They rode steadily into the night without stopping. Narmo, with Lindar and Aramir on board, took the lead, responding to the gentle pressure of Lindar’s hands and legs as they rode on through the trees. Kellian rode behind, and when the trail was wide enough, next to them. Lindar noted that the Elf was noticeably cool and distant towards him, and that he only spoke to him when it was necessary. It seemed to Lindar that Kellian saw him as a weapon up and ready to fire, a weapon that could strike at any instant. He stared down at Narmo’s mane and twirled it in his fingers, feeling a deep pain in his heart at the Elf’s distrust.
They drew closer and closer to Janst’s hideout, and Lindar soon recognized the territory. He hadn’t been completely honest when he had told Aramir that it was a day’s ride, but they were still a good three hours away. It was still quite dark, and a good many hours until daybreak, when Lindar first noticed that Aramir seemed to be in pain. He said nothing, but it was obvious by his occasionally sharp breaths, and by the way he sat upon his horse that he was not feeling well at all. Knowing better than to say anything, Lindar cast a glance at Kellian, hoping the Elf had noticed as well. He had. His blue eyes fixed on Lindar’s and he nodded once, an odd look on his fair face.
“How much further, Lindar?” he asked in a cool tone.
Lindar sighed dejectedly, then answered. “About three hours, I would say. Perhaps we should stop and form a plan.” He carefully avoided mentioning anything about resting.
Kellian nodded once. “Ar?” he asked.
Aramir’s head snapped up. “Hmm? Oh, right. Yes, I think that’s a good idea.”
Satisfied, they rode on another several hundred yards, towards a clearing Lindar was certain was there. Sure enough, they rode into a small glade that was ideal for resting, or plan forming. They dismounted, and although he said nothing, Aramir’s face was twisted into a grimace of pain.
“Sit down Aramir, I’ll get some firewood,” Kellian said. “No point in freezing while we plot.” He wrapped his cloak tighter about his shoulders against the chill of the night.
Aramir reluctantly agreed and sat down, back to a great oak tree.
“I’ll help you,” Lindar offered to Kellian.
“I’ll be fine,” the Elf said coldly, turning and starting off across the clearing.
Lindar stepped back as though he had been struck. Aramir saw the look on his face and gave him a sympathetic look. It didn’t make Lindar feel any better, but something suddenly entered his mind that wiped away the feeling. How could he have forgotten? Just weeks ago he and his father had spent several days constructing them. And now Kellian was walking right into a-
“Kell stop!” he cried, breaking into a run.
The Elf turned and cast Lindar an annoyed look. “I told you, I don’t need help,” he snapped, turning and beginning to walk again. He took three steps, then suddenly disappeared from view.
Lindar reached him just as the ground gave way and he began to fall. He leapt for the Elf and just managed to seize his hand as the ground cover sank into the pit. Kellian clung to his hand and began scramble up the side of the deep pit. With Lindar’s help he climbed out of the hole and knelt in a daze next to Lindar.
“Kell! Are you alright?” Aramir came to a sliding halt next to the pair, ignoring the pain in his shoulder.
The Elf looked down into the pit. Even for an Itir, it was quite a fall, and even if he had been able to land on his feet, the sharp rocks at the bottom would have killed him. He looked first at Lindar, then at Aramir, deep regret in his blue eyes. “I am, thanks to Lindar.” He turned back to the young man. “I’m sorry I doubted you. Can you forgive me?”
“Of course!” Lindar exclaimed, gently embracing him. “Can you forgive me?”
“For what? Digging that thing?” He chuckled. “Seeings as I am not at the bottom of it, I suppose I can. Should have seen that coming too- by Ulmo, I am not having a very insightful day.” He grinned, dismissing the danger with a rapidity that Lindar found astonishing. He rose, pulling Lindar up with him. “Come on. I take back what I said before-I’d like some help after all.”
They gathered firewood while managing to avoid further incident. Coming back to the clearing and an annoyed Aramir, they gave in to his demand and let him build the fire. He did so easily and with a skill that only an Exile could possess. Within minutes a blazing fire was before them, and Aramir was leaning against the tree with a satisfied look upon his face.
“So!” he began. “What’s the plan?”
Kellian and Lindar exchanged glances. Convincing Aramir to sleep would be impossible. “I guess we should be thankful he’s sitting down at all,” Kellian muttered good-naturedly.
