The Midgewater marshes loomed ahead of them. Írissë turned her nose up in disgust, the marshes were aptly named considering the dense clouds of biting flies which hovered expectantly over the stagnant water. During the cold winter months the marshes were often sheeted in thin ice and their foulness diminished but in summer they were at the height of their unpleasantness and the heat and humidity did nothing but increase the reek of them. They were avoided by all when any other path was possible and were one to take a stray course in the dense haze which so often blanketed it then it could be days before the way loose could be found. The marshes were not overly wide but they were enveloped in a thick fog which shrouded the land in its white folds. Írissë strained her eyes to see through it but by some unseen will or the sheer impenetrability of the mist her eyes were veiled to within a few yards from her face.
The horses were uneasy, they were blindfolded to keep them calm and led slowly through the marshy water. The marshes were green and boggy, stalks of dying brown grasses reached for the sky amid the putrefaction of the unfortunate creatures which drowned in the unclean water. Calimmacil placed a comforting hand on Írissë’s shoulder and she raised a lantern to help clear the smog. It did little good but it was somehow reassuring and the company set off in a single line. The fog wrapped them tightly and in the absence of any sun that day it was a grey view all around.
“Be careful,” Calimmacil whispered, “watch your feet.” Írissë looked down, the slippery rocks were very precarious and there were hidden deep trenches in the ground where one could slip and find themselves trapped. Calimmacil squinted ahead, beyond the faltering gleam of the lantern he spied something.
“What is that?” he asked and moved ahead,
“Calimmacil!” Elladan cried, “Have a care!” Calimmacil waved his hand to show he had heard and slithered precariously across to a flat grassy island. The others stood watching him as his eyes were fixed on something they could not see.
“What are you looking for?” Elrohir asked,
“Can you not see it?” came the reply, “Up ahead?” They all looked but only the solid murkiness greeted their gaze,
“No!” Írissë cried impatiently, “What?” Calimmacil did not answer, his eyes were glazed over and a blank look suddenly crossed his face. His legs were moving of their own accord and propelling him slowly forward. He could not take his eyes from the little flickering light that danced just out his reach. It looked like a white candle flame that led him forward deeper into the marshes. The delicate little thing was drawing him closer and he was transfixed by the glimmer that floated before him, made entirely of smoke. It looked as if it would disappear at any moment and Calimmacil wanted to catch it, to go where it was taking him before it was lost forever. Suddenly Elladan saw the vacant stare on Calimmacil’s face and realised what it must be that he saw.
“Calimmacil!” he called in fright, “Come back immediately, do not follow the light!” Elladan could feel his heart pounding in his throat, his friend was in very great danger even though they did not know it. He could see the other elves out of the corner of his eye, they were watching the scene unfold before them with questioning looks. None other than Elrohir grasped what in fact was happening and he darted across to join his brother before Calimmacil was lost.
“Calimmacil!” he cried, “You must come back!”
Calimmacil was not listening and still walked forward far from the edge into perilous parts of the swamp.
“Brother,” Elrohir turned to Elladan, “he does not hear us,”
“I know Elrohir.”
“Soon it will be too late!” Elrohir continued and Elladan replied with growing urgency,
“I know Elrohir!”
He was sinking to his knees and Elladan rushed towards him quickly,
“Come back!” he ordered,
“The light,” was the quiet response and Calimmacil kept going. The delicate little will-o’-the-wisp was nearer now, he wanted to catch it, it was drawing him closer. He needed to follow it. From whence these thoughts had come he had no idea but they were seductive and persuasive and Calimmacil had little choice but to obey. A gentle music reached his ears alone, the singing of the fairest maidens made him drowsy and it seemed as if they would lift him high into the air. This dizzying feeling made Calimmacil stumble, his eyes were still following the light but he fell down a deep pit filled with the muddy brown water and felt cold hands pulling him through the mire at the bottom. The voices were twisted now and cackled with harsh chanting, spelling his body and binding his will. Cruel eyes leered at him and teeth gnashed in anticipation. Suddenly a wave of nauseating terror washed over him and if he had been able to Calimmacil would have struggled violently with all his might. He found he could not move though and to his horror he began to sink through the mud. It filled his eyes and mouth and he choked. He could not breathe, the darkness was all around him and it closed tight, he had almost resigned himself to his fate. He had no air and was about to pass out when a strong hand from above reached down and forced him to the surface. The grinning faces lost their grip and Calimmacil was hauled upwards. He gulped his first breaths of air and found Elladan and another of the men pulling him from what would have been his watery grave. He coughed again and again and vomited abruptly into the reeds.
