Írissë forced Calimmacil away from her with all her strength, her eyes had widened in disbelief and she could feel a sudden surge of panic flood her.
“What are you doing?!” she cried in horror, pushing Calimmacil away. He looked slightly ashamed at having yielded so recklessly to his deepest yearning.
“You said you felt something for me,” he said, “and I have watched you too long from afar, I love you, Írissë, you must know that by now.” He looked so feeble and beseeching that Írissë softened a little but even amid the turmoil of her inner thoughts she could find no spark of amatory fire.
“You must not.” she whispered and touched his face tenderly. “You are my friend and I love you for being so but not the way you wish. I can never be yours, my heart belongs to another.” Calimmacil’s face was crestfallen, his spirits waning fast and he took her hands like a child,
“Who?” he asked quietly,
“I will pain you no more by telling you,” she said, “what good will knowing who bring?”
“It will give me peace of mind.” Calimmacil said and fixed Írissë with his piercing green gaze.
Her own eyes smoked over with grief for a moment, “No it won’t,” she said, “it won’t.” Calimmacil hung his head, he understood although he did not wish to. The air hung heavy with anticipation and Írissë rose to her feet, wanting to break the tension, needing to leave.
“I am going to look for the others.” she said but Calimmacil did not even raise his eyes, overcome. Írissë hated leaving him there alone but for Elrohir and contemplated turning back but she knew it would not do any good and kept on her way. She knew not where she was headed but before long she came upon the spring where the other elves were doing the best to cleanse themselves of the remnants of the Morërauco.
“Where is Elladan?” she inquired in surprise when she realised he was not among them.
“You have not seen him lady?” Alltaron asked, but Írissë shook her head. “But he returned some minutes ago to seek Elrohir, Calimmacil and yourself.”
Írissë’s heart stopped.
“Which way did he go?” she asked swiftly and her urgent tone made it clear that Alltaron was not to jest. He pointed back the way she had come with an open mouth and watched her curse and dart back down it in surprise.
Had Elladan seen Calimmacil’s outburst? If he had and he had supposed wrongly then she knew not what she was going to do to persuade him otherwise. Poor Calimmacil, he had inadvertently caused so much trouble and Írissë knew he would be horrified if he was aware of it. Had she led him on? Írissë felt that her own thoughtlessness in not making known to Calimmacil sooner that he could never win her heart was cause of his acting so rashly. She bore him no ill will of course, he was a man in love and she was flattered by his devotion to her. It was strange to think that in her many years in Middle Earth she had ever lived in the shadow of her sister. Vanimeldë had needed no knowledge of the magic arts to make men lay themselves at her feet and Írissë had admired such, been amused by such but never experienced anything like it. To know that she had command over the hearts of two wise, fair and brave elves was an odd notion to her and one she found unsettling where once she would have thought it delightful.
Where on earth was Elladan?
Írissë searched for him for many minutes, always careful to be sure of where she was and how to get back to the main path. It was a long time before she spied him, some way off the path flicking pieces of bark into the water, upstream from where the others made merry.
“Elladan?” Írissë approached him uncertainly but he did not turn,
“Why might you be here?” he asked.
“Elladan tell me what you saw.” she said and stood behind him. She had the impression that he was barely checking his formidable anger which threatened to spill from him at any moment.
“All,” he said shortly, “I saw you and I saw Calimmacil. How could you?”
“I am so sorry,” Írissë said Elladan stood up and made to walk away, he needed to hear none of her excuses. She grabbed him quickly and pulled him back,
“What you heard,” she said, “what you saw, it was not as it looks, you must listen to me!”
“Tell me what you would have me think,” Elladan said coldly, pulling away from her, “I saw you with Calimmacil, why would you betray me so?” his eyes were full of a wealth of sadness but still his jaw was clenched in anger.
“I have betrayed you not!” she cried, “I care nothing for Calimmacil!” Elladan did not look at her, he started walking away again but Írissë would not let him leave, she struck him impatiently on the chest with her fist and he held her arm.