“I heard that, and I refuse to sleep,” Aramir declared.
Lindar snorted. “And because you are the king, we can’t tell you to do anything,” he added, taking a drink from his water skin.
Aramir gave them an arrogant look. “Exactly,” he said in a snobby tone.
Lindar and Kell broke into quiet laughter. Aramir gave them a haughty look, then began to laugh as well. After a moment, he stopped. “We chose the oddest times to laugh, don’t we?” His comment seemed to be directed at Kellian, so Lindar said nothing. The Elf nodded and rolled his eyes.
“We should make a plan,” Aramir mimicked Lindar. “Honestly, if you thought I needed to stop, you should have said so. Of course, I would have said no…”
Lindar raised his eyebrows and snorted again. “And your point is…?”
“No point. Just being exasperating, as usual,” the king answered.
“Anyway!” Kellian broke in, “you said its three hours from here?”
Lindar nodded, remembering suddenly why they were out here in the first place. “Yes, about that. It’s a huge rock formation with a cave system inside. There are tunnels everywhere, but I know them all.” Not something to be proud of, he thought.
Aramir nodded slowly. “I hope they are alright,” he whispered, and any trace of humour that was left in the camp floated away. Lindar hung his head, thinking of poor Teleri and Isilmë.
“I just hope Rhee doesn’t do something insane and challenge him to a battle,” Aramir muttered. Just what I was thinking, Lindar mused.
Kellian sighed. “We are getting no where,” he declared. “Perhaps we should all try and sleep. You really do need to rest, Aramir.”
“Good idea,” Lindar agreed, feeling suddenly tired at hearing the Elf’s words. “We’ll need to be rested anyway, and it is perfectly safe out here, so we won’t need a watch. And besides, we won’t be able to do anything until we can see anyway.”
“I can see,” Kellian muttered.
“So can I,” Aramir said.
Lindar threw his hands into the air. “So can I! You know what I meant!”
Aramir chuckled, then nodded in agreement and leaned back against the tree, thinking of Isilmë. In the silence of the early morning, the three men fell into uneasy sleep, each knowing what the next day would bring.
Lindar awoke with an abrupt start. He sat up slowly, peering around to make sure there was nothing there. After ascertaining that they were alone, he rose and walked several paces into the clearing. He stared up at the sky, and after several minutes he concluded that he had been asleep for about four hours. The sun was just rising over the horizon, and the birds in the forest were beginning their songs. Lindar shook his head, ran his hand through his hair, and turned back to wake Aramir and Kellian. He didn’t have to, however. Both were sitting against the giant tree, apparently waiting until they were fully awake before rising.
“Feel any better?” Lindar asked Aramir.
“And what makes you think I was feeling badly in the first place?” Aramir retorted. “Yes, I feel much better, thanks.”
Kellian rolled his eyes and rose gracefully, making his way over to the two horses. He gave them each a small piece of something from the pouch at his side, then led them into the clearing. “Let us be off then!” he announced, patting his horse before swiftly and effortlessly swinging onto its back. “Oh, Lindar?” he added as Lindar and Aramir mounted Narmo. “Are there any more of those traps?”
Lindar nodded grimly. “Don’t worry,” he assured the Elf. “We can avoid them easily.”
With that final reassurance, they set off towards Janst’s hideout in silence. They rode for nearly three hours without stopping. Lindar kept his eyes alert and searching for any sign of danger, but he saw none.
“They’re close,” Aramir whispered.
Lindar and Kellian glanced at him. One hand was at his neck, gently fingering something. He opened his palm and they saw a small crescent moon charm, glowing a bright blue. Kellian’s eyes sparkled, and Lindar nodded, remembering the charm from Aramir’s story. They rode only a few minutes more, and the Lindar signaled for a halt and dismounted.
“It is up ahead just a little ways,” he advised quietly. Then, motioning for them to follow, he crept into the woods. Already the huge formation was visible ahead, looming like an evil omen over their heads. It took them less than five minutes to reach the formation. They crouched in the thick underbrush on the edge of a clearing- the clearing where Lindar had learned to ride, to fight, and to kill. He shook his head and pushed such thoughts aside. On the far side of the clearing was the base of the rock. No visible entrance could be seen, except to the person who knew where to look. Once inside, it was a labyrinth of tunnels that led to everywhere and nowhere, and, if you were lucky, to Lindar’s ‘home’- the cluster of rooms where he and his father had lived.
