It was Gwillear and Nillosein’s watch. The hours of the deepest and darkest midnight to the bright rising of the sun were theirs to guard and protect the borders of fair Rivendell. As they gazed at the stars slowly wheeling overhead in their graceful dance, never-ending in their march across the heavens, both were content. These hours were always ones of reflection and memory. The silent hours of the night offered time for contemplation while on duty, for nothing much happened near the borders since the last great war of the ring. There were no more roving bands of orcs left, and the threats from other creatures was slight here on the south-western border. There had been no troll attacks, no beasts, not much of anything. Just peaceful stillness.
Nillosien leaned on the railing, and inhaled deeply of the warm, scented night air, marveling at the bevey of scents that the night held. His clear gray-blue eyes reflect back the starlight from their depths. The moonlight glistened off of his hair, which was the color of flowing amber honey-which was tied back into a long tail down the nape of his neck. His senior guard’s uniform fit well, accenting the lean, lithe body of the elf beneath. It was a dark green, dappled with silver in the moonlight, with a dark brown, leather trim across the tunic. The sheaths for his long knives were tooled with images of elven heros, and matched the quiver on his back. His long bow, made in the style of the Galadrahim, was strapped alongside the beautiful dark leather quiver in between the knives on his back. Standing in the starlight, he presented a picture of deadly elegance.
But this night, the air felt different, as if something were about to happen, as if the forest itself was holding its breath. There was an oppressive heaviness about the air that night, as if a storm were about to unleash its fury upon the hapless inhabitants of the land below. The stars seemed to dim their light, as if afraid of something, almost as if in response to something happening on the earth below. There was not a breath of breeze stirring in the treetops, or on the wooden tower where both elves kept watch on the forest below. Even the sounds of the night were diminished and apprehensive.
” Nillosein, I like not the feel of the air tonight. Something is wrong, somewhere. I can feel it in the air- it is as if a heavy blanket has been thrown over my senses. I wish I knew what it was….” Gwillear paused for a moment, and then scanned the horizon with his elven eyes, as if by looking hard enough, he could discover the source of the sense of fear looming over the forest. As he slowly paced around the tower, scanning, the land, to the southwest he thought he perceived a slight trace of smoke. ” Nillosein, look over to the southwest. I think I see signs of smoke. There were no scheduled travelers out that direction, Lord Elrond would have informed us if he were expecting visitors. But then, visitors are rare anyway. Nobody travels out to the Last Homely House these days. Come look, I think I might have found
something. You’re eyes are even sharper than mine, Master Nillosein…Do you see the smudges of smoke as well, or am I just seeing things?” He pointed out to an area covered by tall oak trees- whose thick branches could conceal much, and make people see things where there were none.
Nillosein had been reluctant and apprehensive about taking so young an apprentice with him to train to be a border guard. Granted, he was distant family, a cousin.. but one so young? Gwillear was only 230, just barely considered an adult. He was overly eager to please, and tended to talk to cover his nervousness. He heaved a heavy sigh and looked up to the stars. It was going to be a long night if his apprentice kept seeing things. The things one does for distant family..he shook his head.. Well, better to be cautious than a fool he thought to himself. He levered himself off of the railing, then turned and walked along the balcony outside their tower to stand beside his over-eager apprentice. Casting his sharp gaze out, he did indeed perceive some slight trace of smoke on the breeze. Where there was smoke, there was usually a fire- and that was cause for caution.
Now concerned, he went to the back of the tower, and found his hawk asleep on its perch. His hawk had been with him for ten years, and he had trained her to spy out distant objects for him, and bring back information that he might find useful. But this hawk was special to him. He had hatched her from an egg found on the edge of his tower. Because he found her, he named her Tiro- which meant ‘ Look’. She would become his distant eyes…Carefully, he nurtured her as she grew, taught her to fly, to hunt, to be his companion on the long, lonely watches of the solitary southwestern border guard duty. He cared for the hawk like he cared for no other..