“Why do you not believe me?” she snapped, “You would think me so fickle as to accept the attentions of another during our own courtship?”
“All I know is what I saw,” Elladan replied angrily, breathing hard, “you kissed Calimmacil, what in Arda am I supposed to draw from that?” Írissë grappled with him, trying to free her arm from his grip and stalk off but he would not let her.
“So tell me!” he exclaimed, “Tell me why you kissed him!” His knuckles were white as he encircled her wrist but at least she had his attention. She took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye, knowing he was reading her for the truth or any trace of deceit and disliking the experience profoundly.
“He kissed me,” Írissë said slowly and deliberately, “I could not escape from him. Let go of me if you will not listen to reason!” Elladan pushed her shoulder away from him and threw up his hands. Írissë slapped his arm in anger and they ended up grappling, striking each other violently until Elladan took her face roughly in his hands and kissed her with a fiery passion. They fell sharply to the ground, winding them both but neither cared for they were shrouded in the lingering antagonism which was slowly giving way to their affection.
The moon climbed from behind the clouds and the distant laughs and whoops from the camp fire could be heard but neither Elladan nor Írissë were listening to them, their minds consumed by the other.
“Do you believe me yet?” she asked, touching the tiny link of freckles she was so fond of. He answered her, completely forgetting what it was that had incensed him so greatly.
“I should not have doubted you,” he said guiltily and kissed the dark bruise he had given her that was now blossoming on her jawbone. She had scratched his face and a short, shallow cut seeped bloodily down his cheek.
“I am sorry,” she said, “I did not mean you to see what you did, Calimmacil means nothing to me, I love you.”
“Never have you said that to me before.” he said in a husky tone that sent shivers down her spine,
“Never have you asked.”
Elladan threw his head back and laughed, “And how I love you, Lissë!” he said.
Elrohir worsened as the night drew on but at break of day he woke, relieving many who had spent hours in worry for him. Worried he seemed not for his own safety and stretched sleepily without any concern for his own well being.
“Elrohir!” Arciryas exclaimed, “You are awake! How do you fare?”
“Very well,” he replied, “I thank you.” He had dreamed long in the darkness and remembered little of what had happened before he had fallen. Fair visions had come to him while he slept, beautiful images of ages past and of the many elves who had dwelt and graced these lands before they had been born to walk them in their stead. Elrohir felt refreshed and peaceful even though the throbbing pain echoing around his skull led him to conclude something rather unpleasant had befallen him.
“What happened?” he asked and lay down again as the scene before his eyes began to swim uncomfortably fast. Voronwë pointed to the Morërauco carcass lying some way off and Elrohir turned his nose up in disgust.
“I feel I would be happier not knowing,” he said,
“Very wise,” said Elladan. He and Írissë had crept silently back to the camp in the early hours of the morning, careful not to wake those who slept yet arousing even more suspicion from those who were awake. Írissë breathed a long sigh of relief when it was revealed Calimmacil was not at the camp fire, she did not know what she should say to him and was not looking forward to meeting him. She knew that it would grow harder the longer she left it but in her heart she supposed she wished it would all just go away and she would not have to deal with it but it would not.
Elladan noticed Calimmacil watching Írissë unremittingly. His eyes did not leave her as she endeavoured to build a new fire beside the charred remains of the old one. He could not stop himself glaring at Calimmacil with a newfound dislike as he though of the problems he had caused between him and Írissë. It was clear that he loved her and Elladan was not the only one to have realised this. He was sulky and silent and bore all the signs of a man who had been rebuffed. Írissë barely spoke to him, she knew not what words to say that would amend the situation. She could not help but feel that it was partly her fault and seeing Elladan shooting daggers at him only made things worse.
She felt herself caught between the two, both vied for her affections and even though she knew to whom her heart bode her go she still found the circumstances they endured to be very disconcerting. She supposed it must be how Vanimeldë felt, to have men fighting over her all the time but where her sister enjoyed all the attention Írissë was swayed with guilt and felt profoundly uncomfortable when all three of them were together, even though Calimmacil did not know what Elladan had to do with her.