Lindar turned to Kellian and Aramir. Both were watching him attentively, waiting for him to announce the next move. “Here it is,” he whispered. “My wonderful home.” His words were bitter and full of regret.
“Now we could use a plan,” Kellian muttered.
“Alright,” Lindar began. “Teleri and Isilmë are in there. My guess is he has them in the main room, because it’s the hardest to find, and there is only one obvious main entrance. We’ll need to get Janst out of the room and distract him long enough to get them out.”
“And then get rid of him.” Aramir’s voice was harsh and filled with malice.
Lindar nodded slowly. He knew, of course, that Janst had to be killed, or imprisoned, but somewhere deep inside, he knew that the man in question was still his father. A terrible, evil person who used people to his own ends and the ends of others, but his father nevertheless. No, Lindar decided, he did not feel sorry for Janst at all.
“So,” Aramir concluded with a whisper. “Lindar will go in and get Teleri and Isilmë.”
“Me?” Lindar protested.
“Yes you,” Kellian intoned. “You know those tunnels better than anyone. Even if Ar or I could find them, we’d never get back out. And besides, could you honestly kill him if you had to?”
Lindar sighed in resignation. “No. You are right.”
Aramir nodded in satisfaction. “Good. Kell and I will give you five minutes, then call Janst out in challenge. We should be able to hold him until you can get them out safely, or maybe we will get lucky and kill him before. You are planning on coming out here, right? Not another way out?”
Lindar nodded. “There are plenty of other ways out, but I’ll use this one.” He sighed. “Well, here goes.” He turned and prepared to make his way to the formation.
“Lindar wait,” Aramir called him back. He turned around to see both young men staring at him solemnly. “Good luck,” Aramir and Kellian whispered. Kellian raised his hands in an Elven salute, and Lindar returned it, feeling suddenly calm. “You too,” he whispered. Without another word, he turned and melted into the forest.
He worked his way along the edge of the clearing to the rocks. Once there, he found a familiar foothold and began to climb. He only had to climb a few feet before he found the switch that triggered the secret-well, they were all secret- entrance. He crept into the tunnel and began his passage through the system.
He reached the main hall in record time, for him. Almost all of the twisted series of paths that led to this hall ended in nothing, but, as he had said, Lindar knew all of them. He had chosen to approach the room from above, giving him an advantage, and also allowing him to avoid Janst when he left to confront Aramir and Kellian. Lindar’s thoughts trailed to the young king and his friend. He dearly hoped Aramir was all right. He wasn’t exactly in the best of shape to fight after his recent encounter with Janst.
An angry curse interrupted his thoughts, and he turned back to his tunneling. He walked a few more feet, then crouched in the entrance of the tunnel. He was almost invisible from where he hid, and only someone looking up-and looking for him, at that, would have seen him. Silently he peered down into the room. His eyes narrowed at what he saw. Teleri sat on a log off to the side of the room, her hands tied behind her back, her eyes filled with rage as she watched Janst and Isilmë in the middle of the room. Isilmë, her hands also tied, was struggling madly against the hold that the Exile had on her. His hands were locked about her waist and he held her close to him, as though he meant to kiss her. And he would have, Lindar realized, if Isilmë had not been putting up such a fight. She pulled back against his hold, tossing her head to prevent him from kissing her and kicking out at him.
Aramir, Kellian, hurry up! Lindar thought, eyes flashing in anger as he watched his father and the Queen. As if in answer to his unspoken prayer, he heard a cry from outside the rocks. Janst heard it as well, and he loosed his grip on Isilmë enough for her to break away from him. The Exile’s eyes narrowed and he smirked at Isilmë.
“Well, the little Elf has come to avenge his friend’s death. Let me go finish him as well, and then there will be no one to stop me from having what I want!” He drew his sword and stalked out of the room.
That’s what he thinks, Lindar thought as he crept to the edge of the tunnel and prepared to drop. He swung himself over the edge and dropped to the ground with Elven grace and silence.
In the middle of the room, Isilmë fell to her knees, sobbing helplessly. Teleri rushed to her side and knelt next to her, tears in her own eyes as she watched her mother.
“Oh Mother,” Teleri whispered sadly. “If Kellian is out there, then father…” she trailed off and sobbed.
“Dead,” Isilmë whispered. “No, no! My Aramir, dead.”
