The previous chapter: Chapter 28
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien’s wonderful work and making no money. I do however claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn.
Aurelin and Gilgaer followed the Road together for two days and a night. He had gently shook her awake before noon of the day they had met in the Trollshaws and from there they had continued on tirelessly without pausing long anywhere. Amon Sûl was currently looming in front of them, the ruins above silhouetted against the red of the western sky. The Sun was setting and they were going to spend the night up at the watchtower or more specifically under an overhang Laswing knew to be on the southern side of the otherwise steep slope.
Aurelin dismounted at the foot of the hill and took a blanket to sit on, some lembas and water to drink. Laswing carried a little bundle of firewood, that he and Aurelin had collected during their brief pauses of the journey, to replace what wood they would use.
While the horses went to find some grass that was not all stiff and yellow or lifeless green, Aurelin and Gilgaer climbed the hill and found the hollow. She spread the cover on the ground and deposited the lembas loaves and flask of water on it.
“I’ll go and have a look from up there,” Aurelin motioned with her hand upwards where through the rock were the ruins.
“All right. But come back quickly, I will have built a fire by then and you can tell me the story of the Re-enacting of the Feast of the Gates of Summer.” Laswing looked up from where he was crouching with sticks of wood awaiting the placing into a cone in his hands and followed Aurelin with his eyes until she disappeared around the craggy rock.
Aurelin emerged onto the open space and evidently dusk was already at hand. The wind was strong and Aurelin had to wage a war to keep her hair from her eyes. She looked from north to south and east to west. There appeared no sign that there were any others around besides her and Gilgaer. The road and all surrounding the lands were empty.
She had left her bow down by the soon-to-be-lighted fire but she had brought her sword along. Satisfied to see that there was no threat visible, she was about to go down to join her companion when a sudden feeling of un-wholeness wafted from behind her. She whipped her head around but saw nothing. Slowly she brought up her sword.
Gilgaer had finished building the fire and was stowing away the wood he had brought when a cry of surprise that transformed into a call for aid pierced the silence of the deepening night.
“Gwingloth!” Terrified for her, he dropped the sticks of wood and rushed stumbling up the hill.
Aurelin had been grabbed from upwards and behind to be lifted even higher. The unexpected direction of the attack had made her drop the sword. Claws were digging into her tunic, shirt and skin underneath. She looked up and saw that her attacker was winged, in shape like a man but also like a huge bird – a harpy, she guessed. It was lifting her up into the air and it made her afraid that its intention was to take her high into the sky and then let drop to her death.
She called out to Laswing and drew two knives from beneath her wrist-guards. Both of her arms were free and she began slashing at the things’ strong legs but it only turned the creature’s grip harder and it became more difficult to use the knives for the bind-blowing pain that every movement of Aurelin’s produced.
Gilgaer entered on the scene of Aurelin madly slashing, blood all over her hands and face, tangling from the claws of some strange creature. She gave a little cry of relief when she saw him. His sword had been out of the sheath an instant later after he had gained the summit and using the momentum of the run up the hill, Gilgaer rushed to the creature and raised his arm high to thrust the blade into its side but it had been alerted to it by Aurelin’s cry and evaded the attack. They circled the top of the hill three times, Aurelin like a puppet on strings swayed six feet up in the air, Gilgaer desperate to kill the thing before it could do more harm to his betrothed. Finally after much dodging and darting he managed to deliver a deep cut sideways down its belly and for a moment it seemed the creature might release Aurelin but instead it shrieked and started to gain altitude to avoid his attacker and end Aurelin’s life. Laswing guessed its plan and threw away his sword, grabbed his bow (that had luckily been strung and with him when he ran up the hill) and nocked an arrow to the bowstring. From the quickness of the move it might have looked as if he did not allow himself the time to aim before he let loose the arrow that thudded into the creature’s vitals, but he had for there was no way he would risk a mistake with what was at stake here. The harpy shrieked wildly in agony, gurgled and wavered in its gain of altitude. The long claws let go of Aurelin and there was only luck to thank that the harpy had not taken her that high up. Gilgaer surged forward to catch her but she came with such speed that she more fell on him than was caught. All the air was driven out of Gilgaer and his head ringed from becoming into contact with the ground. The monstrous creature fell some feet from the two, trashed a few times and died with a last, but this time wheezing screech.
Aurelin raised her head slowly and blinked away the tears of relief while Laswing dragged himself from under her to gather her in his arms, imploring whether she was hurt. She coughed.
“I am. I’m sorry! Are you all right?”
“Well enough!” Gilgaer gave a sharp nod of reassurance but Aurelin suspected that he was biting back groans. She told him that she could walk, that most she wanted to see the light of a fire now and get away from the creature, gingerly raising to her knees. They helped each other up and after Laswing had gathered his sword and hers and Aurelin had his bow over her shoulder, they decended slowly from the top of the hill and the dead body, keeping a wary eye on each other should the other show signs of falling or faltering.
