by The Lauderdale
This story contains adult and oftentimes unpleasant subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.
Chapter I: The Sound of Trouble
Discovering the band of Orcs was almost haphazard. Many years had passed since last such foul creatures had trespassed on those fair woodlands, and the Elves who lived there were not so guarded as once they had been. One heard, of course, of the occasional raid or killing in other parts of the country, but such violence never came here. The borders were quiet for weeks on end, the most excitement generated by some wandering traveler, usually lost or foolish, always Man, and easily prompted back the way he had come. Honest daylight might bring visitors: friends to the inhabiting Elves or purveyors of textiles and metalwork and, that most prized of commodities, news.
It was not daylight, though, but a late night hour. The scout in the tree was re-braiding his long hair when he heard the faint clinking of armor; he touched his comrade's elbow and both uttered the discreet cry of doves at even. Similar birdcalls immediately went up throughout the canopy. The Orcs halted, knowing the sound of trouble but not the direction from which trouble would come. Then the first arrows flew.
One twisted beast went down, but their leader was wily—he barked an order in the ugly speech of his kind and the Orkish company disbanded in little units of twos and threes, quickly evaporating into the woods. A strategy that left the Elves surprised and indignant: ill pleased they were to credit Yrch with a strategy that seemed so…well…Elven! Taken off guard, the forest watch quickly reconstituted themselves as smaller hunting parties, but initial confusion had cost them valuable time. Though they searched diligently they found no sign of their quarry, save the one dark corpse already growing cold.
"Nevhithien, this seems excessive. You are aware there will be books in Rivendell, are you not?" Fírhador was wryly chiding when he said it. Everyone knew the fame of Lord Elrond's library was the chief reason for Nevhithien's desire to bide in Rivendell, trumping even the prospect of seeing her older sister, married and residing there these past two years.
"I know, Father, but it is so hard leaving any behind." The maiden heaved a sigh and stared at the fruit of her labors. The portmanteau still bulged in an unseemly manner. She pushed down on the lid halfheartedly, clearly unhappy at the prospect of having to repack it yet again.
"You are leaving some behind?" squealed little Veisiliel. "Which ones?"
"Dear heart, do not be unkind," Eleluleniel admonished her. "Look at poor Nevhithien. Can you not see her pain?"
They all laughed at this, both at the sly jest and at the very real woe in Nevhithien's face, though she too joined in their laughter. Amid the amusement Fírhador suddenly lifted his head, his dark eyes quite expressionless. Eleluleniel noticed and stopped laughing, looking at him questioningly. Nevhithien opened her mouth but her father lifted his hand in a quieting gesture and she swallowed the words on her tongue, waiting. Neither girl was of an age for the thought-sending of their kind, but they were familiar with the sight of their parents communing wordlessly, both together and apart from one another. It was the nature of the bond between married Elves to enable easier, more comfortable communication of their thoughts…yet their father looked anything but comfortable at that moment. His eyes flicked back and forth and his lips moved vaguely as though he were trying to decipher a missive from very far away.
"Fírhador, would you come here a moment?" called a voice from another room.
Consciousness returned to his eyes and Fírhador smiled at his three youngest. "I go to your mother," he said. "Eleluleniel, see to it that your big sister leaves you something to read…and if you would spare a thought for your poor old father, Nevhithien, I like to crack open a book sometimes too, you know."
"Yes Father," both girls murmured as he left the room.
Entering his Lady's boudoir he founded her standing by the window, looking out into the dark. Thalawen turned to him, her eyes touched with the same faint anxiety as his own. "Did you understand all of it?" she asked. She too had felt the sudden flurry of thought out of the Northwest but had not been able to understand the precise nature of the problem beyond an impression of trouble. This was more than enough to worry her since she and Nevhithien were to travel that way on the morrow.
"Orcs," he said, "a small party of them, dispelled at the Northwest border. One Orc was killed, no Elves were hurt. That dispatch was not meant for us alone—I think every grown Elf in the region must have heard it."
"I am not surprised," she murmured. "It is extraordinary! To think that such creatures… Not since the Ring War have they set foot upon this land. Fírhador, what does this mean for us? Nevhithien and I…tomorrow, how can we—?"
"There was more to the message," he interrupted gently. "There will be an impromptu meeting at the home of Tirnon in a brief hour's time to discuss the matter. I can be there and back again very shortly to help you finish with your packing." She smiled at this—she had finished her preparations for the journey days in advance, as her husband well knew—and he smiled back at her. "I do not think it will be a problem," he said. "We have not been troubled with Orkish mischief for quite a time. Well, we were overdue for some, I suppose. That is what Tirnon will say. He is a sensible Elf, as I hope am I, and there shall be no fear of Orcs in the morning."