Gently Nillosein took up a cast feather and began to stroke the bird’s breast, to wake her up. Tiro woke quickly, as she always did. Within heartbeats, she was fully awake, and listened carefully to Nillosein’s instructions in elvish. Then, with a silent flurry of wing beats, the hawk was gone, off to investigate the disturbance, and if need be, bring evidence back and return to bring the border guards. Within moments, the hawk was nothing more than a swift shadow, lost among the other shadows of the night cast by the writhing mass of boiling clouds forming over their domain.
Following the departure of the hawk, both Nillosein and Gwillear noticed something strange. There were no night birds, no crickets, no noises whatsoever. It was as if a thick, smothering mantle of silence had fallen onto the trees. Not even a single branch stirred, no squirrels, nothing. Then, far away in the distance, a sound from out of a nightmare shattered the silence of the night into a million sharp-edged pieces. A piercing shriek ripped through the air like a shock wave, evoking horrible images directly into the minds of the two elves, and jolted them like a lighting bolt out of their watchful star-gazing.
Nillosien had not heard anything like it since the last Great War of the Ring- all the terror, the fear, and the memories of all the pain and death jumped forefront into his mind. The sheer force of hate, rage, and anger drove both to their knees, hands to their ears to try to block out the horrific scream. The loss of friends, family, each poured with renewed vigor through his memory in one horrifying instant- blasting him with wave after wave of the very basest emotions of intense fear, terror, intense anger, and helplessness to stop any of it flowed through his mind like an erupting volcano. Tears flowed unbidden down his face, as he cradled his head in his hands, trying to stop the flood of images in his mind.
For Gwillear, it was a pouring into his mind of all the horrors that he had ever heard about.. He dropped to his knees, and curled up into a ball, to try to escape the massive amounts of emotion in his mind.
Finally, it became too much for the two border guards, and both elves lost consciousness from the intense mental over load.
It was the light of the dawn in their eyes that woke Nillosein and Gwillear. The sun rose a deep crimson red, shedding its light like rays of blood over the landscape. Even the thunderclouds were trimmed in thick vermilion hues. Like the night before, it was silent in the woods- no animals, no birds, nothing. Only an oppressive, heavy silence met their ears. There were large thunderheads in the sky- edged in deep crimson and gray by the rising sun, giving an ominous and foreboding air to the morning.
As they both rose from the ground, they stretched muscles sore from the awkward positions they had spent the remainder of the night in. Nillosein looked back towards his hawk’s perch, and was surprised to find it empty. That had only happened a few times, when a morning came and the perch was empty- and it had always meant trouble. Tiro had managed to observe well, and always returned as soon as she had found out all that he had needed to know, but he still worried about his hawk..
Gwillear was curious and anxious, and a touch worried. In all his years in Rivendell, never had anything happened like this. And even stranger were the dreams that he kept having- dreams of elven maids dressed as men, searching for something, racing through the forest, trying to survive, fighting for their very lives, and then… Last night, after the darkness had overcome him, he had fallen into nightmares that showed him a horrible fight, one that he was not certain of the outcome, only that some had not survived the deadly dance with death. He was anxious to go out and investigate. The scene of the fight was burned into his memory, clear enough to enable him to find it again.
Finally, Gwillear could not stand to wait another minute. He spoke up ” Master Nillosien, we have to go out looking for whatever it was that happened this morning. I’m afraid of what might have happened, or that someone needs our help. I think someone does need our help, but I don’t know who or how I know. We must go. Its like I’m compelled to go, right now. I know this makes no sense, but I‘ve been having dreams about some elven women dressed to disguise who they are, smaller people with shining eyes, searching, running, fighting, death! ….” his voice trailed off. Gwillear was so in a hurry to go, that his words were tumbling over one another, like water over rapids, and like white water, were making no sense.