“What in Arda was that?” Írissë asked, holding the lantern to Calimmacil’s face and embracing him thankfully.
“It was a marsh-spectre,” Elladan said grimly, “they are extremely rare and I have never heard tell of one here or anyway near this far north. They lure unwitting travellers to their deaths in the mud and feast on their corpses.” Calimmacil turned slightly green and retched again.
“The song of the dead can only be heard by the victims and it forces them into submission,” Elladan went on, “I have only ever encountered one such incident, far East of here and even then its power was weakened.”
“This is Gáiala’s doing,” Írissë said bleakly, “he can control the spirits of evil, this was sent to stop us.”
“Doubtlessly.” Calimmacil struggled to his feet, his clothes were caked in mud and he was barely recognisable through the thick layers of sludge on his face. A foul stench came from the mud and it tasted vile in his mouth.
“If you wish to come any further with us I think I speak for all when I demand you clean yourself up,” said Írissë, laughing at his dishevelled appearance, “as soon as we escape this place.”
She shuddered and a black cloud of flies descended upon them. Elladan swore and sped up. The flies infuriated the horses and after the many falls endured by the elves they all managed to break out of the swamp. The fog ended as abruptly as it had begun, confirming suspicions that it was of Gáiala’s contrivance. The marsh-spectre had vanished but everyone had kept their eyes firmly to the floor and as soon as he could Calimmacil got rid of his tainted clothes. They reeked and he was made for the sakes of the others to leave them behind. Little was said about his recklessness, neither Elladan nor Elrohir rebuked him for they, alone, had seen first hand the power exerted by the subtle spectres and knew the force that compelled the victim towards their impending death. Calimmacil was ashamed at being the one of the party whom had been chosen to die in the marshes and rode silently behind Arciryas, quieted as he thanked the waxing grace of the Valar for saving him and Elladan for pulling him from the swamp. He looked upon the son of the lord with a sharper sense of respect, Elladan was the more serious of the brothers and was often overlooked behind Elrohir’s high-spirited exterior but Calimmacil esteemed the former greatly and saw him with fresh eyes following his slight folly in heading deeper into the marshes.
They had come to the Eastern borders of the Shire and the quiet land was peaceful in the afternoon despite the cold mass of fog behind the company. The noises of crickets grated in the hedgerows and birds whooped through the air with each other. Autumn brought the abundance of colour to this sleepy land and the falling leaves were turning gold and brown as they dusted the ground. The hobbits were scarcely seen this close to the edge and the clusters of trees hid from view any that might be watching the company of elves.
“We cannot enter.” Elladan said, “But now it lies to be determined where we shall next make our way. North or South.”
“Which way is swifter?” Írissë asked. Elladan knew this country well, he had travelled through every inch of it, excepting the actual Shire, and knew much of the local topography.
“The northern trail,” he said, “the southern way takes us more miles and we are closer to the northern border. There is chance of snow upon the white downs but the weather is yet warm and I think all will be well.”
“The north sounds like our best bet,” Calimmacil said, “the few tracks we have found that may belong to Gáiala lead in that direction and if the tracks are truly his own then it could prove the wiser choice.”
Another man, Voronwë, rode to Elladan’s side and barged rudely past Calimmacil. Írissë recognised him at one of Vanimeldë’s past sweethearts. She could not imagine why he would be journeying to save a woman who had scorned him but who was she to question the affairs of his heart?
“Lord,” he addressed Elladan who flinched slightly at the hated title,
“What is it, Master Voronwë?” he said with a weary voice, he knew somewhat of what was coming,
“I know this issue has been resolved once before,” the elf was young by elf reckoning and looked a little in awe of Elladan who was regarding him with mounting dislike, “but I must speak again. This land, with the crude name of Shire, stands in the way of our reaching Mithlond. We could avert much if we could pass beyond the borders and perchance make our way unseen through the land of the Halflings. We mean no danger to them and I cannot believe they would object to our travelling along their roads if our full purpose was explained to their elders.” His disdain for the little folk was clear in his voice and Elrohir gritted his teeth in irritation, while he was sure the kin of Frodo and Samwise would have no objection to meeting them again he was unwilling to gainsay Aragorn’s wished, especially if it meant they did not indulge Voronwë.