"What about Orcs?" came a high voice, and Fírhador turned to find Veisiliel standing in the doorway, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He and Thalawen exchanged a wry glance. Veisiliel was the youngest of their daughters, a bare twenty years of age, and had been a mere infant during the Ring War. Orcs to her were little more than stories—bogeymen lurking in wardrobes and under beds.
"Orcs, my moppet? Who is it you have heard speaking of Orcs?" he asked lightly.
"You, just then," she said.
"Such clever ears you have! Come here my love," said Thalawen, and Veisiliel went to her with a giggle. "Look at your hair, so tangled! Let me take a brush to it," said her mother, and picked up the ivory comb at her bedside table. As she brushed her daughter's hair she looked up at Fírhador. :She is dear to me. I shall miss her these six months.:
:And not me?:
She laughed at that. :Yes, I shall miss you as well, dear husband. You will look after the little ones?:
:With my life. And you will look after Nevhithien?:
:With my own.: Veisiliel chattered happily on her mother's lap and Thalawen murmured to her absently, but her thoughts were with her husband. :Oh Fírhador, it will be so good to see our Alageth again.:
In the bedchamber shared by the daughters of Fírhador and Thalawen, Nevhithien was still busy with her packing while Eleluleniel watched with wistful eyes. "You will come back from Rivendell, will you not?" she asked.
"I hope I never come back," said Nevhithien. "Oh, do not look at me so, Leni, of course I will! You know that Mother will compel it at the end of our visit. And yet to think of all that I might learn—oh! And all that I might do, if I might stay."
"I know what you will do, Nevhithien. You will sigh endlessly and say you wish you could stay forever. You will bully and pester Alageth until she gives in and asks Mother to leave you there."
"Yes!" Nevhithien's dark eyes flashed with a fierce eagerness. "I shall comport myself with distinction and I shall oblige myself to talk and laugh with the other Elf maidens when I am not reading and shall be nothing but a credit to our family, and wheedle with Alageth until she sees that I am old enough to stay with her and Belmílon, and I shall dwell and study in Rivendell all of my days, and when you are older you will come and visit me and I will teach you the manners that befit a fine Elf lady and will find you handsome Elf lords and arrange your dalliances with them."
Her younger sister blushed and averted her eyes. Nevhithien had been teasing her with jokes like these ever since she had discovered Eleluleniel's growing interest in love tales and romantic poetry. "Well," she said, trying to change the subject, "but it is as Father says! You go to Rivendell for their books and yet you decimate our own little collection. You might leave us some. And he thinks you have only the portmanteau—he does not know what really fills your traveler's chest in lieu of proper shoes and clothing," she finished primly.
"There is fine raiment in there," Nevhithien corrected her. "I had to pack some clothing to pad the books safely." Nonetheless she had the grace to look somewhat guilty. "Here now, I am repacking anyhow. You may pick out the titles you want me to leave."
Eleluleniel smiled at the offer. "May I? There are a few I saw you put away…"
"Would you leave me utterly bereft of Beren and Lúthien?" the older girl cried dramatically. "But do, do—take all that you like. There shall be plenty of material in Rivendell. Perhaps even first-hand sources. I would like to know how they subsisted in their travels anyhow—did they have good way-bread, as we have these days? Or did they live on edible roots and wild berries? They cannot have had a very romantic diet to go with their cooing and lovemaking," she went on thoughtfully. "How their bellies must have cramped."
"Nevhithien, you ruin everything," laughed Eleluleniel, pulling books aside for herself.
"I only point out practical concerns."
"Yes, I know. It has always been your way. 'But how can a hound speak when its mouth is not fashioned to do so? Did not Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren ever have to relieve themselves during their travels?'"
"These are pressing questions! Especially when they journeyed to deceive Morgoth in their fell guises as a werewolf and a vampire. How did such guises allow them to answer the call of nature? And where did they find the privacy to do so in dark Angband with foes on every side? Important questions for one who would be a historian!" said Nevhithien. More seriously, she continued, "And I would learn more of the Dwarves, who are so mysterious and secretive. It is said that Legolas and Gimli frequent Rivendell and are a great source of information on Dwarves and their customs and on much else besides. And I would see and speak with the Men who frequent Rivendell in these times, and who bring their ideas of architecture and of geometry, and who bring also their many sundered tongues. Oh Leni! There is so much in this world to learn!"
