Second Star to the Right - Chapter Three: Dreams and a Harsh Reality
A/N[/B[ - Well.... I'm glad that my fic is being appreciated here, and I'm loving everyone who reviews!!! I'm sorry that the chapter took so long to come up, and that wasn't my fault. It didn't get posted here until about a week and a half had passed, so that is that I'm afraid. But its here now, so thar ye go! Ok, il stop rambling and let ya'll read now... >slaps hands for getting carried away on keyboard<
Chapter Three - Dreams and a Harsh Reality
That night, Elrond lay shivering beneath his blanket, his teeth chattering and murmuring in his sleep. His dreams were plagued with ghostly, haunting figures and shadows, whispering and calling eerily to him from a starless void of darkness.
"Come to us..." they said, "Follow us, come unto the gloom..."
No, replied Elrond in his mind, trying to step back, no, I will not follow you...
"You must, Peredhil... you will... come to us..."
"You cannot make me!" Elrond shouted fiercely yet even as he did so, he felt his strength to pull from the voices ebbing away.
"Come to us..."
"No... no," breathed Elrond, his mind growing weaker. He felt the shadows draw in around him, envelop him in an immense raven blanket, suffocating him. He tried to struggle, but his limb hung limply by his sides, his gaping mouth giving no sounds.
"It is too late... you cannot go back..."
It's a dream, Elrond thought desperately, I'll wake up... wake up...
"WAKE UP!" A frustrated voice bellowed deafeningly in his ear, and he was jolted from sleep with an abrupt elbow in his ribs. He sprang up straight, looking wildly around him for his attacker, momentarily forgetting where he was, and frowning in a confused fashion at the scene around him.
"Flippin' heck, elf-boy, what are you, a log or something?" said a shrill, agitated voice, "I thought you were part elf!"
The memories of the day and night before came speeding back, hitting him like a ton of bricks so that he actually physically wavered a little. Rubbing his chest where Nesial had hit him, he felt her shadow looming over him.
"What the -"
"Shut up and get moving!" she snapped, already shoving him off the blankets to roll them up, "Its alright for some of us ain't it, muttering sweet nothings in out sleep..." she added under her breath.
"What?" said Elrond, alarmed.
"You were talking in your sleep - and you shouldn't have been sleeping in the first place!" she scolded him as she hurled the rolled up blankets to a couple of thugs behind her. They grunted in a troll like way, and trudged off to pack them away.
"What - what's going on?" asked Elrond a little blurrily. In being woken from sleep so suddenly, he had not noticed the commotion around him; all of the men were running around, hastily carrying or packing things onto the horses which were being tacked up at a startling rate.
"Moving on, ain't we?" explained Nesial hauling him to his feet, her copper curls in a careful braid down her back.
"Where are we going?" frowned Elrond as she marched him towards the horses.
"Oh please, elf-boy, do you really think they're going to tell me?" She rolled her eyes as she had done so many times the night before. Elrond felt a slight and mild twinge of annoyance, but held his tongue.
"Come on, foot in the stirrup, I'll help you up," and with a surprisingly strong upwards movement, she pushed him up into the saddle. He swayed for a second but balanced himself soon enough as she fumbled with the rope around his hands.
"What are you doing?" said Elrond curiously, staring down at her.
"I was told to get you on a horse, secure your hands to the pommel -"
"I gathered that, but why you?" cut in Elrond sharply. For a split-second, Nesial seemed to freeze, to hesitate, but the ropes were soon undone.
"They're - they're busy," she stated lamely, now tying his hands to the saddle.
Elrond furrowed his brow, but did not respond. He was no fool, he had lived with Elros for twenty odd years, and he had an acute sense for knowing when someone was up to something.
Nesial heard a brisk voice call behind her, and span around to see Káno standing with his hood drawn mysteriously over his face on the far side of the camp.
"Stay here," she ordered him, and hurried off to meet her captor.
"How am I going to move, I'm tied to a tied up horse!" Elrond called out irritably after her, though if she heard him she took no notice.
He watched her suspiciously as she walked up to Káno, her footsteps now slow and careful, her head bowed down slightly. From where he sat, though he had a view over the heads of the men, he couldn't make out either of their faces, nor could he hear them over the troll-like men's clamour. As far as he could tell, Nesial appeared to be listening intently to the commander, his stance tall and leering.
Suddenly, Elrond could only guess that he had said something that angered her, for her head shot up and her hands were thrown up in the air in resentment and bitterness. Above the calamity of the things around him, Elrond heard her shout something indignantly. Káno stepped forwards so that their faces were merely inches away, and Elrond saw Nesial drop her fierce pose and then turn her head away in what he could only guess to be disgust. Then, with a final glance of what Elrond could only suppose from his distance was loathing, she stalked haughtily away from him, her head held high in the air. Momentarily Káno watched after her, the hood casting dark shadows over his unreadable face. He must have noticed Elrond's staring, for he snapped his head sharply upwards, gazing directly at him and grinning maliciously. Elrond felt his blood run cold - something was definitely up, he knew it.
"Everyone ter the `orses!" boomed a scathing and harsh voice, and at once it seemed, no man was left on his feet.
Beneath Elrond, the scrawny, mud-stained and dusty beast yawned and rested its back leg lazily, its eyes drooping.
"Don't put yourself out too much," Elrond muttered at it.
"Whadya say?" asked a broad-shouldered, one eyed man gruffly, slurring his words.
"I didn't say anything."
"Oh - right... "said the man, looking confused.
"Nitwit," breathed Elrond.
"Men!" a commanding, familiar voice roared, "We ride north! Keep to the forest edge!"
Elrond spun in his saddle to see Káno once more astride his dun steed, which neighed and reared fiercely, its front legs kicking wildly out before it hit the floor with a heavy thud and launched of into a gallop, skirting the forest eaves.
