orcs which were moving ever closer. Írissë swayed in his arms but he caught her.
"She cannot fight." he said in despair, "She is far too weak."
"Then she must run," said Elrohir, "and so must we all." With those words he gave a cry to the rest of the party and they sprang away, seeking the edge of the forest where the sun would hopefully soon be rising. The sound of light footsteps came and Elladan could feel the presences of his friends as they ran down the path to join them, followed by the orcs they were fleeing from. Írissë could barely run, her legs shook beneath her and the poison had weakened her considerably so that she proved a great hindrance to them. Elladan would not heed her begs for him to leave her and insisted upon carrying her if no other way could be found. She was as light as a feather and a scarce burden for him and he loved being able to protect her in her vulnerability. The company soon became dismayed, no matter how hard they tried they could not find their way out of Harlindon forest and their paths seemed inevitably to lead back to where they began. The orcs would sometimes disappear entirely to lull them into a false sense of security and at other times seem to surround them on all sides.
Much swordplay was still required before they could escape when the latter situation arose but ever they would find themselves going round in circles and finding no way to the edge. When, after a great deal of time, they entered a clearing they stopped and took breath for all were weary and in need of rest. The orcs did not seem to be close for a while but they were always lying on the very edge of their consciousness like a great mass of darkness they were always aware of. For the moment they seemed to be relatively safe and Elladan set Írissë on her feet again. She was cold and shivering constantly. Her legs seemed to barely support her,
"My lady," Elrohir said with concern, "are you alright?" she raised her eyes to look at him and he was disheartened to see they were still dull from the poison but she tried to smile weakly.
"Worry not for me." she said and rested her head against Elladan's shoulder. Elrohir had said nothing to him yet still regarded them with an affectionate amusement.
"Elrohir what are we to do?" Calimmacil asked desperately, "They are almost upon us."
"I know that but there is little we can do but hope to outrun them," he replied angrily, "if only we could find a way out of this accursed place!"
Vanimeldë looked thoughtfully up at a nearby tree and before anyone could stop her she had swung herself up the boughs athletically and scaled its lofty heights faster than any of them would have deemed possible. From her unique vantagepoint she could see over all the treetops of the forest and she scanned them for the quickest way out. They seemed very near the edge of the forest but no paths could she see leading out of it. Her brow furrowed as she endeavoured to pierce the night that lay over them and once she had ascertained in which direction she needed to go she did a double take and very nearly fell from her branch in surprise. Riders were galloping as fast as they could to the forest and they had a definite purpose there. Whether they were friend or foe she could not tell and squinted as her sight shot through the dark. The horses were grey, that much she could see, and the leader bore a standard that was not visible through the gloom. Vanimeldë's heart quickened as she beheld them, they could be the answer to their prayers or the final seal of their doom.
"Vanimeldë!" Arciryas' voice beckoned to her from far below, "What can you see?"
"Very little." she muttered under her breath yet slipped gracefully to the floor and stood before them.
"What could you see?" Elrohir asked curiously,
"The night is dark so not much, although I know we are nearer the edge than we suppose ourselves to be and the quickest way out is if we turn North-West." she said and they all made to leave again, "There are riders." she blurted out urgently before they made a move, "Riders mounted on tall grey horses bearing a standard I could not see. They come with great haste but whether to aid us or thwart us remains to be seen." The glade was filled with their quiet murmurings as they discussed this amongst themselves.
"Who might they be?" asked Elladan, "Did they seem evil?"
"No, I think not. The light of the Eldar was in their faces but what kind they are is hidden from me."
"If they are akin to Gáiala then all hope is truly lost." said Arciryas with a true sense of optimism.
"We can but hope they are not then." said Calimmacil and looked up as a harsh cry rent the air,
"Bugruk skai!" the unmistakeable sounds of the orcs were remarkably close.
"They are coming closer!" cried Voronwë. Elladan turned to Írissë who was steadying herself only by holding onto his arm.
"Írissë, you cannot flee, let me carry you." he made to take her into his arms again but she refused,
"I will be fine," she said but Elrohir laid his hand on her shoulder,
"Lady please do as you are bid for the first time in your life."