Before Elrohir could open his mouth to say anything Írissë rode forward into the huddled group and spoke the words that he was about to say,
“How much time do you think it will save if we journey in a direct line?” she said sharply, “These paths are unknown to all of us but the ones that lead around are familiar to most and can be traversed with little difficulty.”
Voronwë looked her pointedly up and down, taking in the worn breeches and borrowed clothes,
“If you would but excuse me, lady,” he said with a certain hauteur, “I ask the lord Elladan’s or Elrohir’s counsel, not yours,” Írissë glared at him with a mixture of wounded pride and annoyance, it was conduct such as this she had been tolerating that Elladan had not noticed, but he noticed it now and it angered him.
“Why do you speak that way Voronwë?” He asked brusquely, shoving the man roughly with his arm. He moved in front of Írissë protectively and she was grateful to him, “Her words contain wisdom you have yet to learn, should we adhere to your guidance then we would be moving on paths we have never trodden before. It would be faster to take the route around the Shire, by ways we all know and can ride across with ease.” Elladan went as if to continue but Voronwë would not be silenced,
“Could we not ask direction of the Halfling folk?” he asked and Elrohir frowned at his maddening persistence,
“Voronwë!” he cried suddenly, “Why do you persist with this? The king of Gondor forbids any other than hobbits setting foot in the Shire and while we are in these lands we abide by these laws. I will hear no more words against this decision and you will behave with heightened respect towards those wiser than yourself, I infer to the lady Írissë whom you have slighted continually.” Írissë shot Voronwë a condescending look and he looked fairly abashed at his own false assumptions.
The proud horses of Imladris cantered swiftly northwards. Arciryas and Voronwë had been appeased to the fact that the sons of Elrond and Calimmacil would not allow them to ride through the tranquil Shire and were willing to follow their leaders with a limited number of complaints. Írissë had decided she disliked Voronwë, she had known little of him despite his attachment to her sister and he was treating her relatively contemptuously but she could not guess for what reason. The true cause was that every time he looked at Írissë’s face he saw that of Vanimeldë staring back at him. Voronwë was regretting volunteering to come on this quest, he had never fully got over losing Vanimeldë to Arciryas and even though he valued her highly as a friend every time he thought of her he felt his heart ache with longing. He spoke little to Írissë and she concluded eventually that, like the others who looked down on her, his scorn was due to her sex.
Autumn was now definitely here, the rugged landscape was carpeted in the rusty hue of dying ferns. They mingled with the rich violet of the fragrant heather and gave the impression the hills and vales were clothed in opulent raiment. The Shire was not an expansive land but it was still some hours before the party came anywhere near the Baranduin. Its roaring waters flowed past the banks and skipped lightly over the rocks that formed stepping-stones, glittering arcs of water bouncing over the smooth surface and casting wide ripples in the already eddying river. A long way north of the Brandywine bridge there was the first link across the river for many miles either side and it was for this that the company were heading. It was a very rickety contraption with rudimentary wooden slats placed over a roped platform of whole tree trunks and the only railings were makeshift lengths of wood attached loosely to each bank. It was a few hours before the company came to it, though, the sky had become a deep velvety blue with the onset of the undómë.
“There is a legend common in these parts.” Elladan’s voice drifted close to Írissë’s ear and she felt a prickle run the length of her spine. He dropped back from the lead to speak more freely with her. Elrohir looked at him but Elladan did not care, her face had been disconsolate and she had talked with no-one for a long while, Elladan wished he could cheer her.
“What is it?” Írissë asked curiously, “What legend have you to tell my lord?” there was playful twinkle in her eyes. Elladan chose to ignore her choice of words and continued,
“The legend is that when Elbereth of Aman created the light for this part of the world, during the great labours of Eä undertaken by all the Valar, she threw the stars into the sky from afar, allowing them to rest where they would. It is said by those who live around here that on nights recurring every year the stars would move as if from her pale hand then return to their former place, they call them shooting stars and they are common only in this part of Middle Earth.”
“How I would love to see one,” Írissë breathed, looking at the sky with wonder, her eyes scanning it for any sign of movement.
“Perhaps you will,” Elladan replied, “I have seen only a few but they are extraordinary indeed, they are like a shower of diamonds,”
“You have journeyed far afield in Middle Earth.” Írissë said, “I envy that.”