Eleluleniel, looking at her, was struck by a sudden image of Nevhithien striding with joyful purpose down a darkling passage towards a destination Eleluleniel could not see. With the image came a sense of impending loss and she embraced her sister spontaneously.
"Leni!" said Nevhithien with some surprise at the gesture, though she hugged her back.
"I do hope you will be very happy…" Eleluleniel whispered.
Nevhithien laughed fondly. "Oh Leni. You know that we will see each other again even if I were to stay in Rivendell at the end of these six months, which I will not. I do not go for good."
"You may well yet," her sister murmured. "Haenes did, and Alageth."
"Leni! I assure you, I am not getting married or going over the Sea. Haenes and Alageth are both much older than us. I am only forty-five—our parents will certainly not permit it."
"Yet suddenly I feel that I will never see you again," said Eleluleniel, still holding her, and, pulling close again, she laid her head on Nevhithien's shoulder. "I do not know why." She closed her eyes, feeling strange and sad.
"You are tired and it is late," said Nevhithien, extricating herself gently. "You always sigh so in the evening…and it is far past evening now."
Eleluleniel sighed, only confirming her sister's words. "You are ever practical."
"As are you. You are really far more practical than I, you know, in many many ways. And you know the truth of what I say."
"My heart does not know it." The younger girl touched her forehead briefly, reluctantly. "And yet I suppose I do know it, in here."
Nevhithien smiled and took her hand, rubbing it gently. "Then listen to your head, for it has the right of things. It agrees with me, after all, and I am always right."
"Yes dear sister," she said softly.
The meeting was brief. When Fírhador returned some time later his home was dark. He paused at the room where his daughters slept and, on impulse, opened the door and looked in upon them. Moonlight shone through the tall window on Nevhithien and Eleluleniel. Eleluleniel lay still and silent, her blue eyes eerily crystalline, and he smiled to see his little bird sleeping. At times, awake, she reminded him of his mother. A chance turn of phrase, the way she carried herself, and her hair—those fair rivulets had skipped a generation. Both he and Thalawen were dark. So blithe and merry when she was awake, in sleep she looked grave and somber.
Nevhithien, unlike her sister, slept fitfully, her dark hair a tangled mass on her pillow. As he watched her she rolled onto her side facing him, lips parted, brow creased: she looked nothing so much as quizzical. The covers were half off her body. Unthinking, falling back on old custom from when she was smaller and he would find her sleeping thus, he went to her and drew the soft linen up under her chin. His movement was deft and sure; she did not awaken but sighed, her brown eyes staring past him, quite blank and void of expression. He smiled down at her tenderly, thinking of the months that stretched before his two youngest without their older sister there to tease them.
As he was leaving the room Veisiliel in her own bed roused a little, enough to ask for water. He went to fetch her some but when he came back she was already asleep again—all three of them were and, content, he went on down the dark corridor. He did not go to his room but his wife's, opening it quietly.
One candle burned with a flickering glow. Thalawen sat on the edge of her bed gazing at him, her long white gown clinging to her supple body. He closed the door behind him and she smiled as he came to her and took her hand and brought it to his lips.
They made love leisurely, though it was long since they had been intimate in this manner. After, they lay talking in low voices. They spoke of the coming separation and of matters for Fírhador to attend in Thalawen's absence.
"You will see that my garden is cared for?" she asked.
"And that Veisiliel keeps up with her letters and her penmanship continues to improve?"
"I will have her practice with letters to you."
"I do not know why I ask you this. I know that Eleluleniel will be the one to take care of it. She is so painstaking with her own penmanship."
"That was Nevhithien's influence. It was wise for us to have more than one, was it not?"
"Very!" She kissed him and laid her head upon his breast. "Ah, you are warm, love." She nestled closer. "Dear dear Nevhithien. Such a good teacher she is, with such an illegible scrawl herself."
"She writes faster than she thinks. She has a scholar's enthusiasm but has not yet the discipline. Rivendell will be good for her."
"Not if all she does is read and write. No, she must keep some company with others her age. It is not good for her to be always with her head in a book. She is becoming a young lady; she must learn to converse with others and to mix and mingle. Socialize with other young people her age, with lasses and lads alike."
"I think she will," he soothed her. "I think she will find like minds in Rivendell. People who will stimulate her thoughts and help her grow." :So long as she does not grow too fast,:he finished grimly.
Thalawen laughed at this last addition. "You are a fond father."
"And how can I fail to be, with such sweet girls? Almost as sweet as their mother." He stroked her shoulder.
