A/N: Once again, apologies for the lateness of this chapter. This is getting
to be a theme isn't it?
c_carol: Thanks for the language tip. I'll probably end up revising this at some point so cheers for pointing that out.
Mistress Saigon: Damn you wench. You want a little Elrond? Well, I want a Sauron with a…yeah. ;)
Chapter 7: A mis-step.
Elrond looked around the party somewhat suspiciously, feeling something was amiss, then it hit him; the silence. A couple of days ago the mood had lightened a little; conversations had become more cheerful, groups of elves could be heard singing on occasion. Today, they were eerily silent.
Maedhros stopped and stood up in his stirrups, scanning the area around him. He sat back down and looked down to his left to see Elrond looking back up at him with questioning eyes.
"What is wrong?"
"You look tired, young one," began Maedhros, pointedly ignoring Elrond's concerns. "Why do you not ride with Galmacil there?"
"I am well enough, thank you."
"Ride with Galmacil."
Appreciating that this was an order and not a suggestion, Elrond allowed himself to be placed with the seneschal. He looked around him again, wondering at the tension. The atmosphere was electric, all around him some of the keenest senses in Middle Earth were directed at Elrond knew not what. He gripped the saddle pommel instinctively as the horse began leg yielding, the sideways trotting movement making Elrond feel insecure. He then saw Maglor and Elros pull up beside them and dozens of other elves soundlessly closing in all around them. Elrond surmised that Galmacil and Maglor must have manoeuvred them into the centre of the group.
They rode on like this in silence for about another half –hour before Maedhros ordered a stop. Galmacil helped both boys off their respective mounts and the host parted to let Maedhros and Maglor canter out before closing around them again.
Elros sidled up to Elrond, looking puzzled. "Why are we stopping? It is barely dusk."
"You would not know it, it is nearly dark anyway," said Elrond rolling his eyes up at the heavily overcast sky.
"It is going to rain, is it not?" grumbled Elros.
"Listen," Elrond whispered to his brother when he thought Galmacil's attention was directed elsewhere, "there is obviously something wrong. We have stopped here for no reason; the scouts were a long time reporting back this morning." Elrond paused, making sure no one was listening before continuing, and "I think they are being tracked."
Elrond swallowed down his excitement to keep his voice steady, "It could be Gil-galad or Cirdan."
"You think they could have caught up?"
"I believe so. Who else could it be?" Elros shrugged, his brows knotting into a frown. "Listen, when the time comes you must do exactly as I say."
"What do you mean?"
"When the attack comes, that lot will have their hands full, so we will be able to slip away." A hopeful smile crept into Elrond's face, "They are coming to rescue us Elros, I can feel it." Elros looked unconvinced. "Elros, what is wrong?" Elrond's smiled faltered. "We could end up with people who care for us; no more marching, no more horrible food." The little spark of hope gleamed anew in his eyes, "We could see Ammë again."
"It is dangerous."
"I know, but if we stick together all will be well. Elros, they will be looking for us, we will not have to get far. This could be our only chance." Elros conceded with a nod, trying to dispel the anxiety he was feeling.
Maglor growled as he drew a smooth stone along the blade edge of his sword hard enough to draw sparks.
"Three days," he hissed, "Three days of blazing sunshine and the moment we could actually use some of it, Anar decides to hide." He gestured upwards practically shaking his fist at the blackening clouds. "You know, if I did not know any better, I would say that someone out there does not like us," he added, nodding towards the West.
Maedhros' mouth twitched slightly at the edges as he watched Maglor continue to sharpen his sword, musing that it would take some work before he got it anywhere near as sharp as his tongue.
"Are you sure it was wise to halt?" asked Maglor, pausing in his labours.
"We will not out-run them. I would rather we are stationary and in close order if an attack does come. I am hoping they will pass us by in any case."
"They would not dare, would they? Surely they must see how we out-number them?"
"Perhaps it is not a full-scale battle they seek."
"If not a fight, then what?"
