Chapter One: The Chase

Anathea ran as fast as her legs could permit despite feeling the tightness in her chest resulting from the exertion she was putting herself as she forced her legs to make longer strides while fleeing from the five men chasing her. White spots have manifested before her eyes resulting from the obvious strain of the long run. She desperately gulped in another breath that while in her frantic haste she succeeded in missing her footing on a very uneven ground. Pulling herself upright before loosing her balance was hard when she almost fell face down to the ground. Another pang of pain surfaced from somewhere near her mid-section. She remembered getting it when she fell off from the horse while she and her sister were trying to get away from the men. They were thrown off from the saddle when a man jumped them. The next thing she knew, she was running away and that her sister was fighting them off so that they would not follow her. Her sister's shouts rang inside her mind again, urging her to keep running and to never look back. She did run but she frighteningly knew that her sense of direction was gone too. The unfamiliar terrain taunted her while she ran but she forced herself not to listen to the fear but concentrated on the intent that was in her mind - escape from these pursuers.

She wiped away an errant tear that was blurring her vision. The action did not help much and realized she was having a hard time seeing through her left eye. A wave of panic gripped her heart while she blinked again but the blurred vision would not go away.

She pushed her limbs again and for a moment managed to outdistance the men. But for how long will she be able to keep the pace. She wondered. They were closely gaining ground and she could hear their laugh. They were playing with her. That much she knew. They wanted to tire her out so she would not fight, like her sister.

Norleana, she thought of her sister as she blinked away the tears that were falling.

The frantic bobbing motions of her head as she searched for some shelter to hide from her pursuers made it look hopeless from the men's' point of view and this fueled them to keep an easy pace with the girl. They knew there was no one on this deserted plain to help her.

Anathea found nothing that could help her situation and with that knowledge at hand, it turned to worry. However, while she does add that little distance she thinks she has, worry turned to fear and it stabbed her heart more than ever. What will become of her on this flat black-brown land before her? Will she face the same fate as sister?

The growing dimness over the area signaled the coming dusk and this only heightened her fears. She began to cry harder this time and the tears streamed down her dirt stricken face. I have to escape! Please someone help me! Her mind echoed the frightened thoughts repeatedly. Then she gasped. She felt the heat behind her. No. No. Don't turn your back! It's them, the bad men! Her mind seemed to scream inside her. She pushed herself forward almost leaping out from where she last stood.

However, through her panic, she did not see a small outcrop jutting out just a little. The protrusion was enough to catch her foot and in her desperate flight, she was sent flying for couple of yards before landing with a dull thud as she hit the ground. It knocked in the process, most of the wind out from her lungs.

It was terrible. She burst into sobs now when a pain coming from her chest rattled inside her head. She lay prone motionless for a while, saved for her continued crying and now coughing as the grit swept into her dry mouth while heaving another ragged breath. She knew the men were upon her but why weren't they.

The men stopped to walk as they saw their prize fall on the ground.

"So, our little bird is now exhausted." The gravelly voiced man observed.

"She will not be much of a fighter now, unlike her sister," the other man remarked as he watched in anticipation what he planned for her. The other woman was dealt with, rather harshly, much to his disappointment.

They continued towards her.

The comfort to just lie on the ground was inviting, almost a release and she was close to giving up. She was tired and wanted to just sleep. Her eyes almost close...

Don't sleep! A voice rang inside her head. It was loud and insistent. Get to your feet Anathea! She hastily scrambled to her feet and let out a cry as hot pain shot from her knees came. She had no time to see the wounds but she knew she had badly grazed her knees. The new wounds have affected her running, therefore reducing her to a skip and an occasional run. She was going to be captured for sure. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the men starting to run after her again.

Anathea could almost hear the rasping voice of the men behind her. She just wanted to reach the forest before the men overtake her.

"Please help! Someone help me!" She yelled as loudly as she could in between the sobs. The forest if I could just reach it. She thought. The tall trees were just before her. Please...let me live. She desperately prayed. The edge of the forest that she was trying to get to still looked so far away.