“You have nothing to envy,” Elladan replied, “when I have travelled I have answered the call of war. It is a melancholy summons.”
“But you had the opportunity to answer it.” Írissë said.
“You have embarked on an exciting adventure of your own, though,” Elladan said kindly, “a heroic quest to rescue your sister.”
“You make it sound like a tale,” she said, “a story to be told to children by the fireside.”
“Well maybe someday it will be,” he replied, “and your name made one of legend.” Írissë grinned,
“How your imaginations flies,” she said and sighed, “I have always dreamed of defying the laws of convention and the laws of my father.”
“He was against your coming was he not?”
“Oh of course.” Írissë replied wearily, “I am not his favourite child, any glory or honour won for this family is to be brought by Vanimeldë and her marriage into the highest house, I have no place in their design.”
“Do not say that, your father loves you.” Elladan said,
“Only because he has to.” she said, “Vanimeldë is the fair one and Aranwë is the brave one, what does that leave for me?”
“Why do you care so much what they think of you?”
“Because I feel as if I should live up to them,”
“You are neither of your siblings and you have qualities they can but dream of.” Írissë made a doubtful face and Elladan smiled, “There lived in Imladris once a woman who reminds me very much of you. Indeed she looked very similar to you and her spirit was at least the match of yours. Her name was Ezellia.” Elladan’s eyes glazed over as he recalled the words his father had used so many times in telling this story.
“Did you know her?” Írissë looked mildly curious.
“Not personally but I have heard this tale told many times in ages past by those of our household. Anyway, if I may be permitted to continue, she came here from Aman itself for she was a woman of the Vanyar and longed to see Middle Earth once she had heard the beguiling words of Fëanor speak of it. She delighted in everything she saw, claiming it was all as fair as anything across the sea and she aided my father in the architecture and became one of his most trusted advisors. She had marvellous skill with her hands and she wrought many things here both wonderful and beautiful. She it was who devised the way of lighting globes of ore and hanging them so they shone out over the halls and chambers of Imladris. Only one remains of her own work, the great ornate piece of rose quartz that stands in honour over the High Table but ever her memory lives on in the hearts of those who knew her and of the things she touched. Great fame she won here and for a short time she was satisfied but soon came the time when the elders of her kin would choose the partner of her fate and she was bidden to marry one of the fine men of Imladris.”
“Bidden to marry? How awful!” Írissë interrupted, reining her horse in closer.
“So it was.” Elladan sighed, “Her father and uncles forbade her from riding abroad again until they had selected a suitor for her and she was not content. She despised everyone they brought forward and her heart soon grew weary of her sheltered life in Imladris, she yearned to leave and seek new lands to start afresh where nobody knew of her but she was held against her will.”
“Why were they so harsh?”
“Although she was the first of her kindred to come here they soon followed for she was the hope of her people, their light, their star even though she loved better the green earth beneath her. They could not bear to think of her not upholding the family honour by marrying well and would have rather made sure she was accompanied everywhere than allow her to lead a life of independence and of her own desiring.” Elladan looked saddened for a moment, to think of the spirit of fire which had so nearly been quenched.
“Did your father stand for this?” Írissë asked incredulously, unable to believe Lord Elrond capable of allowing such wickedness.
“He knew nothing of it.” said Elladan with a hint of disapproval at his father in his youth, “Only that Ezellia grew more and more unhappy every day and her family did nothing to help. Often in the past she had spoken with my father but now she retreated into herself, becoming sorrowful and silent to all who looked upon her.”
“What did she do?”
“For a long time she strove with herself, debating what she should do for now the fair Imladris had become as a prison and her kin, her gaolers. She had not the conscious strength of mind to break free of her bonds but one night she was granted the opportunity she desired for only her cousin remained with her as the others laboured in healing after a grave battle. He was a cruel man and depraved, and he soon became violent but in defence of herself and her virtue she struck him and rendered him unconscious, giving herself the opportunity she had so sought. With little thought she slipped away from her chambers and mantled herself in a shadowy enchantment that hid herself from any eyes that might have espied her. From thence she found herself on the borders of the lands and with a backward look she left everything she had worked for, everything she had loved and her kindred to whom she had once been devoted.” The picture of the tale spun many times in their halls echoed softly around Elladan’s mind and he could imagine vividly the passionate young woman who had been lost to the world.
