Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone - Chapter 12 - Rivendell
The banquet hall was well appointed, rich tapestries, woven no doubt by the greatest of Elven artists, adorned the walls, depicting events from the War of the Ring. Pallandro was rather surprised that the King had not had them torn down immediately, since the Haradrim had suffered so ignominious a defeat in that war. Looking at the Dae Kular Witch, and the way her eyes roamed their majestic beauty, it was about time Pallandro hinted that they should be removed. There was no sense in keeping anything that would help her retain her spirit.
All attempts thus far to break her had failed. He could not allow her to be alone with anyone save Allatar or himself, for she had tried on numerous occasions to persuade people to aid her in escape, or even in revolting against their King. It would not have been a problem really, for any attempt at treason could be swiftly dealt with, save she had come close to convincing the King, and Pallandro was not yet ready to abandon the Haradrim. They still had a part to play in his master's plan.
He sighed. If only one were so much trouble to hold, how would they manage to control all three? I was something he had pondered many times since they had arrived in Gondor. It was of prime importance to break this one so that more attention could be paid to the other two.
Perhaps the time had come to abandon the more subtle attempts. The fool Sauron had managed to hold her for a long time merely by keeping her in his dungeon at Dol Guldur. He had even managed to wipe all knowledge of her past from her mind. Surely if Sauron could manage it, he, Pallandro could easily break her. Perhaps he could add in a little torture.
Pallandro grinned. It had been a long time since he had participated in a little simple torture. In the Witch's case it would be an exquisite pleasure.
Zandra's eyes met his at that moment, as though she had sensed his excitement. She lifted her chin confidently, and met his gaze with one of defiance. She knew what he had decided for her. Yes. It would indeed be a pleasure to see her pleading for mercy, to hear her sobbing in the darkness.
Do not tarry too long with the Water Child his master spoke to him. The third has arrived, and the time is drawing ever closer.
It was time to begin the next phase of their plan. The pressure on Rohan was about to increase, and Mirkwood had better look to its borders. An evil smile spread across Pallandro's lips. He could not be certain what Zandra read in his eyes, but a hint of fear had entered her clear green gaze. As well it should, Pallandro thought exultantly, her fear would make his job even easier.
Jaessa stopped in worry. She had just sent her thoughts ahead, and where there had been, just last night, a large group of people in the valley ahead, now they were gone, traveling far into the mountains, and only a few remained. One was nearby, one approaching the city from the south, and two up on the mountain. The one closest to them had begun to approach, actually circling around north of them. This action was what had put Jaessa on her guard.
She spoke swiftly to Gimli, who obediently slipped from her back. His horsemanship had improved greatly in the days since they had left Fornost. She grinned inwardly, recalling her mother's insistence that the only way to learn to ride was directly from the horse.
Legolas and Haldir had already started across the Ford, but when they heard Gimli dismount, they turned back. Gimli unhooked the girth strap, and the saddle slid to the ground in a heap. Immediately Jaessa shifted into wolf form and raced up the river bank like a silent shadow in the late morning light.
She came to a narrow point in the river, and with a mighty leap she crossed it, landing without a sound on the other side. The person was coming towards her now. Jaessa could hear the tread of his feet, the creaking of the grass bending underneath the admittedly light pressure.
She crouched low to the ground in the shade of a low lying bush, waiting for their erstwhile observer. She tensed her muscles, preparing for whatever would be needed. But as the person came into view she relaxed. This slight figure of an elvish girl was no threat to them.
Jaessa shifted back to her human form, and stepped from behind the tree. "Now, you are not at all what I had expected," she said.
The girl whirled, her long golden hair flying loose around her shoulders, and snatched an arrow from her quiver in the blink of an eye. Not bad, Jaessa thought, smiling inwardly at the look of surprise and consternation on the young Elf's face. Here was one who did not hide her emotions well.
"Who are you? What are you doing here? How'd you get so close without me hearing?" she asked, voicing the message her face had already clearly told.
"There's no need, I think, for you to draw that bow. I have no intention of attacking you," Jaessa said calmly, hiding the laughter that was bubbling inside her. "My name is Jaessa, I assure you that we came with no intention of harm, rather we wished to request aid of the people of Imladris." She paused, then continued encouragingly, a kind smile gracing her lips, "I assume you are one of those?"
"Imladris is no more. Those filthy orcs ransacked it just last night." The girl slowly lowered her bow, though Jaessa could see she was still wary. "You say we, where are your companions?"
Jaessa, looked at her silently for a moment, her mind awhirl. What would be the consequences of Imladris being destroyed? Were the four she sensed all that remained? If so, there was little aid they could give. She spoke at last, "Do you think you might come down? It would be much more comfortable to talk." The play of emotions across the girl's face was like an old world movie. Jaessa was watching closely, so she knew the moment when the girl decided to trust her.