Gilgaer herded Aurelin to the fire and the blanket on the ground. Once she was sitting, he could look properly into her face. The amount of blood made him draw a sharp breath.
“You are covered in blood! My love, you said you were not wounded.”
“It’s not mine,” she spoke with a disgust as she glanced at her equally bloody hands. “I am only a little bruised or cut from where it held onto me and I’m sore from falling from that height. But I am fine, I’ll live.”
“Let me get you cleaned up.” Before she could object, Gilgaer was gingerly heading down to the horses and got back with the extra flask of water. With a cloth torn from his spare shirt and kneeling in front of her, Laswing washed Aurelin’s face from the grime. She didn’t say anything, only kept her eyes locked with his. Laswing guessed she might only come to grips with the extent of the threat she had been in but Aurelin was in fact just savouring the overwhelming and delightful feeling that she was alive and took strength from the deep wells of his brown eyes.
Satisfied with the caring for Aurelin’s appearance, Gilgaer settled beside her and handed her half a loaf of lembas, taking the other himself, she huddled closer to him but was careful not to lean too much weight on his battered form. Timidly she asked whether he was unhurt, again, this time joking that he had had to break her fall and that could not have been pleasant.
“My lovely, you are light as a feather. I am glad I cushioned the fall.”
“You are a liar and we both know it.” Aurelin frowned at his selflessness, it will get him seriously hurt one day if he continues like this! Neutrally she observed, “But I think that it won’t do us any good to stay here tonight. It might not be noticeable now but in the morning we would be stiff as poles if we didn’t move soon.”
Gilgaer tried stretching but thought better of it at the first protest of pain from his shoulders and ribs. “I guess so, but only if you are up to it. Now we have to be even more careful. This had to be a creature of Ennorís and who knows how many she has sent here.”
“I think this was the only one..” Aurelin spoke absently in deep thought, eyes on the dark shapes of trees and the grey expanse of the grassland below. ” We believe that the main attack would be at Eryn Lasgalen and that she’d leave the west of the Hithaeglir be for the time being.”
“But this one I slew was on the western side?” Laswing pointed out wryly.
“I think that it is the same creature whom I saw flying over my campfire under the feet of Caradhras. Something blotted out the stars but I couldn’t see what it was. Guessing it to be an Eagle, I put it out of my mind. Now I deem that this creature followed me from the Wood of Greenleaves but alone. It was to spy on me and take tidings to its mistress. It may have had orders to kill me once I reached Amon Sûl or had been on the journey a certain number of days. That would explain why it attacked me and now. But, with luck, we have gotten rid of the spy and stopped it from reporting our doings to Ennorís. I am sure this is the case. She must remain concentrated on Eryn Lasgalen and we ensured it today. You did!”
She didn’t need to thank him for saving her life, it was all in her eyes and smile, at the same time loving, thankful and concerned. Laswing insisted that he be allowed to look at the claw-marks and bruises on her shoulders before they went anywhere but seeing that these were not very serious, he put out the fire. Aurelin wanted to help but she was firmly told not to fuss and just stand while he got the blanket, their weapons and food. Both sore, one from falling, the other from being landed on, made carefully their way down to the horses who were looking the epitome of wellbeing compared to their riders.
Two days later the Elves were in Hobbiton, its lights shining in the clouded night. Aurelin and Gilgaer were as sore as they had guessed they would, he in a larger degree because of what he called the merits of cushioning a fall. But they could still ride and that was what mattered. Still wary of any more spies aloft, this particular night of clouds being a more difficult one to spot the possible “shadow”, so far it seemed to the two that Aurelin had been right when she had supposed that there had only been the one Gilgaer had slain on Weathertop.
On the night before they had passed through Bree and sped on without stopping. Only a few hobbits of Buckland had seen them pass into their land and these probably didn’t believe what they had seen anyway. It had had been the same here as in Bree with the exception of having to pass like shadows through a gate while the gate-keeper was busy with his overzealous young daughter who insisted that “Mommy will be furious if you do not eat the stew when its warm”. The weather showed signs of rain-about-to-fall and all the Hobbits seemed to be in their homes before warm fires with a good meal, ale and pipeweed to keep them company.
Lucky for us, Laswing thought. Sowing disquiet by passing through was the last thing either he or Aurelin wished to do. Better if they managed to reach the less populated parts of the road by the time the sun rose.
They rode on, as quiet in the night as a breath of wind or patter of rain drops.