Nillosien shook his head, then regretted it immediately because of the sharp pain that flashed and stabbed from temple to temple. Gently putting a hand up to his head, he motioned for Gwillear to be silent for a moment. As he stood, daystars flashed before his eyes, and he sat back down. He had not felt like since he had tried to drink down several men in the army of Gondor..and that had been only after 12 kegs of ale. Heaving a sigh, he gathered his wits about him, and tried to stand up again. Managing it this time, he placed one hand against the wall of the tower, and the other he set the on the shoulder of his protégé. It was times like these that he wondered why he had taken on such a young apprentice- especially one with a high, squeaky voice that talked so fast and often.
” Gwillear, restrain you impatience.” He paused to emphasize his point. There is nothing to be gained by rushing off into and unknown situation before we’ve had time to prepare. Since you are feeling so chipper, perhaps you should groom and saddle the horses, and prepare field kits, med packs, and rations to take with us.”
Privately he added to himself.. Maybe I’ll get a little peace and quiet for a few moments while he is otherwise occupied. He walked into the tower, and began preparing two knapsacks with bandages, food, water, medicine, and rechecked his weapons. Why in Mordor did I ever agree to take on Gwillear? I knew that one so young would not make a good learner, but.. drat that Theoliligiel! I never should have listened to her when she asked me to take him on..Oh Eru! Why oh why didn’t I say no?
Gwillear bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, so eager was he to begin searching for the mysterious elven maidens of his dreams. Scampering out the door, he quickly groomed their horses, then saddled them up. As he lead the two horses out, he noticed three more horses in a lather standing outside the tower, with Nillosien’s hawk perched on the tower support in front of them. The poor horses looked exhausted, as if they had been run hard. From the gear haphazardly thrown on, it looked as if they had been saddled in a hurry, and from the blood on the tack, in a battle. Puzzled, Gwillear took a closer look at the gear. It was elven-made, but torn into shreds- a tent, blankets, remains of a pack- and the tack had gouges in the leather- as if made by some huge claws. Cautiously, he spoke softly to the horses in flowing elvish, and gently took the reigns in his hands. Slowly, he led the lathered horses around, till they cooled off. Then, taking some soft cloths from the stables, he wiped them down tenderly, for they looked to be well cared for. After he finished his ministrations, he went and fetched their own two horses from the stables, and walked them out to stand next to the strangers.
He ran at full speed up into the tower calling out at the top of his young elven voice.
” Nillosien! Nillosien! Come see what has shown up to our gate! I told you that there was someone who needed help. Here are three horses, AND your hawk. Now can we go??” Gwillear cried at the top of his voice as he bounded up the stair with the vigor of youth.
With a heavy sigh, he rubbed his temples, rolled his eyes, and made a plea to Illuvatar to give him patience with his overly excitable, highly talkative young charge. Nillosien walked outside the tower carrying two the two packs. He reached down and put one hand on Gwillear’s shoulder, and handed him a pack with the other.
“Now that we have supplies to be ready for anything, we can go. I need you to lower your voice, or stop talking just for a moment…” He moved Gwillear so that he was headed down the stairs, and followed. When they both reached the bottom, and Nillosien saw what was waiting with their horses, he was stunned.. Surprise was in his eyes when he saw the three horses, one of whom he thought he recognized. From the looks of the horses, they had been in a battle, and most of their gear was missing. Shaking his head, Nillosien walked up to the horse in front, a silver mare, and began stroking its nose and whispering in elven. Without turning from the horse, Nillosein held up his left forearm for his hawk to land on. With a shrill cry, Tiro leapt from her perch to his arm. When she had settled herself, she held up a claw, around which was hooked a piece of fabric. Looking down at what was held in the claw of his bird, he realized that there was indeed at least one survivor, if not more.