Should Calimmacil realise that it was Elladan whom Írissë had fallen for then she feared there would be great ramifications and their journey would be seriously delayed while the two fought their own personal battles. She would beg Elladan to stop constantly glowering in Calimmacil’s direction lest the latter discover their secret love. She led him away under the trees for a few precious minutes and voiced the concerns which had been running through her mind.
“You must let him be.” she said, “It is what is right.”
“I cannot help it.” he said in frustration, “You must see that.”
“I do,” Írissë replied, keeping one eye out to watch the approach of anyone who might over hear them, “but have pity for him, for my sake.” Elladan made a derisive noise.
“Please?” Írissë beseeched, “He was once your great friend and highly discouraged will he be to receive two rejections in so short a space of time. One of love and another of friendship. He needs you now, be there for him even if you cannot tell him the full nature of why you know so much of his predicament.”
“Ever you speak so wisely.” Elladan said, “But I cannot get the picture of him with you from my mind. If only you knew what thoughts passed through my head when I beheld such a scene.”
“Think not of it,” Írissë said with a great measure of compassion, “I am sorry I hurt you but believe me it was not intentional, you know I did not willingly enter into that embrace which you saw.”
“Then be not troubled by it.” Elladan slid his hands around her waist and she kissed the tip of his nose, “And forgive Calimmacil. He has done no wrong other than to fall in love and you cannot despise him for that.”
“No, I cannot,” Elladan said wearily, “and you are right my love I have gone amiss in behaving unkindly towards him. I am still his friend and he will weather this pain before long.” Írissë gaped in mock outrage and swatted him,
“I should take that as an insult,” she said.
“And so you should.” Elladan teased.
The couple stayed in the forest for longer than they perhaps should have but still they lamented the brevity of their solitude and wished ever for the times when they could be together without the watchfulness of others and without the secrecy. Unplanned had it been to keep their affection unknown to others but neither Írissë or Elladan wished for any of the party to pry into affairs which were wholly their own until they themselves were ready to make known the full extent of their devotion to each other. When they returned they found Elrohir in better health yet afflicted with a great chill and sitting underneath several blankets in an effort to keep warm. None of the company were especially eager to be off even though their errand was so pressing. It was better, though, to wait for Elrohir’s recovery to give them as much chance as possible in succeeding. Besides, they could hardly leave him here by himself, nor would he allow them to do so, insisting that he was fine.
Írissë’s hands worked quickly and soon there was a fire sufficient to warm the freezing Elrohir but still she could not keep still and felt the need to busy herself with countless chores to keep her mind from the tension that swathed them all. She could not help glancing surreptitiously at Calimmacil to see how he fared and giving him a slight smile but his face was always stony. She hoped he did not hate her for what had happened.
“This is not your fault,” Elladan whispered to her, “you did not cause this.” No words he uttered could free Írissë from her guilt yet she appreciated what he had said even if she did not believe it. She kneeled beside Elrohir and gave him a sliver of lembas, hoping it would revive him still further.
“Thank you,” he smiled wanly and ate it with gratitude. There was very little food left, the orcs had defiled much of what they had and some had been lost in Mithlond but Írissë was willing to forsake her own share for Elrohir who was in greater need than she.
She had escaped.
She had betrayed him and wished for his death by the river which had carried him so swiftly through the forest. Gáiala was clinging by his fingertips to a fallen log which lay across the river as a spindly bridge and which was rotting away as he hung there. The torrent of water still gushed beneath him, trying to carry him away to what would certainly be a watery grave. Gáiala was nearing exhaustion, having fought the current for a long time he was almost ready to give up but the fire of his soul forbade him and still he clung desperately to the last hope of life.