“Dare I venture she was sorely lamented?” There was no trace of humour in Írissë’s voice. Ezellia’s situation sat far too close to home for her to find it anything other than empathically tragic.
“She was. They searched long for her but only when it became clear that she would not be found did they realise the true extent of their folly for in their hearts they loved her but nevermore would she return to them.” Elladan noticed Írissë looking wistful and hazarded that she would prefer a life such as that rather than live under the firm heel of her father’s boot.
Her voice was muted, “What happened to her? To them?”
Elladan looked down and the starry gaze was lost from his eyes. This part of the tale was little know to anyone, all they knew of the fate of Ezellia and her kindred was guesswork. “She dwelt long in the north of Mirkwood but where she is now I could not say. Her kin? They voyaged back to Aman soon after, unable to bear her loss.”
Írissë murmured to herself, almost longingly, “Where did she find the strength to leave like that? Such will of adamant is to be admired.”
“Indeed.” said Elladan gently, “But I stand by what I have said, you are alike in spirit and you have demonstrated similar by tolerating the bigotry which dictates your place in society. You will find your strength, Írissë, as she did and then others will realise your true worth.”
The flash of sadness in her eyes passed and she fixed her eyes wonderingly at her companion’s until he blushed.
“By Valar I hope that will one day be so. But tell me, where are we now heading?”
“To the bridge a little way north,” Elladan said, “the Brandywine bridge is too far south from here but hopefully we will be able to induce the horses to cross this bridge.”
Írissë crooked her eyebrows, “that fills me with hope,” she said, “I take it the crossing is not of the safest kind.”
“Hmm,” Elladan smiled, “you could say that.” Írissë decided she would ask no more, the toil of this journey was weighing on her and she did not particularly wish to think of any dangers that lay ahead.
At long last they came to the bridge and Calimmacil stood looking at it dubiously. The Baranduin was high and the water sloshed over the middle of the bridge rendering it slippery and unsafe. The evening was not the best time to undertake this difficulty, their elf-eyes would be a help but the night concealed hidden perils and all of them were uneasy.
“Here we are,” Elrohir said cheerfully, “let us cross.” he was greeted by the raised eyebrows of his friends,
“After you,” Arciryas said and Elrohir dismounted uncertainly. He steppe on the first plank and whispered a soothing word to his horse who looked as if she did not wish to move. The boards creaked beneath his light feet and as he got to the middle there was a nasty moment when his horse slipped and almost slid under the railings but she regained her footing and the two made it safely to the other side.
“There!” he exclaimed triumphantly. Írissë stepped up next, her horse was sure footed and swift and the pair danced lightly across, lessening the admiration of Elrohir’s slow passage. It took many minutes before the entire company had crossed safely. Voronwë had fallen into the Baranduin itself and had to be hauled out by Calimmacil, spluttering and drenched. He cursed the water incoherently and wrung his wet clothes, keeping his eyes firmly away from those of Írissë which were wrinkled prettily in laughter.
Vanimeldë’s eyes glassed over, a sparkling grey light shone briefly from deep wells within them and a dreamy smile crossed her tranquil face. Gáiala smiled himself, confident in his own power over her. The spell was an ancient but simple one and he was well practiced in the art of it, having used it upon Vanimeldë three times in the past day. She herself was gaining practice at fighting it but for the first half hour she would be utterly under his spell. Gáiala passed his hand over her eyes and they closed, she had fallen into a deep sleep and her mind went completely blank. Gáiala caught her as she swayed and as he rested his horse he took the brief moment of peace from Vanimeldë’s constant endeavours to escape.
He was growing quite weary of his burden and was longing for the time when he would reach his dwelling and he would have the use of the convergence of the innate powers there. Then he would be able to subdue Vanimeldë forever and she would be his, unable to escape and unable to resist the power which bound her to his side. His pale, gaunt face was scratched and scored by her nails from where she had flung out at him in her anger and frustration. She was becoming harder and harder to tame and the spells he wrought upon her were lasting a shorter and shorter time. They had come to the South of the hills of Evendim. In winter they were capped with a thick dusting of snow but in the early autumn there was but a delicate blanket of white amid the mass of green grass. The southernmost one was still treacherous though for reasons other than those dictated by the weather and terrain. It was a place where rumours of the walking dead were rife and where legend wrapped the hills so thick it was a wearisome task trying to differentiate between myth and that which was based in truth.