Before she realized that she had reached the edge, the ground gave way under her feet and Anathea was sure, she was already plummeting to certain death. She let out a scream of horror, as the mistake was too overwhelming for the child to handle. Her arms flailed, seeking something to break her fall and instead thumped against a thick branch that grew on the side of the ravine. It seemed to have miraculously sprang out from nowhere.

She screamed again as she frantically grasped the branch and soon found to be dangling from it with her small fingers digging on the limb like an anchor. The downward pull of the ground terrified her and yanked her eyes upward from looking at the stony ground below.

In the forest, somewhere near the borders of the Ford of Bruinen, Elrohir, Elladan and Estel were following a path. Headed by Elrohir, the two elves were teaching Estel how to track a deer under the gathering dusk. Unfortunately, the task proved to be a feat for the human child.

The boy of seven years, in the mortal people's time, squatted near the tracks made by the deer. To him, the loose soil, the plants, the bent twig, all look too ordinary for him to distinguish that the deer have indeed passed through the forest path and not made by some other animal.

"I can't see it?" Estel shook his little brown-head as he stared at the ground before him. His voice was lined with frustration.

"Then we will practice again until you know how to look for it," Elrohir calmly told his youngest brother with a smile tugging at his lips. He noticed Estel's frustration.

"It seems that will take many, many nights of practice which could last most of Estel's lifetime," Elladan quipped and went tumbling into the forest floor as Estel tackled him. Soon laughter erupted from the two and Elrohir smiled to himself but shortly his relax features changed to a serious cast. He turned his head towards the ford.

"Quiet!" He said in a commanding tone, which immediately made his brothers, swallow their laughter. Elladan quickly stood up and listened to the surroundings. He held onto to Estel, ready to leave the area if needed. Estel watched his brothers stand side by side, all their elven senses alert. He could not help watching them in awe and he always did as far as he could remember whenever the Elves find something amiss. He also tried to listen to the sounds that could be unfamiliar to the area but his young ears did not detect a threatening sound. Moments had passed and the still postures of his brothers were his only measure of their high alertness. Estel did not know for how long have they been standing but unfortunately, it made him fidgety that he stepped back and broke a twig in turn.

The two Elven brothers looked at the boy in exasperation. "Little Estel, I do believe we will also need to teach you how to walk like an Elf." Elrohir spoke as he shot the little boy a stern look.

"I'm sorry," Estel shrank behind Elladan as he noticed the glare. However, after a little while, he spared his other brother a glance and he saw that his features had softened into a small smile.

"Come, we have stayed too long here," Elrohir said and urged his brothers to follow.

"What was it you heard?" Elladan wanted to know as he kept Estel in between them. That way, either he or Elrohir can protect the boy and not worry if he lags behind.

"A scream coming from the direction of the ford but I cannot be certain," Elrohir replied as they reached their horses. "I will find out what it is," he continued as Elladan mounted first and easily picked Estel up and sat him in front.

"Take Estel home. I would like to check the Ford..." but he was cut off from what he was going to say next by Estel's remark as Elrohir mounted his own steed.

"But I want to see too!" The boy interrupted him. "I won't be like what you want me to be or learn anything if you always send me home every time danger is near." Estel argued.

Elladan arched an eyebrow and cast his brother a look that said the boy had a point. A sad yet puzzled frown came over Elrohir as he searched the boy's face. Long ago, when Estel was only three years old, their father had shared them a secret. About this human boy destined for greatness in Middle Earth. However, until such time reveals itself, Elrond deemed it was best to let the boy enjoy his childhood as much as he can. However, this also made the brothers very protective towards Estel all the time despite their father's premonition. Still, they made sure they did not lose sight of teaching him things few men would ever come to know.

Nevertheless, it was still hard for the brothers' to deny Estel of things he needs to know in preparation for that revelation.

"Very well," Elrohir conceded. "But," emphasizing the word. "You will stay close to Elladan at all times and follow his instructions." He said as he leveled Estel a gaze.

The boy nodded while his face brightened. "I will." He affirmed. With that, the brothers rode to the direction of the Ford.