Second Star to the Right - Chapter Five; By My Honour
A/N - Ok, first, sorry this hasn't been up for ages!!! I know, I should have posted it earlier, can you ever forgive me? This is a shorter chapter than the last one (thank the lord!) but you might find its slower moving too - its more of a scene setter for the next chapter, and the one after that >wicked grin< Oh Elrond is going to hate me...
Chapter Five - By My Honour
Nesial surveyed the steady bustle around the camp with distinct disdain etched into her features. A yellow haze seemed to cover the course settlement and the air was too still; thick and heavy to breath. Over head, dull pre-storm clouds gathered and loomed ominously like waiting giants, drawing together their full strength. The troll-like men lumbered about their tasks, mumbling and grumbling to one another, but their voices were barely heard. And eerie silence hung threateningly in the air - the deep breath before the plunge...
Yet to Nesial's ears, all was not silent. And to Nesial's eyes, the yellowish light caused no blurriness.
The scream from the half-elf still rang clear in her ears, pounding mercilessly, driving her to a guilt she knew she should not be feeling. His contorted, writhing figure on the hall floor haunted everything she saw, as though the ghosts of the previous night followed her every foot step.
For she realised now why Káno never usually let her near the area where the `cleansing' took place. The only reason she had been last night was to keep Elf-boy among the living - now she wasn't so sure that death wouldn't have been better.
Taking a deep breath, she leant her full weight against the hall doorway; her legs crossed to balance, and she passed a hand over her inky black eyes. What was she thinking? Was she, Nesial Kelathra, daughter of a Queen among Sorceresses losing her nerve? Had she actually grown to like the mongrel?
"What are you thinking?" a silky, low voice just behind her asked, "What do you see?"
Nesial slowly let out the deep breath and forced her face to become neutral as she moved her hand away.
"The hour grows late," she answered cryptically, staring with unseeing eyes across the hill range. "They will not be denied when the time comes."
Káno stepped up beside her. Glinting dark silver mail tinkled slightly under the knee length velvet sleeveless robe. Like the others of his Order, the cloth was a rich green, and upon his breast was embossed the golden serpent, poised and ready to strike, the emblem of his leadership. And emerald encrusted sword rested by his hip, and his white blonde hair was pulled back into a simple braid.
"We will be ready - he is the one they need," Káno replied with a definite tone, and he seemed to follow Nesial's blank gaze across the horizon. "Yet that is not what I meant; and you well know it, witch."
Nesial stiffened almost unperceivably and glanced side long at him.
"I am no witch," she muttered.
"So it would seem." A sarcastic sneer tugged at the corners of his mouth, and his eyes glittered.
"You would do well to remember you cannot do this without me," spat Nesial, and immediately knew she had been too bold. Káno's eyes flashed dangerously, and he spun to face her so that they were mere inches apart.
"And you would do even better to remember your place and purpose," he growled.
Nesial dropped his gaze and nodded submissively, shrinking back a little.
"Better," he smirked.
There was silence for a few moments as they both returned to watching the hills. Then -
"Do not grow attached to him, Carandol."
Nesial started, for one thing, she hated the elven alias he had given her - `red-head' indeed. Secondly, and more worryingly, she thought she had hidden her mind from him far better than that. Was she really that easy to read? This could become dangerous...
"What gave you such a notion?" she asked in an off hand manner.
Káno made a `tsk tsk' sound and shook his head.
"You give yourself away far too easily, my dear," he drawled. "But I don't want you to go getting impossible idea's into that pretty red head of yours. He is the price you pay, like all the others - do not forget that."
"Why would I harbour any feelings fro a half-breed? He does not even belong to a race! The world will be better off with one less no one, and I think I place my own interests well above his." she claimed defiantly.
Káno began laughing, much to her confusion.
"As you say, my dear - if nothing else, it is good at least to know you value your own pathetic life above his." He paused, when a thought struck him. "But of course, a simple test cannot hurt can it?"
Nesial raised her eyebrows in a questioning response as Káno clicked his fingers.
"You haven't met our new and improved - what did you call him? - half-breed yet, have you?" he grinned manically.
The Sorceress frowned, half-confused, until a young man of no more than twenty came to stand silently by his commander. Long, dark hair was braided back from his contrasting deathly pale face and thick chains of dull gold bound his hands, with a long connection to a golden clamp around his neck like a collar. A rich, forest green shirt decorated with gold hung off his lean frame, as he stared incessantly at the ground. Except, Nesial noticed, his face was blank, expressionless, devoid of emotion. She reached forward a forced steady hand and tilted his chin with the tips of her fingers. The bright, sea-grey eyes that had once been so full of life and defiance and endless hope had been emptied. Completely. She looked at him, but he did not see her; the glassy, dark ashen orbs were lightless, as though nothing had ever existed there.
At once, she wanted to rush forwards and embrace him tightly in her arms. She wanted to feel a flood of empathy for this lost, empty vessel. She wanted to give him back what they had taken, and beg him for his forgiveness.