The log began to tear away and with a heart-stopping groan it started to wrench from its mossy roots. Gáiala knew that getting to the large flat rock beside him would be his only hope of survival. Every second he tarried he could feel the claws of death draw nearer, he was cold to his very bone and wearied beyond belief but somehow he managed to haul himself atop the rock and watch with relief as the log fell away and splintered on the rocks lying a little downstream. Were it not for the incessant burning in his heart reminding him of his loss he would have let sleep take him there and then, feeling unable to walk another step without rest. He made himself focus unwaveringly on Vanimeldë and he used that energy to keep himself going.
He had desired her since the first time he had set eyes upon her. She had been but a glimmer in white, standing at dawn at the sea shore, her feet lapped by the waves. She was singing to the rising sun and filling the air with the beauty of the music she made. Gáiala had little love for such songs, of love and delight, but had listened anyway and been struck with a deep yearning for her that he could not temper and which made him seek to meet with her when others were not close. Vanimeldë had responded well at first, there was a certain something about Gáiala, who was fairer in those gone days, which had fascinated her and she had agreed often to meet with him. Gáiala had been happy at first but he forbade Vanimeldë to have any friends of the opposite sex lest she find them better company than he was. She flatly refused and her heart grew cold towards him but Gáiala would not let her go and pestered her endlessly to relent but she would not. Glad then, had she been to hear that Falastur wished them to journey to Imladris and there seek welcome with their kin who dwelt there. Many long years Gáiala had mourned his loss and left his home to go south in search of a new land to make his own. The forest of Harlindon, then, he had commandeered and in it he had housed himself in an existing fortress and cast a gloom over the woodland for miles.
Dwelling ever on the thoughts of Vanimeldë and how she had cruelly used him a desire to see her again was sparked and Gáiala had pondered long on how he might force her to come with him to his house, from where she could never leave once she had come. And now she had outwitted him and rage flamed through him, granting him renewed vigour to further his wanderings in search of her.
She would be going to the edge of the forest, seeking the sunlight and those fools she still believed to be alive. Gáiala struck what did not seem to be a path but was in fact a short cut to the main track, years of dwelling within the arms of the forest had taught him everything he could know about it. His feet pounded through the thick foliage, brambles scratching him and nettles infuriating him yet there was nothing he could do about that and still he ran to recover that which he had lost.
The horse neighed and lashed out viciously, catching Vanimeldë in the side and paining her considerably. The accursed beast had been but a hindrance since she had taken it, leading her in the wrong direction and she was highly suspicious that it was doing its best to take her back to Gáiala’s house. Now, though, she had had enough and was ready to shoot the creature if it tried anything else.
“Be gone *** you!” she cried in frustration, tears stinging her eyes and her hand clasped to what promised to be a nasty bruise.
“If you will help me not then pray get gone and trouble me no more!” The horse took little notice of her and started to graze so Vanimeldë walked off and followed whichever way seemed brighter, praying she would not find herself back where she began. The labyrinth of intertwining tracks and paths were befuddling to the most trained eye and Vanimeldë found herself in a maze of trails with little idea which one to take. The darkness that lay so thickly about her distorted the scenery and she felt as if it too was bent to will of Gáiala and was like to lead her astray. In vain she searched while the sun climbed to noon and began to set beyond the Western sea. Vanimeldë had little idea of the time and knew only that the hours were passing quicker than she could count and still she had not found herself a way free. What made matters worse was that she kept imagining she had seen certain landmarks before and when that was so she would do her best to rationalize it on her lack of sleep and food but she could not wholly convince herself. Was she going round in circles? Would she ever find a way out? Vanimeldë sank to the floor, weakened with fatigue and ready to scream in frustration. Scream she did and her wail of vexation pierced through the forest causing birds to answer in their own mournful voices, magnifying her cries until the forest rang with their sad song.
“What was that?” Írissë looked up suddenly and turned to the direction she had heard a strange noise come from. The other elves had all done the same and were evidently taken aback by what they had just heard.