"I promise I will not drop you." Elladan said playfully, "Come, my love." Írissë smiled and put her arms around his neck, allowing him to lift her into his arms. She was glad he did for she did not think she could have run effectively, she would have slowed them all down. She saw with a twinge, though, that Calimmacil kept his stony eyes firmly on the ground. He looked not at Írissë nor at Elladan but she could only guess at what passed through his mind. The goblin-orcs were hard upon their heels, having regrouped under the trees and now chasing for tilt, blood lust hot within them. Trees, brambles and all manner of plants snatched and clawed at the group as they ran through the dense forest. The ground underfoot was covered in the rotten mulch of fallen leaves where they laid to rest and the heavy, iron orc shoes could be clearly heard as they crunched through them. There were very many, every cavern of the mountains would seem to have been emptied and the dark force concealed in Harlindon forest was unleashed in all its terrible glory. Gáiala had certainly not been idle, he had assembled a great host and hidden it deep within the trees so that rumour of it might never reach the ears of those living outside the borders of his lands. And now that host caught up with the fleeing elves, overtaking them until they were forced to stop, for once again they were utterly encircled with no chance of escape without fighting. The elves armed themselves for a heroic last stand against their foes. Victory for the orcs seemed certain and near and they laughed cruelly amid the jeers and insults they hurled at the small party of elves. Just when it seemed all was lost and death would speed them on quick wings there came the most welcome sound any of them had ever heard. An elven horn blew three short blasts which echoes around the forest, throwing fear into the hearts of the orcs.
"The Horn of Aranwë!" Voronwë cried and all eyes turned to the direction the sound had issued from. There, mounted atop the rising ridge stood a company of elves of Imladris led by none other than Aranwë himself, tall, proud and fair as he sat astride his grey horse. Behind him were the formidable warriors of Imladris, summoned by Aranwë to journey West to come to the aid of his friends and be of some use to them. The orcs were afraid of this sudden turn of misfortune for them but the elves rejoiced and were imbued with a new wave of hope. Fair and fell were the elf-lords of Imladris, bright were their swords and they brandished them now. The steed of Aranwë reared and the company rode down upon the orcs, slaying them left and right and slashing them down where they stood until the forest itself ran red with their blood. Their shrieks and cries filled the air and their foul carcasses mounted as the elves fought them, terrible and brave they were in their wrath and none could withstand any of them for long. The horses turned and wheeled round gracefully, guided by their masters' hands and riding down those who escaped the shining blades. Írissë could not fight, she was too weak and her peripheral vision was hazy from the poison. She climbed into the lowest boughs of a trees with Vanimeldë and there they sat in silent watchfulness, beholding the scene that passed before them. The orc host were deeply dismayed by the new arrivals and fought all the more fiercely for their lives yet the swords of the elves smote them down and their arrows pierced them as they tried to escape. At the last those who were not slain had fled far away and a deep silence fell on them, a sudden, anti-climactic peace. Then Aranwë took both his sisters in his arms and none were unmoved by the touching family reunion.
"Vanimeldë," he said, "how worried we have been for you." Vanimeldë's face was shining with joy and despite the dirt and her torn raiment she looked very fair in her delight. Írissë smiled even though she held one had to her chest where the poison still lingered and caused her spasms of an aching pain.
"And you," Aranwë kissed her fondly on the forehead, "do you know how much trouble you have caused?" she nodded,
"Father is angry?" she asked,
"Utterly livid," he replied and for a brief moment the teasing sparkle returned to Írissë's eyes.
"Then all is well again." she said and sighed. Then Elrohir clasped his kinsman's forearm gladly,
"Well met my friend!" he said, "At our direst need you bring aid unlooked for but I must know, why have you come here?"
"A fair question," he replied, "and one deserving of an answer but first may we not leave this place?" The others readily assented and Aranwë shared the horses out among them so that each elf rode and the paths were open to them. At long last the came to the eaves of the forest and everyone delighted in the rising sun and the appearance of pure light for the first time in says. Elrohir saw in each of his own party the need for rest and insisted they did not move on until the afternoon had come and they were all refreshed enough to continue. The perpetual darkness that enswathed the forest had lost to them all sense of time and the hours that had passed had seemed at times as long as days and at others having only the span of minutes. Either way they all found they were afflicted by weariness and welcomed the rest they were granted. Elladan wrapped Írissë in his mantle and laid her gently to sleep under a tree, the soft golden sunlight shining through the branches. He then joined Elrohir who sat with Aranwë and the rest of the latter's host,
"You were telling us how it was you knew to come to our aid," he said, "I would be gratified if you would continue." Aranwë smiled and seemed to see things far away,
"It was a dream," he said quietly. " a dream has come to me for a few nights and with it a chanted riddle, the like of which I have never heard before and I could not forget the words that were spoken to me.
Brother to the lost one,
Warrior of Rivendell.
Hearken to the voice that calls thee,
Hear what these words have to tell.
Danger follows those that hunt,
The one taken from these lands.
Darkness comes unto the brave,
Death follows at its hands.
Go with strength into the West,
Where kings of old once reigned.
And seek the forest near those shores,
To find those that need thine aid.
Fitfully did I sleep that night and walked the strange paths of my dreams with some confusion but ever the song was sung about my ears and never could I be free from it.