The next time Aurelin really focussed on her surroundings was when she and Gilgaer were making haste past the Far Downs and Aurelin happened to raise her head and saw the three slender towers shining pearly white in the distance on Tower Hills. The two weeks long ride (had it really been that long?) from Eryn Lasgalen had taken a toll on her and she felt great relief to see the Towers white against the purple sky. That meant Mithlond was close and that the race of her life was about to end. When the armies were gathered, they’d move at a different speed than a lone rider bearing urgent tidings.
Gilgaer kept glancing worriedly at Aurelin. The passage of the Hithaeglir had taken more from her than she had at first realised and it was only starting to affect her. Striving wills with the Red Horn had taken more than she had to spare. The Emyn Beraid and the Elven towers were something that Aurelin had never seen before but it was clear that she was not at her best when she only threw one glance at them and turned her gaze back to the horizon where Mithlond was.
The night was dark and clouded and only a few of the brightest stars were visible in the sky between the rents of the clouds. Or maybe it was just Aurelin’s sight that was darkening. She hadn’t said anything of this to her betrothed but it was hard for her to even stay up on the horse’s back when what felt like a mountain of tiredness was weighing her down. She figured that she would be able to deliver the message to Círdan though. It must have been a great act of un-tiredness because Laswing, who was usually very apt to sense when she was not well, hadn’t noticed her struggles. Maybe it was the fact that they were almost at the end of the long race that clouded his feelings. Aurelin was glad of it. She was intent on finishing her mission and taking the summons to the Shipwright as soon as possible.
“We are here!” Laswing called out from her right, pointing at the darker shapes ahead. Aurelin turned to him and gave a brief smile but did not really see anything except darker shadows.
When the horses’ hooves rang on flagstones it was clear that they were in Mithlond though its beauty was covered by the night or at least for Aurelin it was. Gilgaer went to the lead since it was his home and he knew his way around while Aurelin had never been here. He was making for the Círdan’s Halls where his own quarters were as well.
A smell of horses came to Aurelin after they had ridden in the city, taking turns and going through empty streets, for some time. The stables, she thought. Laswing stopped in front of a set of big doors and leaned to knock. Someone must have heard them outside even before for the doors opened immediately and the Elves rode inside. The stable was lit with torches but the light was dim. Aurelin slid down from Alagos’ back and stood in the middle of the aisle between the stalls, afraid that moving would betray her weariness. Gilgaer led away both horses and gave them to the care of an Elf who immediately began to rub them down. Returning to Aurelin, Gilgaer walked past her and outside, around the left corner and then up some stairs while she followed a little way behind.
The stairs proved Aurelin’s undoing. She had muttered that he should lead since he was familiar with the place when he had tried to take her arm when they were before the stables and given him another assuring smile. Not really understanding her, Laswing did what she asked and went on ahead, casting doubtful looks over his shoulder. When he got to the top step he was confronted by a guard who upon recognising him opened the door for him and his companion. Gilgaer found himself in the large and elaborate marble, crystal and white wood entry hall that he knew well and he started off down a corridor to where Círdan’s rooms were.
But Aurelin’s last efforts of forcing herself to go on were spent on those cursed stairs. She hadn’t taken five steps in the hall of what she didn’t really see anything when she slowly folded to the floor, making no sound. The guard’s cry of “My Lord!” and Gilgaer spinning around, feeling that something was wrong, were simultaneous. Both rushed to the motionless maiden, the guard more confused of why should the lady just collapse like that. Laswing lay his hand on her neck to feel her pulse and touched her forehead for a fever but was relieved to find that she was breathing normally.
“She has had a tiring journey,” he explained to the guard. “She will be all right once she gets some rest. Could you send a message to Lord Círdan to ask him to come to the council room? Tell him I have urgent tidings.”
While the guard called for a message-bearer, Gilgaer gathered Aurelin’s limp form in his arms and lifted her from the floor, all his own hurts forgotten. The first place that came to his mind were his own rooms and so he set out there with his precious burden. There would be no use to take her into the infirmary to the healers because she was just dead tired and he could keep watch of her better in his own quarters than in the healers’ rooms where they usually did not allow for visitors to stay for long.
Soon he was before the familiar leaf and wave-carved door and he pushed it open with his foot. Crossing the little hall Gilgaer went to the bedroom where he laid her gently on the bed. After placing her head on the pillow he rummaged through a closet and spread the blanket he had found over her. The curtain, he remembered and drew them so that the coming daylight would not wake Aurelin. Hands touching as light as a feather landing, he spread her hair around her and cupped her cheek to give her a kiss before leaving the room and drawing the door quietly closed.
“My Lord, greetings!” he bowed once in the council room where Círdan was already waiting. “Even though this message was not entrusted to me, I feel that I should tell it to you now. The bearer of these tidings will speak the words to you proper, when she has recovered but the sooner we start acting, the better.”