“I don’t know.” Elrohir strode forward and pressed his ear to the trunk of a tree, the whisperings and murmurs within its ancient trunk were difficult to decipher and he stayed there for more than a few moments in silent thought.
“Something comes.” Elladan said and Alltaron nodded,
“That was no beast that made that cry. We can but hope it was our quarry.”
“Why would Vanimeldë make such a noise unless she was in pain?” Voronwë asked, none answered him and Írissë hung her head again. They changed course and struck the path in the general distance the noise had come from. It was much darker and more thickly canopied, blocking what little light there was.
Many, many miles away in the peaceful valley of Imladris. Lord Elrond sat in deep contemplation. His thoughts wandered ever with the fates of his children. Lady Arwen pursuing her mortal life in Gondor, Elrohir embarking on his valiant quest and Elladan going with him, embarking on a singular quest of his own. Elrond had been deeply troubled by what the portents had revealed to him. He had read signs and omens sent to him in dreams and through the many-voiced whispers of the dell which brought to him news of that which he most wished to see. A heavy burden was placed upon his shoulders when he knew something as to the futures of his children. They could not know what it was that lay aside the path they were bidden to tread but Elrond could not let them walk blind. He loved them too well not to tell them but ever in the back of his mind he could hear the wise voice of Galadriel counselling him and advising him. It had been she that had taught Elrond much of what he knew. She had been both the mother of his bride and his teacher and from her Elrond had gained much wisdom and sagacity with his years. The loss of his beloved Celebrían had not still the ever present longing in his heart for mallorn and the bliss of Cerin Amroth so whenever his lordly duties would permit him he would mount his horse and ride to the East and spend many of his days in the company of the Golden Lady and her husband. Great love was there between the houses of Elrond and Celeborn and there would be as long as both lasted and whenever Elrond was in doubt he would value the counsel given to him by Galadriel, she, wiser and fairer than any that graced the earth.
His counsel he could use now. Strange tidings had come to him, tidings which has set his heart heavy with anxiety and now he watched his lands all the more fiercely, daring evil to enter, daring anything untoward to befall his beloved sons.
“My lord Elrond.” Two days ere Elrond stood pondering the deep mind of the lady of Lórien, a messenger had ridden to him from the border of the lands of the West. He had looked troubled and bore ill news for his master.
“What is it, Marathil?” he asked with a measure of irritation.
“I bring tidings lord.” he replied, “News of the party which set in bold pursuit of the maiden snatched from Imladris.” Elrond looked up suddenly and beckoned Marathil the sentry into his office. The elf looked weary and troubled and sank gratefully into a leather chair before Lord Elrond.
“What tidings?” Elrond asked, “Are they good or are they bad?” Never would the elven lord be able to watch his sons ride away to battle or danger without sitting and worrying for their safety.
“They are mixed.” Marathil said, “Three scouts sent by Master Negalin to espy any dark movement to the west returned with these tokens for thee.” He reached into a bag at his feet and brought out a charred orc helm, black mail and a curved scimitar.
“All weapons of the dark ones so abhorred by our race.” Elrond said thoughtfully.
“And yet there is a riddle. Why would they have travelled north from their favoured southern lands? The death of their master has led many of their kind to roam free and succumb to the blades of all free folk, never have I heard them to band together willingly and form hosts of their own accord.”
“These were, I think, not of the hosts of Sauron, sir.” Marathil replied, “The device emblazoned across the metal is not that of Mordor or indeed of Isengard but rather it is one I have never seen before.” He turned over the helm in his hands and showed
Elrond the ugly device printed onto it.
It was that of a small black star, being devoured by flames.
Elrond made a small noise in his throat, he recognised the sign even if Marathil was ignorant to its meaning.
“The House of Heculo.” he said and was rewarded with a quizzical look from his sentry,
“Heculo, sir?” he said, “That is not a name I know of.”
“No, Marathil,” Elrond sighed, “and nor should you. It is a cursed family who have recently brought misfortune upon the quietude of Imladris. The bearer of this symbol is he that seized Lady Vanimeldë on the very night of her betrothal and he that keeps her still, away from her family.” Marathil raised his eyebrows,
“That is so?” he asked, “Then the riddle is clear.”