“He isn’t dead,” a voice said from behind Isilmë, and she whirled around to see Lindar. Not yet, anyway, he thought. And not ever, if I have anything to say. He knelt down behind the Queen and quickly cut the ropes that bound her hands, then moved to Teleri. She said nothing to him, only sat calmly while he cut her free.
“Lindar,” Isilmë whispered as though she didn’t believe it was really him.
Teleri stood up slowly, brushed herself off, then glared at Lindar. “What are you doing here?”
“Teleri, please, I can explain all of this,” Lindar pleaded, holding up his hands. The next thing he knew, a loud crack echoed through the room as Teleri hit him hard across the face. He leapt back in surprise, his hand on his stinging cheek. “Ow,” he moaned.
“That was for lying, deceiving me, keeping secrets from me,” she snapped.
Lindar opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off when Teleri rushed forward and hugged him tightly. “And this is for coming back for me,” she whispered, and then leaned forward and kissed him firmly on the lips. She pulled back after a moment and smiled up at him, then buried her face in his tunic. “I love you Lindar,” she whispered.
Lindar stared down at her, unable to believe what he had just heard. Emotion flooded through him and he hugged her tightly. “I love you too, Teleri,” he murmured, stroking her hair.
“Ahem.” Both Teleri and Lindar jumped at the sudden sound, then Lindar smiled apologetically. “Sorry Isilmë.”
“It is alright,” she assured him. “But may I remind you of where exactly we are, and what will happen if he comes back.”
“And of what is going on out there,” Lindar finished. “Come on.” He seized Teleri’s hand and dragged her out of the room and through the tunnels of the formation. Isilmë followed on her daughter’s heels, and together the three made their way out of the cave system. The came to a sudden halt at the entrance that Lindar had promised Aramir he would come out. A quick glance upwards told Lindar that the weather had gone from cloudy to stormy. As if in response to this observation, a rumble of thunder echoed across the clearing. Just what we need, Lindar thought. Rain. From the cave they could clearly see the field and the two combatants in it. Two? Lindar thought. Where was Kellian? Then he saw the Elf, standing on the edge of the field, watching the fight. Lindar’s Elven eyes could see the anxious look upon the Itir’s face as he stood and watched. He turned to Isilmë and Teleri.
“Wait here,” he whispered. “Come out when it is over.” He turned to leave, but Teleri seized his arm and held him back.
“Lindar wait. I want to come too.”
He shook his head. “No Teleri. Its-“
“-too dangerous. No it isn’t Lindar! Please! Look-I still have my sword.” She gave him a pleading look. “He is my father.”
Lindar sighed and glanced at Isilmë. Her ice-blue eyes met his and she gave him a barely perceptible nod. He sighed again and nodded to Teleri. “Alright. Follow me.” He took he hand and led her out of the cave and into the underbrush. Silently they made their way around the field to where Kellian stood, and all the while the sound of swords clashing rang in their ears.
“Kellian,” Lindar hissed, but the Elf didn’t turn.
“I heard you coming,” he informed the young Exile, eyes still watching Aramir and Janst.
Lindar rolled his eyes. “What is going on?” he demanded.
“I’d like to know the same thing,” Kellian muttered, disgust clear in his voice. “He made me promise to wait here. He said this is his fight, and he wants to do it alone.”
“Is he crazy?” Lindar cried quietly.
“Yes,” Kellian and Teleri muttered at the same time, and for the first time, Kellian turned around.
“Teleri?” he asked incredulously. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to help,” she told him.
Kellian sighed loudly. “Your whole family is crazy!” he informed her.
“Isilmë’s not,” Lindar muttered.
“Yes I am,” a voice said from behind him, and spun around to see the Queen standing there, watching the fight nervously.
“It’s official,” Kellian declared. “And I still cannot believe he made me wait here.”
“He made you promise,” Lindar whispered. “But not me.” He drew a slender throwing knife and turned to creep into the woods.
“Lindar!” Kellian snapped. “It was implied.”
“I know,” Lindar said. “I promise I won’t break in unless I have to, alright?”
Kellian’s eyes met Lindar’s, and they stared at each other in silence for a long moment. Finally, Kellian nodded. “Alright.”
Satisfied, Lindar crept into the woods and further down the edge of the field. He wanted to be as close to Aramir and Janst as he could get if the king needed help. With nothing else to do, he turned to watch the battle.
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9975.html
Chapter 6: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10024.html
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10111.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10168.html