Vanimeldë’s eyes flashed darkly. The final clutches of Gáiala’s spell had left her sometime ago and she had awoken to see him striding back and forth beside a meagre fire. It would never do for him to know how well she fought his power, she must keep back something from him, even if it was only small. The after effects of the constant waves of forbidden submission spells he cast over her were leaving aching pains in her joints and a terrible nausea that blinded her so that she was often doubled over in misery. Gáiala had tried to give her a healing medicine for her ailments but she had refused, detesting the touch of his skin against hers, it was worse than the touch of a corpse.
She had little idea how she had been borne here in such secrecy for it would appear that a wrap of shadow concealed their every movement, her captor was taking no chances. He glanced over suddenly at her as if reading her thoughts and sensed she had broken free of his power. Frowning slightly he drew closer and raised his hand to replace it,
“No!” she cried desperately, “I will yield! Just allow me the use of my wits. I beg you.” he grumbled about something then nodded curtly.
“Very well,” he said mistrustfully, “but one false move and I will place a mind bond on you so tight it will break you.” Vanimeldë visibly quailed, she had little knowledge of the Arts and would be helpless against such a power. The question she had been burning to ask came out of her mouth before she could stop it.
“How have you done this?” she whispered but Gáiala heard her.
“Succeeded in keeping us hidden when we might be in full view on these inhospitable moors?”
He eyed her for a moment, seemingly weighing her up in his mind,
“The power I have gained to dominate the wills of others, especially of those creatures who are shunned by the world for their evil tendencies, orcs, balrogs, the deepest filth which dwells underneath the mountains.” Gáiala’s lip curled in contempt, “I bade them to come forth from their dwelling places and to serve me as their master. They will do so, if grudgingly for I have long prepared for this and have spent many years in building my own strength of mind for a challenge such as this.” Vanimeldë shuddered to think of so much evil wreaked upon the world.
“Do not worry my dear,” he traced one claw-like finger along her cheek and her skin crawled, “they will not harm you for I would have them skinned if they came near.”
Vanimeldë did not want to know what sorts of creatures were currently guarding their trail, this must have been why she had felt so uneasy, apart from the obvious reasons. For some time a shadow and a threat had been hanging like a dark cloud over Vanimeldë’s heart. The sense that imbued all elves with a heightened awareness of evil was screaming at her that darkness was all around, threatening to swallow her. Gáiala’s horde of evil creatures were swayed utterly to his bidding and Vanimeldë knew they were nearby, the terror almost finished her. She shivered with cold and edged nearer the paltry flames. They glowed bright blue, the unmistakeable mark of a magickal fire for little or nothing would burn in such unpleasantly damp conditions.
“What beasts have you under your power?” she asked, wanting to know the foes which would waylay any rescuers. Besides, the energy she was sensing was unlike anything she had ever felt before, a warped and mutated species or one she had never heard the like of. Gáiala smiled a cold smile that did not reach his obsidian eyes and Vanimeldë knew at once she would get nothing more from him. She was so cold, hungry and lonely. She lay down again, tears spilling from her eyes and reflected the light of the stars above, in her misery they laughed at her and gave herself to the darkness, her mind swimming with despair.
A two day journey behind them it was not long before Arciryas had built a roaring fire and, as the onset of Autumn had brought chill winds, they all gathered round it gratefully. The flickering flames leaping hungrily skyward and a thin stream of smoke was rising from the treetops.
“Elrohir,” Calimmacil asked, “has there been any fresh signs of orcs?”
“No,” Elrohir replied, “the trail simply stopped a few leagues back and we have no way of telling where they are now. All we can do is hope for the best and that our presence here has gone unnoticed.”
“Do you think they will return?”
“If their master has ordered them to hunt us down then it is my belief they will not stop until they have found us,” he said, “we must try and evade them if you do not wish to fight.”
Calimmacil fingered his knife thoughtfully,
“It has been a long time since I faced orcs of any kind,” he said, “and this is not a warring party.”
“You knew we may need to fight before you set out with us,” Elladan said.
“I knew that but I do not think we should walk openly into a battle we cannot win.” Calimmacil replied, “you said there were thrice our number.”
“Thrice twelve is not a large orc company, if we come upon them and must fight we will win.” Elladan said through gritted teeth. He missed the thrill of battle and almost hoped in his heart that he would get a chance to fight before their journey was over. He doubted whether there would be much call for warriors in the Blessed Realm.