And for wanting to do that, she wanted to shoot herself. This wasn't how it was supposed to bloody be - she should never have met him before!
"He has had no other side effects?" She carefully made sure that no trace of the tumult of emotions inside her was in her voice. She had kept her tone lain, brisk, businesslike, and prayed that he wouldn't see past the charade.
She could feel his piercing deep eyes searching her, trying to detect any sign of weakness or giving. She stood steadfast however, and allowed him no ground. Finally, her turned his gaze away and answered her question.
Side effects? None whatsoever," Káno replied almost delightedly, looking over Elrond as though he were a newly discovered advanced species of animal.
"Then we need only wait," stated, leaving go of Elrond's chin. His eyes immediately sought the floor again. With another snap of his fingers, Káno sent him back inside.
"So it would seem. Yet if something were to...backfire... rest assured, he is not the only price you will have to pay."
Nesial jerked her head around, eyeing him fearfully.
"What of the Laws?" she hissed, "And what of our bargain?"
Káno shrugged carelessly. "Rules are made to be broken - and if I haven't got the half-breed, we haven't got a bargain, have we?" he added, sneering.
Nesial did not reply.
"Of course - a week is a long time to wait, my dear..." Káno's voice had dropped to a low purr, and Nesial became suddenly aware that his left hand was creeping up her side, over her chest to her slender, milky skinned neck. She drew a sharp intake of breath. Her heart started to beat erratically. She had been dreading this moment since that first night in the inn. Yet she did not move.
"You know full well there is no point is resisting," he whispered, stepping so close their bodies touched. His other hand had found its way around her back, and was fiddling with the ribbon - lacing tantalisingly. His breath warmed her skin as her began kissing her neck in an ungentle way.
Everything inside her wanted to scream - scream and run until she died; but she was a magician, an illusionist by trade (though she almost shuddered at what her mother would say if she knew she had thought that). But she knew how to fool him, and if she wanted to survive she must. She forced her body to relax in his hold, and brought her own hand up, dancing her fingers along his toned forearms.
"That's better, my dear," he snickered in her ear as he finally succeeded in undoing the knot in the lacing. Nesial felt him pushing his body up against hers, towards the wall behind, and she gracefully side-stepped into the darkness of the hall.
As he pulled the ribbons away and slid the dress down her shoulders, one thought only came into her mind: How ironic, that all the golden chains in the world were still chains.
Elros shuffled aimlessly along the silver-sanded beach. Several flat and smooth pebbles rested in his left hand, and occasionally he would skim them across the dancing and foaming waves. He could see the lights of his home in the distance, flickering gold and orange and blue. Yet since Elro - since that day... He wasn't even sure it was his home any more. He had never felt so hopeless and alone and useless in all his life. It was like half of him, half of his being, of his very soul was missing. But by bit, it was draining him of everything that he was, and as his strength failed, so did his faith.
It had been four days since the horsemen had erupted from the woods. At first, he had been almost certain that they could follow and catch up with the rogues with ease, and half-believed that they would have Elrond back home before nightfall. But the time had dragged on, and soon he was only optimistic for his mother's sake. She too at first had held out well, and even Elros could not detect the slightest trace of weakness about her unfaltering perseverance. To the rest of the small town, he supposed she still seemed like that; but he was her son, and he knew better. It was beginning to tear her apart inside, and he hated to see it, just as much as he hated himself for causing it. Yes, he thought grimly; it was him. If he hadn't been so *** slow, if he had made the effort to do something about it, if he hadn't failed his brother... Well, the answer was obvious. They wouldn't be in this crisis now. Without meaning to, or even realising he was doing so, Elros began to suddenly desperately wish that above all else his father would just come home. He hadn't been away long, and of course he was used to him being at sea - but now was the time he needed him more than any other. But there was no use in wishing, he knew only too well. It didn't get you anywhere.
For, in the four days since the horsemen had once more disappeared, with Elrond unconscious among them, his mother had sent search parties out all along the coast to Círdan and far inland; yet neither hide nor hair had been seen of his twin.
Elros stopped on the shore, snorting at the frustration of it all and kicked the glittering sand into the air with a fierce thrust from his boot. They had followed the tracks of the horses on the soft turf, that had been easy enough. But as soon as they'd got within a few yards of the forest, they had just stopped - completely ended. It was as if the entire horde of them had vanished into thin air, and even their best trackers were at a loss.
"AARRRGGHHH!!!" Elros screamed for all he was worth and more, unleashing every single pent up emotion inside his body and channelling it into this one sound, as though if it were loud enough it would bring him back. He threw the remaining stones with all his might out into the sea. They landed with large splashes and sinking `plops' a few dozen feet away.
Why did this have to happen?! Damn it, if these Valar were as brilliant and as all-powerful as they claimed to be, why didn't they answer his prayer now? Why couldn't they do the one thing he asked of them, and stop being so selfish? Why couldn't they just bring his little brother back to him?