” All right Gwillear. We will go out and look for your mysterious elven women, under the condition that you don’t say anything about this to anyone. Just pretend this a just a regular patrol trip. Let us go now. Try to curb your tounge, and lower your volume.. The number one thing to remember when your out on patrol.. BE QUIET!!!!!” And with he tossed his hawk into the air with a well-practiced, graceful lift. Reaching behind his saddle, he pulled out an oiled slicker, to shed the falling rain, and then lithely mounted his stallion as Gwillear belatedly did the same.
The hawk flew in front of them, gleaming silver and gold against the thundering and dripping clouds, guiding them along tiny trails in the woods, first heading south, then west, then through a stream,, and over all sorts of obstacles. Slowly, they made headway into the forest.
As they rode, Nillosien noticed that the sounds of nature were slowly beginning to revive- first the occasional cricket, then a squirrel off in the distance, then a chirp of a bird.. all very cautious, as if there were still afraid to make noise, but bravely trying to continue their lives. Thankfully, his apprentice had chosen to heed his warning and had remained silent thus far. Glancing over at his charge, he could tell that being quiet for so long was a strain for the young elf. How this young elf would ever make a hunter is beyond me he thought to himself-if keeping quiet this long was a challenge, how would he be able to keep silent on longer hunts?
After about two hours of easy riding, they began to notice a foul odor on the breeze that became stronger and more horrid-smelling by the foot. Nillosien’s hawk cried out, and plunged into the trees just ahead of them. A few moments passed, and the hawk soared up into the sky, then down again into the same spot. It seemed as if thier destination was right over the next hill.
Nillosien reigned his horse to a halt, dismounted, and motioned for Gwillear to dismount also. He whispered in elvish for the horses to stay where they were while they went and investigated on foot, but to come if they heard him whistle shrilly.
The stench by now was almost enough to make the two elves gag. By the time they followed the hawk’s cries, the sight almost made them lose their breakfast- Gwillear began to gag silently. Nillosien recalled from his memory a battlefield- and that’s what the sight was- a horrible memory.
A large fire burned fitfully in the center of the clearing, surrounded by a ring of stones- sputtering from the falling rain- but that was the only thing to suggest that this had been a campsite at all. Instead of sheltering weary travelers, the clearing had become the scene of a gruesome battle. Pieces of bodies were strewn all over the clearing. Black ichor was everywhere- on the ground, bushes, trees, branches- every place that they could see was dripping with it. There were deep claw marks in the earth- as deep as his thumb in some places. And then, as he bent down to examine the marks closer, beneath the stinking ichor- another scent hit his nostrils- elven blood!
Nillosien noticed that his young apprentice was having trouble controlling his young stomach- he looked green around the gills. He took pity on him, remembering his first battle scene many many centuries ago, and motioned Gwillear close and whispered
” You check around the clearing, look for any signs of survivors, bodies, anything out of the ordinary. Signal like a hawk cry.”
Nillosien knelt down and examined some of the deep gashes on the ground. Carefully tracing them with his finger, he began to formulate what the battle must have been like. He moved first to the right, then the left, following the pattern of footsteps on the wet ground. They started close to the fire, and seemed to be from three different people. One set of footprints was bare, and seemed to be from a child, while the other two were boot prints- but two different kinds of boots. One set was to the left of the fire, and showed signs of being dragged away, while the two other sets let to a huge oak tree.
Gwillear felt relieved to be away from the scene of the horrific battle. When they had first found the clearing, he had gone pale-recognizing it as the scene from his nightmares. He had been both relieved and terrified when he saw no elven bodies on the ground. He couldn’t figure out what had happened to the elven women in his dreams. While he searched the area around the clearing, he kept his eyes to the ground, trying to read some sign of what might have happened.