"I do beg your pardon Jaessa, it was very rude of me, I have been overly wary of late, ever since the Orcs started gathering again in the mountains. And I have not yet introduced myself, my name is Tinel. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, and I hope you will forgive my less than hospitable welcome." Tinel flashed a brilliant smile, and Jaessa could not help but return the smile. There was something wonderfully ingenuous, and winning about this girl who could so swiftly forgive, and smile so cheerfully the very morning after her home had been destroyed.
"There is no forgiveness needed," Jaessa replied, "I understand completely needing to be wary of strangers. Now, as to my companions, I believe they are the ones that you were watching cross the Ford."
"The Ford? I was no where near there!" It seemed that Tinel had long since abandoned any attempts to learn to school her features. Hopefully she also avoided games and situations where a "poker face" to use an ancient expression, was a necessity.
"Watching, listening," Jaessa said, "You were observing them were you not? Or at least, moving to be in a position to do so."
Tinel tilted her head to the side, "How did you approach without my hearing you? You are not Elvish, yet I heard not a sound."
Jaessa kept her face smiling, though it was with an effort. Opening up to strangers did not come so easy for her as it did for this girl. "Alas, though I am sure you would not betray my secret, I fear I do not know you well enough yet to reveal all."
"Sorry, my wretched tongue. Elladan and Elrohir are continually mocking me for it," Tinel laid a hand on Jaessa's arm, her eyes pleading forgiveness. Jaessa felt herself softening as she had not in millennia. Perhaps she could learn to open up to strangers after all.
"Elladan and Elrohir?" she said in response to Tinel's confession, "I believe it is they whom we were seeking."
If possible Tinel's smile grew even brighter. "Oh! Well, let me take you to them!" she said, immediately turning to lead the way up the hill. "When we detected the orcs coming, and knew we weren't enough to stay them, we took refuge in a secret cavern behind the waterfalls. Oh, and you might wish to keep an eye out for your companion's horse, they let it go. I can `t imagine why." She turned to look at her companion, who had managed to keep up with the Elvish lady's long strides amazingly well considering the skirts hampering her stride.
"I get the impression that you are rather unusual as far as Elves go," Jaessa said laughing. "Not that my experience of Elves in this world is extremely large, but Legolas and Haldir, my companions, appear much more reserved."
"Haldir!" Tinel cried in surprised delight, "Haldir is here, and Prince Legolas!? But they both went to Valinor! And yes, I am rather . . . flighty is what Elrohir calls me, though I don't know where he has room to talk. Ah, here we are!"
They had arrived at the foot of a large cascading waterfall. Jaessa looked up at it. It reminded her so much of Aequo Falls back home. No, not home, she chided herself. That world was long gone, it was home no longer. But how Zandra would have loved this waterfall. The lilting melody of Zandra's Waterfall song came to her mind, and her fingers itched to draw the notes from her violin. But it had been lost many years before, and she had not wished to take the time to craft another.
"Why what's the matter?" Tinel cried, and Jaessa was startled to discover she was crying.
"It is nothing but a bit of nostalgia," Jaessa said, dashing away her tears with the back of her hand, then she laughed waterily, "My sister has a passion for waterfalls, and I miss her, that's all."
"It must be nice having a sister," Tinel said slowly, uncertainly.
"Yes," was all Jaessa could manage to say. Her mind was awhirl with confusion. How had she let herself lower her guard enough for tears to form? What was it about the people of this world that they were able so easily to get beneath her skin?
She was grateful when Tinel did not ask any more, but turned away and called up to the waterfall, "Elladan! Elrohir! Come down!"
"Wrong direction love!" a light hearted voice called. "We're more down than you are!"
Jaessa turned to look, mortified that they had managed to get so close without her noticing. She really must get over this distraction if she was going to save her sister. Legolas, and Haldir strode up the hill, leading the horse upon which Gimli sat holding a sleeping Chearra. Beside him walked two Elves, identical in appearance, save that mischief lit the grey eyes of one, and the other kept his face impassive. The third was human, but save for that characteristic he could be related to the two brothers. His coloring was exactly the same. His eyes met hers for a moment, and Jaessa was surprised to see despair written there, but even more, she was shocked to feel her heart reaching out to him.
Legolas urged Aldris across the Ford, he glanced back to see Jaessa hesitate for a moment before following. So, her distrust of water included even shallow rivers. Strange, she did not seem the type to be so easily frightened. So he was surprised when she turned her head back to speak to Gimli, and the Dwarf slid carefully from her back, cradling the sleeping Chearra. Legolas couldn't hide his smile, Gimli had improved greatly in his riding, apparently learning to ride directly from the horse had its benefits.