He barely felt his legs give way beneath him, and his knees buckled into the soft crystalline sand, his whole body racked with shuddering sobs. He covered his ace with his hands to hide out the world, but it did not stop the stinging tears from streaming from his eyes and flooding his cheeks. All he could hear was his own ragged, hitched breathing; not the spray of the sea nor the quietly wailing gulls - nor the stealthy footfalls behind him. It fact, it was not until a shadowy figure, who if Elros has looked at would see to be wearing s silver grey cloak and soft leather boots had come right up beside him and sat down that he realised someone other than himself was there.
"W - what do you want?" he croaked coarsely, "Just go away a - and leave me alone!"
"I only came because you called for me," replied the figure in a balmy, mildly hurt voice. A familiar voice...
Elros looked up, hardly daring to believe it.
"Father?" he whispered, still not trusting his tear-blurred eyes.
"My son..." said Eärendil smiling sadly, "yes, it is I."
"Father!" Throwing away all pretence that he was a full grown man, Elros threw himself into his father's arms and wept anew into his shoulder.
"Ai Elbereth..." breath Eärendil, "Oh Elros, I am so, so sorry." In the misty starlight, his bright eyes compassionate eyes shone like the sea's crystal foam and his raven hair billowed slightly in the salty breeze.
"Father - you came, you came," sobbed Elros. He felt his father's strong arms pull around him drawing him closer. Elros could not have cared less who saw him now, it did not matter; all that mattered was that he was safe at last, in his father's arms once more.
"Of course I came," Eärendil whispered softly, "I am your father Elros; I hear all of your prayers, and I am always there for you, no matter where you are."
"Then you are the only one who heard," Elros murmured darkly.
"My son, do not think so rashly, even in your doubt and grief. For they answered you, did they not? Lord Manwë sent swift winds to fill my sails, and Ulmo flowing tides to the shore, and Lady Varda the bright light of the stars to guide me. They heard you, little one," he said gently, lightly kissing the top of Elros' head, who was too over come with emotion to even feel indignant at the use of his childhood name.
"But father - I lost him - it was all my fault - please - forgive me -" choked Elros brokenly, trying to bury himself into his father, and it pained Eärendil do see his son suffer so.
"Shh, Elros, shh... My son, there is nothing for me to forgive," Eärendil comforted him gently, stroking his auburn hair. "This was not your fault in any way. Do you understand Elros? You are not to blame for this."
Elros pulled back a little, so that he could look up at his father. His face shone with tears, and eyes over brimmed with sorrow. "But I didn't do anything," rasped ashamed, "I didn't even know he had tripped - I just kept running - and when I turned around they - they - had him. And I ran. I ran because I was afraid; because I am a coward."
"No!" Eärendil started strongly, taking his elder son's shoulders, "No Elros, you are anything but a coward, do not scorn yourself so. You came to get help as soon as you could, the only thing you cold have done."
"I could have tried to help him," sniffed Elros sullenly.
Eärendil sighed despondently. "No Elros. If you had tried to aid Elrond, they would only have taken you as well, you were out numbered. And I couldn't live with myself if I lost you both," he added, pulling Elros to him again. Elros snuggled into his father's shoulder, burying his face in the soft, warm robes beneath the cloak, hearing the steady, rhythmatic heartbeat in his father's chest. His did not see Eärendil blink and force away tears in his own sparkling eyes.
For a long time, Elros remained tight within his father's grasp. The continuous lull of the waves washing up the shore calmed him, and gradually his face dried and his chest rose and fell deeply and steadily as sleep took him. Eärendil noticed his son's quietness, and looked down at him. He seemed so peaceful... He mariner was not to know, but this was the first time Elros had slept soundly since Elrond had been kidnapped. The elder man felt a sharp pang in his heart as he thought of his younger son. How was he ever going to find him? Where was he know - was he even alive? These were dangerous times... And with Elwing bearing the Simaril - well, nothing was sure anymore. Perhaps he should never have left them alone. Perhaps this was his fault - for too long he had been lucky, and they had stayed safe; but perhaps his luck had run out.
Sighing, he turned to look at the sea. It was a clear, cloudless night, and just as he had told Elros, Varda's jewels twinkled with a pure and innocent beauty, untainted by the wars of elves and men, upon the dancing waters, shimmering and dancing in reflections.
The stars... Ever had they been friends to the ship wrights and sailors, guiding them home, leading them in waters strange, singing to them softly in the dead of night. Automatically it seemed, Eärendil's eyes sought out a bright flaring star to the North West. He smiled, as he thought of the seaman's legend of the path to Valinor...
"Bright in the sky,
By starry ways,
Second star to the right,
`Til the dawn of day."
Second star to the right... He had always wondered where that path led, and if it truly went to the Blessed Realm. Maybe one day he would find it - but right now, that was the least of his concerns. Right now, he knew what he had to do - he knew he had to find Elrond.
Looking out upon the stars again, he laid one hand on his heart, and swore and oath silently to himself; by all that he held dear, he would find his son and bring him home. There was no other alternative.
He stared lovingly back down at the sleeping boy in his arms.
"By my honour," he whispered, and gathering Elros up in his arms, he walked quietly along the sand towards his home.