When he rounded a large oak tree, and saw what was before him, he lost his lunch. The scene was too horrible to be described- pieces of gray elven fabric were everywhere, shredded and blood covered.. and in the center, was the partial skeleton of a woman, the face half-chewed away, her sword still in her grasp- thrust through a dead creature next to her. Her legs had been ripped away, and were on the other side of the tree. He breathed a prayer to Eru and Mandos, that she would find peace in his halls.He completely forgot about the agreed-upon signal. All he could think about doing was getting away from the dead elf. Running as fast as he could, he made it back to the clearing just as Nillosien was headed in his direction.
” I found one of them. She’s over in the tiny clearing over there. Dead.” He shuddered with revulsion. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. What happened here?”
Nillosien looked at Gwillear with compassion. His mind was filled with memories of the wars he had fought against evil- Morgoth, Mordor, Easterlings, Pirates..but it was only with the wars where necromancers were involved had he ever seen anything like this. An uncharacteristic sadness filled his voice, as if the words were pulled from some dark recess of his memory..
” It looks like the travelers were attacked by these warg-like creatures. I do not know where they came from, or why they were here, only that they were. Go back and wait by the horses. Come if I call you.” He gave Gwillear a gentle push in the direction of their horses.
Turning back to the huge oak before him, he lifted his arm, and his hawk swooped down. “Now fellow, what was it that you wanted me to find in this tree?” he whispered softly in elvish. With a soft cry, the hawk hopped from his arm onto a branch, and then one higher, and turned to ‘caw’ softly in his direction. ” ok fellow, I’m coming.”
Cautiously, he began to ascend the tree, noting that there were bloody rivulets trailing down the trunk, as if someone had climbed this tree with bleeding wounds. As he got higher, he realized that he was beginning to hear another sound, the sound of someone breathing.. no wait. He concentrated harder.. two people breathing! Could it be that there were survivors??? He looked up, trying to pierce the tangle of branches, trying to see if there was indeed life in the treetops.
Above his head, the thick oak branched had begun to grow closer together- so close in fact, that he couldn’t see between them. In fact, the way they grew intertwined reminded him of a flet. Climbing closer, he carefully poked his head in between the branches. And what did he see? An elf and a hobbit!!! Both alive, but barely…
He climbed the rest of the way into the branches, and pulled the kit off of his back. Nillosien placed a hand onto the face of the hobbit, and felt it warm, then he felt the elf and she was burning up with a fever-heat. He rummaged through till he found the medicine and bandages, and did a quick job of wrapping up their wounds. He brushed the hair back from the battle-wounded face of the she-elf, and thought he recognized her, but wasn’t sure, for her face was covered in battle-grime, and travel-dirt.
Throwing caution to the wind, he called down to Gwillear. ” Gwillear, bring the horses to the base of the huge oak tree. Then climb up to the top. I have need of you. I found something that you need to see.”
Nillosien carefully took off his cloak, and made a sling for the hobbit to rest in while he climbed down. Testing the knots to make sure that they were strong, he placed the sling round his shoulders, placed the hobbit inside, and began the long trek down.
Gwillear met him at the bottom of the tree with their horses and packs, still looking rather green around the gills.
“Gwillear, you were right… there were survivors. There is someone else up there- I need you to watch over this one while I go get her.”
Gwillear nodded, and passed over his cape and a blanket, and received the bundle with the hobbit inside.
Nillosien started back up the tree, not taking quite as much time as he did the first time, since he knew how far up he was going. When he reached the top again, the woman was still there, softly moaning, lost in the heat of fever dreams. Quickly, he gathered all the belongings that were around her, and stuffed them into his pack, after he removed the blankets to make the sling.
Carefully, he carried her down the tree, to where Gwillear was waiting below. Without a word, they both carefully mounted up again, the hobbit in front of Gwillear, and the Elfess in from of Nillosien. They rode as fast as they dared with the two injured folk, for the sooner they were back at the tower, the sooner they could ease their pain and tend their wounds.
We return to the forests again. Our hobbit friend has lost all faith and finds the true meaning of apathy by the end of this chapter. He is taken captive by a band of elves and one human. This chapter suggests that some of his past will be revealed soon.