Gimli untied the goat, and then began loosening the girth of Jaessa's saddle. Confused, Legolas wheeled Aldris around, and they trotted back across the Ford.
"What's going on?" Haldir asked before Legolas could speak.
"Jaessa says that there is something wrong," Gimli said, "she is going to scout about, while we are to go straight on to Rivendell."
"Something wrong?" Legolas asked Jaessa as Haldir dismounted, but she was now free of the saddle, and, more swiftly than his eyes could track, she shifted her form, changing from the sleekly muscled horse, to the lithe shadowy form of a wolf. Why a wolf? he wondered, Why a creature of darkness?
"Did she tell you what it was that was wrong?" Haldir asked Gimli while Jaessa raced around the bend, her movements as silent as a shadow.
"No, only that we were to continue on to Rivendell, and that she would join us. I think she heard something, or felt it, or whatever it is she does," the Dwarf replied.
Haldir turned to follow her, but Legolas swiftly dismounted Aldris and grabbed the other Elf's arm.
"No," he said shortly, "There is no way you could catch her afoot. She knows what she is about no doubt, and we would do best to do as she said." At least he hoped she knew what she was doing.
"But if something is wrong," Haldir began.
"Then she'll come back, she is too skilled in woodcraft to be caught."
"Then let us be going," was all Haldir replied.
They had not gone far, with Gimli riding Aldris, the goat tied to the saddle horn, before they realized that something was indeed wrong, very wrong. Smoke hung heavy in the air, and they began to see signs of orc passage. Branches of the tall stately trees lay twisted and scattered, torn from their hosts, axe marks marred their grey-brown bark, revealing the white flesh beneath.
Haldir and Legolas exchanged shocked glances before abandoning Gimli, and running forward to the crest of the valley of the Last Homely House. At first glance nothing appeared much amiss, save for the black smoke that rose from places scattered about the valley. The towers amidst the trees still stood starkly white in the midmorning light. But as Legolas's eyes traveled down their graceful lengths, he saw the charred markings of fire lacing their bases, and in a few places there were traces of red.
With another short exchange of glances the two elves drew their knives and ran down the slope, their eyes darting about, seeking out the slightest movement, the tiniest sign of danger, or even of life.
As they entered those once hallowed halls, they found neither. There were a few signs of fighting, orc bodies mainly, but on the whole there was an air of abandonment, as though those who had left, left quickly and suddenly, and then the enemy, in his frustration at finding no resistance had proceeded to defile everything that they could.
This puzzled Legolas, why would they leave without a fight? This was their home, the place to which they had clung when their people left for the west. Surely they cared more about it than to simply abandon it to the plundering of orcs. But it seemed that they had.
Statues lay scattered about, broken, and stained by fire and orc blood. The beautiful frescoes were slashed, the tapestries in shreds. As though the Orcs knew to what use the Hall of Fire was put, that room was the most desecrated of all.
Legolas's throat constricted as he remembered the night that he had learned Zandra's name, there in the Hall of Fire. He remembered the beautiful music that she had played on her flute, the gift from her mother, made from a sea shell.
He heard Haldir's sharply indrawn breath, and felt his companion tense before he became aware that they weren't alone, he whirled around, knives at the ready, to be confronted with a pair of very familiar grey eyes. For a moment he was drawn back in time, to the Council of Elrond, and the first time he had met the Ranger soon-to-be King.
But this couldn't be Aragorn, or even Eldarion, so it must be . . .
"Eldacar?" Legolas asked incredulously, Eldacar was Eldarion's second son, the eldest was fair like his Rohirrim mother. Legolas had often spent time with this, the younger son, as Eldarion was more interested in the heir to the throne, something which caused great strife between Elessar and his son.
"Legolas!" the man cried out, lowering his drawn sword, "But you went into the West! You left for Valinor, how come you to be here?"
"We were sent back," was Legolas's offhand reply before countering with his own question, "But what do you here? How fairs your brother in this war?"
"Valacar is dead, he was the first to fall."
"With your father also dead, you must be king, why aren't you with your people battling for you kingdom?"
"I am not King until I can reclaim my father's kingdom," he replied, his eyes filled with the same hardness that Legolas had often seen in his Grandfather. Legolas smiled as he recalled Aragorn's insistence that he not enter the city of Minas Tirith until after the War of the Ring was settled, and he could declare himself heir to the Throne. "And to your other questions," Eldacar continued, "I am here to request the aid of Elrohir and Elladan, and the people of Rivendell, as they aided my grandfather of old, and whomever else would come, . . . but, it seems I am too late."
"`Twould seem so," Legolas said, "Though it was not too long ago, the fires are still smouldering, and we can find no bodies, or even any trace of anyone being killed save orcs. Which of course does not mean that none fell, but I would continue to hope."
"Of course you should continue to hope, my friend," a cheerful voice called.