“I wonder where Gáiala and Vanimeldë are now.” Arciryas mused, Elladan glanced at Írissë quickly but her head was bowed and he could not see her face.
“I am not sure,” replied Calimmacil, “we have found no tracks, the ***ed sorcerer is skilled in stealth but we are ever hopeful we are on the right trail.”
“I hope we find them at Mithlond,” Arciryas said, “it would be a cruel blow to discover they had gone in another direction and all this travelling has been but a false hope.”
There was a murmur of assent.
“There is still hope,” Írissë said in a thick voice, “we shall find my sister, Arciryas, no matter how long it takes.”
“May we be in time.” he said, “My heart aches to be from her.” Arciryas truly loved Vanimeldë but Írissë was annoyed by his blindness when it was so clear she did not love him.
“I am going to fetch more firewood,” Írissë said with a note of disgust and several pairs of eyes followed her as she strode away. Elladan went with her, noticing the already large pile of wood by the fire and wondering in truth where she was going.
“Wait,” he called and caught her arm, Írissë turned and Elladan could feel goosebumps rising in her skin.
“I could not sit at the camp any longer listening to Arciryas’ self pity.” she said, Elladan smiled,
“I know what you mean,” he said, “his eyes are closed to any truth.”
“He is giving up all hope,” she said, “he believes the worst will happen.”
“No, I have faith that we will find her.” Írissë said, a light of truth in her eyes.
“You are sure they are at Mithlond are you not?” they were walking slowly and Elladan was concerned Írissë was cold,
“I do not know what draws me there,” she said, “but in my heart I think we will find them there. I cannot explain it.”
“You do not have to,” Elladan squeezed her shoulders, “I know what you mean.” It was not easy to elucidate the elven senses. The immortal race was blessed with the ability to perceive things hidden from lesser folk or they would instinctively know something that would often prove to be right. It was a kind of complete awareness that rarely failed them.
“Arciryas does not believe me,” Írissë said, “he is as distrustful as my father.”
“All will be well,” said Elladan, “I promise.” Írissë looked at him,
“I will hold you to that.” she said and then they silenced at the sound of a snapping twig. The previously welcoming woodland seemed to be fraught with terror at that simple sound. Írissë tried to dismiss her fears as irrational, there was nothing coming but if that was so then why did she feel so afraid?
Both Írissë and Elladan suddenly stopped dead. They had suddenly been afflicted by a dreadful chill, its clawing fingers spread over them and made their hearts stand still with terror.
“Something is close,” Elladan said and Írissë nodded, they moved behind a tree and looked around worriedly.
“What is it?” Írissë asked but before Elladan could reply a black feathered arrow sang and shot past them, skimming Írissë’s cheek. She cried out with surprise and felt her skin which was pouring with blood. Another volley of arrows followed, each missing their marks by bare inches and the two elves ran as fast as they could into a hollow cave from where they looked around for their hunters. Dark shapes were moving through the forest and the heavy tread of iron shod feet sounded. There was a terrible, bloodthirsty yell and the shapes sped up, looking everywhere for Írissë and Elladan.
“Yrch!” Elladan lapsed into his own tongue and spat with revulsion. They had not been seen, the shadows cloaked them with darkness and the eyes of orcs were not the keenest. Írissë thought nothing of her wound, adrenaline was coursing through her and she felt no pain.
“You are bleeding,” Elladan said and touched her cheek lightly, Írissë began to feel the first agonizing pangs of pain and she hoped the arrow was not poisoned for it would be some time before she could try and tend it.
“Hush.” she said, holding her finger to his lips and hoping they would not be discovered, two against forty was a most suicidal battle to attempt. Her keen eyes pierced the forest gloom and watched with a spark of fear the dark shapes, leering as they ran and emitting a grisly laughter. Their faces were horribly distorted, deep gashes and pus filled blisters ailed them from severe fights in the past, their hideous skin was weathered and grizzled from war. They were a dreadful species, the very lowest breed of fighting orc, not one of the more plentiful but horribly cruel and depraved, living in filth and feasting on dead flesh and anything to stay alive. To slay and survive were their only instincts and would forgo an agreement with their master to ensure their own continued existence. They were fickle and deadly, murderous with an insatiable lust for flesh.
And now they were barely six feet from where Írissë and Elladan hid, clinging together like children.