“Was anything else found among the orc remains?”
“Yes.” Marathil’s countenance darkened suddenly and he reached down again. This time he brought out a large shard of the cloven shield of Írissë. The blue background and emblem of Menelvagor could be seen through the dirt and ash that smeared it and it was a sad omen to Elrond who loved Írissë like a daughter for her valour and high-heart.
“It is the lady’s.” Elrond said. “The lady Írissë’s.”
“I know sir.” he said, “This cannot be auspicious.”
“No indeed.” Elrond sat down again, “Tell me, Marathil, what scene did the scouts come across where these tokens were found? Were any bodies left or any other signs of the elves journeying west?”
“Report tells of a strange sight. There were very many orc bodies lying around, some burned beyond recognition but none disposed of and none left alive. There had certainly been signs of a camp fire and that same element had been used to ward off the orc foes but there were no elves there, nor any fair bodies to speak of, neither under cairn nor set adrift downriver.” said Marathil, “But there was evidence of a great fight there, the number of orcs must have been triple that of our own folk but all signs point to their survival.”
“We can but hope.” said Elrond.
“Sir,” Marathil asked with a sudden look of repugnance, “believe you that Gáiala has hosts of his own concealed wherever he might conceal himself and it was he that set them upon the Lords Elrohir and Elladan’s company?”
“Yes I believe so.” said Elrond, “It would seem he has powers at his command greater than we knew but what that will mean for my sons is hidden from me.” Marathil nodded uneasily.
“Forgive me, lord.” he said, “But I must be gone.”
“Very well, thank you.” Marathil left and Elrond returned to his musings, now disheartened by the news he had heard. Marathil was confident that none were injured but if that was so then why did Elrond have a nasty feeling that all was not as it seems? It might be that he was envisioning things that existed not but in Elrond’s heart he knew that not all was over, there would be pain to suffer before the end. And the lady Írissë, Elrond hoped she was well and that the blow which had hewn through her shield had not struck her as well. Falastur, her father, had been in a great rage when he had learned of her absence. It had been amusing to Elrond to watch his angered rampage about Imladris seeking her and it was not until he realised whither she had gone did he truly begin to worry. Aranwë had returned that very morning yet had found the situation too far advanced for him to be of any real help since he knew not where the small party of elves had gone. He had laughed heartily to hear of Írissë’s disappearance against her father’s wishes and had highly commended her for her stealth and bravery.
“Father,” he had tried to calm Falastur when first the latter had told him of it, “father, you knew if you explicitly forbade Írissë to go then she would defy your word.”
“That child is but a curse at this time, how could she be so foolish?”
“Folly it is not,” reasoned the calm voice of Aranwë, “she is fearless and more adept at
swordplay than many of those she journeys with. She will be well, you’ll see.”
“Well? Well?” Falastur had cried and Aranwë winced and edged further away, “That is the least of my worries! I have little doubt as to her well-being, that girl can take care of herself, I am so angry because she defied me in such a way.”
“It is not in her nature to obey orders she sees no sense in.” Aranwë said quietly, “It is how she has always been.” Elrond smiled slightly as he recalled Falastur’s response to this. He himself had not been there but Aranwë, his friend, had told him all and Elrond had found it most amusing, having little love for Falastur. The dawn before they had set off he had received a presentiment in the form of a waking dream and in it he saw the fates of his sons in the first few days of their journey. He had not seen all, much was hidden from him including the assault of the orc host, but he had seen enough to be assured of their early safety and surprised by the affection blossoming between Elladan and Írissë amid bouts of conflict that he was so accustomed to seeing them indulge in. Such images brought great delight to Elrond whose mission in life was to see his sons happy but it was darkened when he perceived a knife enter Írissë’s breast and the blood which stained her hands as she ripped it out. Evil was to befall them but words of advice Elrond had given to Elladan to prepare him for the danger and he could only hope that the Valar would smile upon the couple and grant them a little longer to enjoy their love. Elrond sighed again, mulling over all that had happened and all that had yet to come to pass was giving him a pain in his head and he resolved to let the fates guide those he worried most for, trusting in their sense and wisdom to protect them.