"A meal perhaps?"
What little light managed to filter through the clouds was now being supplemented by fires and torches, the latter being arranged around the perimeter of the group. The peredhil had not seen either Maglor nor Maedhros for nearly an hour, something which cemented Elrond's conviction that something was very wrong. He knelt on the ground, every muscle taut, while staring intently into the darkness, waiting for any sign of movement or alarm. Elros, sat with his knees hugged up to his chest, his posture displaying the same tension as Elrond but without the same readiness.
In the distance, a horse screamed and in an instant weapons were drawn, gleaming red in the firelight.
"Elros!" Elrond sprang to his feet and pulled his brother up with him. Elros entwined his fingers with his brother's, who gave his hand a comforting squeeze. "I will not let us get separated." Elros nodded dumbly, biting his lip. Elrond gave Elros' arm a subtle tug and began to edge him away from the guards, ever so slowly.
There was a shout from the other side of the group and the guards' heads snapped around to face it while raising their weapons. A small number moved forward to look more closely, leaving a gap in the perimeter. The two children took this opportunity and dashed into the gloom.
The boys ran as far as they dared without being noticed, their footsteps making barely any sound. They hunkered down beside a supply cart, both to hide and to plan their next move.
"Can you see them?" whispered Elros. Elrond shook his head.
"I think I can hear voices," he replied, peering into increasingly murky surroundings, anxious for any sign of their would-be rescuers. They both jumped as they head Elves calling urgently to each other. "They know we are gone. Hurry!" They took off again in the direction that Elrond thought he had heard the voices. They carried on running, the further they got from the others and the growing darkness helping to cloak their escape.
They both slowed gradually as they could hear the talking grow louder. The voices were harsh, guttural and speaking what sounded like a strange perversion of an Elvish tongue. The sound made Elros want to cover his ears and block it out. Though he could not understand the language, he knew one thing; it frightened him.
"Elrond," Elros whispered as loudly as he dared, "They are no Elves, let us go back." He tugged at his brother's sleeve who nodded and began to creep back the way they had come. Elros went cold as he realised that the talking had ceased. He dared to look back to where he had heard them and saw several pairs of green eyes shining in the darkness back at him.
"How could you let this happen?" Maglor railed at Galmacil, trying to quell the panic he felt rising in his chest. "You were supposed to be watching them!"
"My lord, I swear to you, my head was turned for a second"-
"Which way did they go?"
"The line was weakest here," Galmacil replied indicating a section of the group, "that is the only place they could have possibly got out."
"Maglor," interjected Maedhros, "Take a small group, find the children. The rest of us will deal with the yrch that are left, hopefully we can get to them before"- He was cut off by the sound of screams in the distance.
"Oh," he sighed, "too late."
"Magl-" Elros' cry for help was aborted by a calloused, malodorous hand being clamped over his mouth. He clawed at it, thinking he would suffocate if he did not somehow get free. The orc holding him was yelling and pointing at another orc who held a struggling Elrond securely around the waist with one arm. The boys could not understand a word but were sure they were arguing about something.
"Give me the other one!"
"I saw 'em first!"
"I'm in charge! I get first cut!"
A third, smaller, scrawny looking orc joined in the conversation, only to be patently ignored by the two antagonists. "Can I have little taste? Ooh, don't they look tender?"
"Oh, you're in charge? And you've been doing a superb job, haven't you, Búrzghâsh?" Sarcasm crystallized on every syllable out of his fetid mouth.
"Just a finger"-
"Meaning what?" snarled the orc known as Búrzghâsh.
"Or a few toes maybe?"
"We'll get some meat, you said," replied Elros' captor, still ignoring the smaller orc who was now bouncing up and down with excitement. "Pick off a couple while they're on the move, you said,"-
"Or perhaps a couple of ribs, oh I love ribs"-
"They'll never expect anything this far South you said, they'll never realize until it's too late, you said,"
"Stripping the meat off the bone with your teeth, suckin' out the marrow"-
"SHUT UP!" they yelled in unison, both rounding on the small orc who stopped bouncing and looked as embarrassed as an orc can.