I spoke with your father, Lord Elrond, and he assured me that it was the gift of foresight I was experiencing and that I should hearken to it and not dismiss it as the folly of waking sleep."
"I can imagine him saying such," said Elladan with a grin, feeling a warm wave of tiredness wash over him.
"He counselled me to take the advice of the dream and leave at once for the west with a company of elves who would consent to come."
"And I thank you," said Arciryas, "as I am sure we all do for what might have become of us if you had not appeared is not worth thinking of." he yawned visibly and Aranwë was moved to pity,
"Take rest now Master Arciryas," he said kindly, "we can wait to leave. Your party all need it and you should take advantage of the time we have." Arciryas smiled gratefully and they all took rest beneath the shade of a group of leafy beech trees as the sun rose and climbed to noon. Elladan stretched himself out at Írissë's side and slept gladly.
Not until early afternoon did the weary travellers finish their rest and partake of some food. All were secretly thankful they were able to eat something other than lembas which, despite the pleasing flavour and refreshing properties, became tiresome when one had eaten naught but it for days on end. During this time Elrohir, Alltaron and Calimmacil informed Aranwë of everything that had happened to them on the quest to recover Vanimeldë. She herself listened avidly for she knew nothing of this and her blue eyes widened in surprise as the tale of their adventures was recounted. Elrohir described with a grin in Calimmacil's direction the fiasco they endured at the Midgewater Marshes and Calimmacil hung his head in mock shame.
"I admit, so it was." he said sheepishly,
"Lulled into the mud pits by a creature only you could see," jested Alltaron, "amusing it was for the rest of us, of whose warnings you took little heed."
"Very well Master Alltaron," Calimmacil replied and sighed, "regrettable the incident was but eager am I to forget it." In an effort to change the subject from his own misfortune he proceeded to tell of Mithlond, which Aranwë had not seen for many years.
"Grievous are your tidings," he said when he heard of the great destruction there.
"That was Gáiala's doing as you rightly guessed." said Vanimeldë quietly, "He stood on the shore and summoned that storm and saddened am I to hear of the effects of it."
"It was terrible," admitted Alltaron, "yet the worst of it was endured by Elladan and Lady Írissë. They were forced to shelter on a cave whilst we enjoyed the luxury of The Mariner's Song. A very fine establishment if I say so myself." Elladan came and sat with the group who were building a fire in the midst of the tale-telling. Calimmacil would not look at him and Elladan knew the reason for it and was sad for Calimmacil had long been his friend. Elladan busied himself with gathering a selection of herbs and crushing them into boiling water. With this healing water he bathed Írissë's wound and applied some of that salve she had herself used on Arciryas' wounded arm. Elladan's face darkened, he was worried. The wound, although small, was poisoned by something Elladan did not think he had encountered before in all his years. Instead of being drawn out by the poultice he had once applied it was growing and the dark skin around her heart was growing too.
"Does this pain you?" he asked and she nodded, her jaw clenched.
"What is happening, Elladan?" she asked, "Speak to me the truth." Elladan sighed unhappily,
"I cannot heal the poison here." he said, "Nor do I think I would be able to do so even if I had supplies for I have not seen the like of it before."
"What is to be done then?" she asked bravely, steeling herself for the news that she was indeed to die and Elladan's drawing her back had all been in vain and merely prolonged what was left of her fragile existence.
"My father will know." he said tenderly, "Bide your time. I will not let you go without a fight."
"I know." she replied by was visibly paler than Elladan had ever seen her. Aranwë had observed their disquiet from his seat at the fire and now came over,
"What is wrong?" he asked and beheld the wound.
"Lady Írissë was wounded by a poisoned knife." Elladan explained, "I have done all I can but there is little hope without the knowledge of my father, a Master of Healing." Aranwë looked grave and tousled his sister's hair reassuringly,
"We must leave soon, Aranwë," Elladan said urgently. He did not think he had ever been this nervous in his life. Írissë was hanging on by the merest thread and were she to worsen any more then Elladan doubted there would be anything that could be done for her. "Or she will not last."
"Speak not in whispers because you think I am a fool," Írissë said,
"Nobody thinks that, sister."
"Let me ride ahead of you," she said, sitting up and rubbing her brow, "one may reach Imladris faster than many if you would lend me a horse."
"I am not letting you go alone," said Elladan, "whatever you say. Aranwë, pray lend us a steed that we may get Írissë to Imladris as swiftly as possible."
"Of course," he replied and darted away, to come back with his own tall grey horse.
"Naur will bear you both," he said and he gently helped Írissë to mount even though she scorned his aid as she ever did. Elladan climbed up behind her and with a swift nudge into the horse's sides they were off, speeding through the lands to Imladris, Elladan praying they would reach it in time.