The horses had come back to Imladris riderless. Their glossy coats reduced to a scraggy mess and their bodies once alive with vigour were now wearied and old. The sight of them was as the herald of ill tidings to those left behind for what could have befallen the company that they be forced to abandon their steeds other than the onset of certain battle. Aranwë had stood gazing fretfully at the moon before retiring that night, willing his friends and family to be all right, scolding himself for being here where there was nothing he could do. His recent journey back to Rivendell had sapped him of strength and as soon as he laid his head to his pillow he fell into a deep slumber. His dreams were strange to him, soft words spoken in some long forgotten tongue whispered in his ears and swirled through his mind. What did they mean? He tried to decipher the ephemeral thread of speech which echoed around his thoughts but it was too small and he could not hear what was being said. Bright colours flashed in front of his eyes, fading into grey shadows which in turn mingled to form a great mass around him. His senses seemed to be afire with it all and it was too much, a throbbing pain revealed itself in his temples and Aranwë thrashed around in his sleep. Suddenly that soft voice returned, raised into a beautiful song that was too loud to shut out and pealed through him making every hair on his body stand on end with a shiver.
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.
It was a riddle. It was a prophecy. It was a sending from someone or something far away. The song was repeated thrice and even when Aranwë’s eyes snapped open he could not be free of it. A waking dream had come to him for a purpose and he struggled as a blind man, cut off from every other sense until the ringing in his ears had subsided and he found himself drenched in cold perspiration. Aranwë took deep steadying breaths and, flinging a mantle carelessly around his shoulders, ran out to seek the counsel of Lord Elrond so that he might know for what reason he had been sent this foresight.
Some unseen will was forcing Vanimeldë to put one foot in front of the other, to keep going, not to give up or Gáiala would surely find her. Her blurry eyes were fixed on the slow passage of her feet as she trod the green earth but exhaustion was claiming her as she forced herself moment by moment to continue. If she could but find the sunlight again then all fatigue would be thrown from her body and she could go on with fresh energy. Her ears were pricked to every tiny sound and the dread of meeting with Gáiala again was great and it was that which was making her walk despite the great odds stacked against her. Much time was slow in the passing and it would seem as if years of the outside world were wheeling past, whilst Vanimeldë searched ceaselessly for a way from her terror. Little did she know she was yet again under the enchantments of the very same. The forest hung so thick with spells and hexes it was a wonder any escaped at all. The air was muggy with them and a drowsiness fell upon many who could not withstand the depth of the evil floating on the air. Vanimeldë turned frustratedly in a circle, searching for any glimmer of light, and path she had previously overlooked. She looked ever in vain, though and was almost on the point of defeat when she heard,
“You cannot escape me.” A silky voice murmured at her ear and Vanimeldë shook uncontrollably.
“Get away from me!” she cried and whipped round. Gáiala certainly looked awful, his struggle against the current had left him exhausted, greyed and completely sodden through.
“No. You are mine, Vanimeldë.” he said, “I have taken you for my own.”
“Never!” she screamed and flinched from him in revulsion and ripped her arm from where he had grabbed it, his hook-like nails dug into her skin and gouged deep grooves in her arm. It worked though, she managed to free herself and then ran blindly through the trees, well aware of Gáiala coming swiftly after her. He let out an ear splitting whistle and as quick as a flash the stubborn black horse could be heard galloping to his side. Vanimeldë stood no chance against him when he was mounted and just ran quickly as she could, desperation firing her sickeningly. Gáiala was almost level with her, keeping his head bowed from the branches he reached out his arm towards her, a knife in his hand. Whether he meant to deliver to her a fatal blow in his madness or merely harm enough to halt their chase will never be known. He did not get a chance to accomplish whatever he wished because the singing of a bow was heard and Gáiala’s horse fell dead beneath him, throwing him to the ground. Vanimeldë did not turn to see what had become of her hunter but kept going and heard the wondrous shouts of the elves as they came into her view.