"I'd do a better job than you, just admit it."
"I'm a fine leader."
"Tell that to the poor sods who tasted Maedhros' steel back there."
At that Búrzghâsh threw Elrond down on the ground like a rag doll and drew his sword. Elrond's head hit a rock with a sickening crack and then lay motionless. The scrawny orc squatted down beside him and poked him, muttering about how Búrzghâsh had gone and bruised perfectly good meat.
Elros felt the orc fumble for his weapon, yet still refused to put him down. He dropped to the ground at the same instant that Búrzghâsh plunged his sword into his captor's chest. The orc fell, screamed a horrible, high pitched shriek, twitched for a few moments then was still. Elros was hauled off the ground once more, this time by Búrzghâsh, who then issued orders to the others.
"Right. Let's get out of here before the red-head comes back to put maggot-holes in the rest of us. You!" He shouted to the little orc, "Get the other one." He paused before adding, "And no sampling!"
The small orc smiled as he sniffed the prone child like a jackal at a carcass. He drew his finger across a gash in Elrond's temple, licked it and gave a happy little shiver. He was about to lift Elrond off the ground when an arrow pierced his throat. He fell backwards, making nauseating gurgling sounds as he bled his last. The rest of the orcs scattered, howling in fear as enraged Noldor bore down on them.
Elros once again found himself struggling to breathe as he was jostled against Búrzghâsh's hip as the orc fled, his arm wrapped around the child's torso in a vice-like grip. Búrzghâsh halted and turned as the sound of rapid hoof-beats approached them. Elros looked up in his awkward, horizontal position to see Maedhros, charging towards them on his destrier. His usually handsome face was contorted into an expression of absolute fury, his red hair flying out behind him. Búrzghâsh made to strike first as Maedhros neared but the elf decapitated the hapless orc with one stroke and then just galloped past, onto his next target.
Elros struggled to extricate himself from the dead orc. He finally managed to wriggle free, his clothes slimy with blood. He sat motionless, all colour draining from his face as he stared in horror at the headless corpse before him.
He heard Maglor calling his name but his voice seemed muted somehow. The adult knelt down beside Elros and took him gently by the shoulders and tried to turn him away from the repulsive sight before him. Elros finally tore his eyes away to look into Maglor's face who was talking to him but the words did not register. Maglor began to tenderly wipe the foul-smelling blood off the child's face with his cloak before gathering him into his arms and carrying him away from the grisly scene.
Later that night, a very tired, very dirty Maedhros found Maglor and the two peredhil beside a fire. Maedhros could see that his brother had pressed many of their clothes into service; the still unconscious Elrond's head was resting on a pillow comprising of folded cloaks and shirts. Elros, who was wrapped in a blanket and curled up on Maglor's lap, was wearing an adult's shirt; he could see the child's fist, hanging onto Maglor, only half-way up the over-long sleeve.
"Is that not my shirt?" he asked of Maglor with a smile.
"I thought you would not mind," explained Maglor quietly. "Alas, we do not have an over-abundance of spare elfling clothes." He nodded towards Elros' clothes which were drying on a make-shift rack, still blood-stained but with the worst of the grime washed out.
"They smelled bad," squeaked Elros, who was shaking violently but not from cold Maedhros guessed.
"It is all right little one," Maedhros assured him. "Keep the shirt, it matters not to me." He crossed over to Elrond, knelt down and studied his face intently. In a complete contrast to the wrathful warrior of before he very gently brushed back the child's hair to examine the dressing on his head-wound. He looked up and his concerned eyes met those of his brother's. "Ninquéro ná."*
Maglor said nothing but hugged Elros closer to him, who was thankfully oblivious to the two brothers' pessimistic exchange. He began to hum an ancient melody and Elros started to relax and little by little, sleep finally came to him.
* Ninquéro ná = He is white/pallid. (Quenya)