In a great swirl of dust and a disunited stampede, the men charged after him, Elrond's horse bound by means of a rope to another. On they rode, for nigh on four hours straight, without so much as a change in pace; apparently, the horses were far more athletic than they looked. On and on they galloped, breaking only a small sweat, their rhythmatic hoof beats continuous and unbroken.
Around them, the scenery changed little, though in the far off distance, Elrond's keen elven laced eyes spied the dark hazy outline of mountains on the horizon. But they were still days away.
Glancing to his right, Elrond let out a small gasp of surprise, though the sound went unnoticed by the others; Nesial rode her own strawberry roan mare freely, her hands unbound, her face set and stern, staring adamantly forwards. What on earth was she doing? Surely, if she was a prisoner, then she too should be bound, as he was? But then, Elrond realised, where would she go is she were to chance escape? The rest of the company would be on her in seconds. Yet the same went for Elrond... so why was he bound, and she not? Elrond pondered this for the rest of the duration of the journey, until they paused briefly in mid afternoon for food.
Once again, Elrond was pulled from the saddle, though this time he was able to walk of his own accord, something his stiff and aching legs welcomed gratefully. He was sat near the outskirts of the group, who did not start a fire but savagely ripped and tore at old cooked meat between themselves, slurping noisily at their water bottles.
Elrond watched them with increasing revulsion, until Nesial sat herself by his feet carrying bread for them both.
"His Majesty says I've got to feed you," she mumbled irritably (when didn't she?!) tearing a piece off the crusty, half stale loaf. "Open wide, elf-boy!"
Elrond raised an eyebrow sardonically at her.
"Oh, you think I'm liking this?" she scorned, her own eyebrows raised, "Come on, you need food, so lets just get this over and done with, yeah?"
Very reluctantly giving into the loud rumbling noises his stomach had been making since Nesial had mentioned food, he opened his mouth and allowed her to put the bread inside. It was horrible, plain, tasteless stuff, something he wouldn't ordinarily consider feeding even to an animal, but he was so hungry. He chewed and swallowed it hurriedly, waiting for more when a sudden thought crossed his mind; Thank the Valar Elros couldn't see him now...
"You hungry are you, elf-boy?" laughed Nesial, and popped more bread into his mouth. As he ate it, she watched him carefully, a mischievous smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"What?" said Elrond, swallowing hard and almost choking on the desert dry bread.
"Nothing," she grinned, tearing some bread off for herself, still watching him.
"After finishing the loaf between them, Nesial pulled out a half-full water skin.
"Come on elf-boy, tilt your head back slightly..." She leant forward to tip it down his throat, but Elrond felt himself wanting to pull back. He was uncomfortable with this whole situation - but his throat was like sand paper, and admitting defeat he readily gulped down the freezing water as if ne had never drunk begfore, feeling his throat do numb as he did so.
"Whoa, elf-boy, that's for both of us, you know!" protested Nesial, taking the skin away, "Besides, you'll get cramp when you ride." She nodded knowingly at him.
Ride... that reminded him of something...
"Nesial?" he asked suddenly, "Whose Káno? I mean really?"
Nesial frowned but put the skin down, wiping the water from her mouth.
"You mean you haven't heard the stories?" she said disbelievingly, eyeing him with something between suspicion and shock.
"Stories?" echoed Elrond eagerly, leaning forward, "What stories?"
Nesial glanced warily about her.
"I'll tell you more tonight when we make camp, " she told him in an undertone, "But Káno ain't his real name, as you probably guessed. To tell the truth, I don't know who or what he is - I doubt anyone does. But from what I can gather, he's some sort of well - well, for lack of a better word, wizard. Not in the good sense mind; but then I don't really know anything about him."
"Well you know more than I do, and that's a start, " Elrond pointed out, "Go on."
"Well," Nesial paused and shifted uneasily, "I've heard one story. There was a village up north, and he had - shall we say, dealings, with some of the men. One day, for some reason they called what ever deal they had going off. I don't know what this business was, but I think its safe to say they definitely weren't going to be good. So these men pull out of the deal one night, and Káno is in a right rage; stands in the village square, ranting and raving, cursing them all - the whole lot of them - before he galloped off. From what I've heard, no one got any word from that village for days, until a nearby settlement sent out scouts. Every single person in that village was dead; men, women, children, even the bloody horses were goners. All the same way - and let me tell you, it wasn't a pretty sight. There wasn't a sole survivor in that village - it was a massacre."
Elrond leaned back a little, feeling slightly sick.
"You alright, elf-boy?"
"If there were no survivors, then how did that story come to be?" questioned Elrond cryptically, more to himself than to Nesial. She, however, froze in mid-thought and furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Never mind, " said Elrond, shaking his head.
But it seemed that she wouldn't have had the chance to mind, even had she wanted to for all around them, the men began clambering clumsily back up onto their horses, which for the most part snorted and continued to munch on the course, straw-like grasses that grew from the earth.
"Got to go!" she mouthed, and hurried off to her own steed.
"Oh - fine." drawled Elrond sarcastically, as two more thugs came to haul him back astride his horse. As they re-tied his hands to the saddle, he felt someone brush past his leg, and looking down he saw Káno, his emerald eyed gleaming like a serpents.
"I'll be having a chat with you tonight, Master Elrond," he told him mockingly, "Seems we have a few... Priorities, to sort out." And before Elrond could even open his mouth to reply, he had stridden off, cackling to himself.
So as they set off again, Elrond heard Nesial's voice echoing in his mind; `There wasn't a sole survivor in that village...' And with a feeling of growing dread sinking down in his stomach, he cantered off with the company, still no closer to finding out why he was there.