“Vanimeldë!” it was Írissë, she was alive. The sight brought fresh hope and a new burst of speed. She was with Vanimeldë’s friends, they had come for her. Relief, warm and comforting almost swallowed her but they were still a little way off and the accuracy of that shot had been aimed and guided with a great skill.
“Vanimeldë!” she was upon them and Írissë embraced her blissfully, here eyes filling with tears of joy that she had found her sister again. The others looked on at this happy reunion with smiles before they too welcomed the one they had long searched for.
“How glad I am to see you!” Vanimeldë trembled and sank against Calimmacil’s shoulder, weak with exhaustion and delight,
“And how we have searched for you!” Arciryas swept her into his arms and for one perfect moment she was safe and their hearts whole, their chase over.
But her ordeal was by no means ended.
Gáiala had untangled himself from his horse and had put forth all his arts of enchantment. Ancient words were loosed from his tongue and as he spoke them they froze in the air until everywhere echoed with his dark speech and cast a cold chill over the hearts of his foes. Vanimeldë fell to the floor, shaking with fear, knowing the full might such words could unleash and awaiting some terrible stroke of doom. Arciryas’ face hardened as did the faces of the others. Írissë glanced at Elladan, his eyes were dancing with fire and he looked more furious than Írissë had ever seen him before. She herself had not seen Gáiala for many long years and the sight of him brought back memories she never wished to unearth again. He had a slight smile twisting his lips and was making curious flicking gestures with his left hand. More quickly than sight eleven arrows were fitted to eleven bows but without warning a great weariness came over all of them and their weapons hung slack in their fingers. Elladan felt his chest constrict in panic, everything but Gáiala seemed to be moving in slow motion and he could not fight the great lethargy which was placed upon him. Vanimeldë dropped to her knees,
“No,” she whispered, “please, no more.” her grief was evident and so was her fear as Gáiala walked slowly up to her.
“Whore!” he cried suddenly, his icy exterior dropped and he grabbed Vanimeldë’s long hair in his fist. “How dare you try to run from me?” Írissë felt a great rage bubbling within her and she could only watch her sister being dragged away as she fought the magic worked upon her.
“What devilry is this?!” Elladan’s voice called out as he seemed to break the confines of the spell. The others were stirring also but not in time, Gáiala held a long silver knife to Vanimeldë’s neck, he had won, he had all the power. As everyone gained their wits again they rearmed themselves but Gáiala had Vanimeldë prisoner and if they made any move they risked hurting her.
“Please let me go.” Vanimeldë choked, gasping for breath, trying to keep her throat from the glinting blade.
“You will leave this place.” Gáiala said to them, “And you will not return. Never will you regain what you seek for she is mine alone.” Vanimeldë sobbed and Arciryas looked particularly menacing. “Now go before you find your trail set upon by the dark creatures of the mountains!” He tried to heave Vanimeldë away into the cover of the forest again before her friends wholly awoke from their trance but Írissë ran to her, she could not let her go.
“Írissë!” Elladan called and ran after her but Gáiala was too quick for him. The blade which was at Vanimeldë’s neck flew from his hand and buried itself in Írissë’s chest. Vanimeldë screamed in horror and stumbled, falling from Gáiala’s grasp. The next moment the elven bows sang and ten silver arrows pierced his evil body. Elladan ran to Írissë who was kneeling, her back to them.
“Lissë,” he cried, “are you alright?” Írissë did not answer him but looked round, tore the knife out from her chest and fell forwards, her blood staining the grass. It was just as Elrond had foreseen and the sight sent a cold, deathly chill to Elladan’s heart.
There was a gasp.
And she lay perfectly still.