"But it is as you say," she said sadly. "They do grow quickly. Alageth married and in her seventies. Last night I dreamt she was with child." :I told you, did I not? Imagine it, Fírhador. Our first grandchild.:
"You leap ahead a bit I think," he replied, though he too had turned the idea over.
:I do not think I told you this but I also dreamt she went over the sea, as Haenes did.:
Fírhador raised an eyebrow. He did not like this turn of discussion. When Haenes had left—on the same ship as his own mother, and as both of Thalawen's parents, and as many of their friends who had chosen to leave Middle-earth at the time of the Ring War—Thalawen had spoken of the two of them leaving as well with their three youngest. It had not been his wish and ultimately they had agreed to stay and move into the Fourth Age together. Yet still sometimes Thalawen spoke of the Sea…
He laughed and tossed off a lighthearted response: "Alageth go over the sea? Hah! She is too vain of her looks, my dear. What, go over the sea to Aman and have her beauty outshone by the Vanyar who bide there, and the lovelies of the Noldor and the Sindar who have gone before?"
Thalawen lifted her head and looked at him. "I think you are unkind, dear husband."
"No, I speak truth." He put his arms behind his head comfortably. "Alageth was ever spoiled by us for her prettiness. Ah well, she has virtue enough to compensate for her vanity: she is generous of disposition, stalwart, loyal. I will never forget the way she looked at Belmílon when first they married. I know she is devoted to him. And perhaps I am wrong: perhaps when you and Nevhithien go to see her you will find she has learned some humility in the interval. Time and distance may curb the flaws of youth."
They went on speaking in this fashion of the accomplishments and the shortcomings of their daughters, and of what age and experience might temper or might change and make anew. At length Fírhador yawned. "It is late and I have kept you from your sleep, and you will need it for tomorrow's riding. My love, I must leave you."
"Oh, stay a while! I shall not see you for so long when we part tomorrow. And you never told me of your meeting with Tirnon."
"You would delay me with talk of Tirnon and Orcs, eh?" He laughed. "Our meeting was fruitful enough. Some of the border patrol will be riding with your party. They have assured us that there is no threat. Two scouts came at Tirnon's request. They had killed one Orc and brought the head to show us."
Thalawen took in a breath at this. "A grim sort of trophy."
"Tirnon's wife sat with us during the discussion. She was not pleased by the display."
"Himeth means well, but even I have been known to grow impatient at her prudishness," his Thalawen said. A pause. "Was it strange for you? When last you saw an Orc it was during the War."
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat there, hands folded across his knees. "When last I saw an Orc I saw many," he said slowly. "They were fleeing before us, and we were cutting down their stragglers. There was a fervent joy among our ranks. Sauron was defeated, Middle-earth free of his evil, and the minions of his wickedness ran before us like deer before the hunters' arrows. In that moment our triumph was such that all things seemed possible, even an end of Orcs."
"There are still Orcs."
"There are still Orcs," he agreed, standing and taking up his garments. "And yet, they are not what they were, neither in number nor in organization, and they do not come to this place. This was obviously a small group, and it has received heavy dissuasion from returning."
Thalawen watched him as he clothed his nakedness. "Nevhithien and I will leave tomorrow with the dawn," she said. "If you have no fear for us then I will have none either."
"I do not fear for you," he said, "yet I will ride with your party a little way, till we come to the end of our lands." He leaned down and kissed her forehead: a chaste gesture after their intimacy, but no less affectionate for it. "There I will bid you farewell and ride back with heavy heart, and wait and think of you till your return." :For know that I love you, wife of Fírhador.:
:And I you, my own dear one.:
It was a lovely night and the trees were limned with silver under a full moon. Quiet night sounds filled the dusky air: small animals in the underbrush scouring for food; the far-off cry of an owl, gentled by distance; a faint breeze stirring the leafy canopy of boughs overhead. All seemed tranquil and still.
This illusion of peace was dissolved as two patches of a deeper darkness broke with the broader night, darting across open ground to convene in a squatting exchange in a patch of underbrush. "Oi—close call, that was!" hissed the larger of the two. "I've never seen anything like it! Did you see Molurtz go down?"
"Pah." His fellow spat, continuing in an unpleasant voice, "That fool snaga never could keep his head in battle. Yes I saw."
"He looked a right pincushion. Never seen anything like it before." There was a tight undercurrent to the guttural voice as it repeated itself. Clawed fingers flexed against muscular thighs.
"Awww. Were you frightened, Kurbag? Thought you might take a scatter of elf-shot, yes?"
A growl. "I won't lie, Nazluk—I don't like the idea of ten or twenty arrows sticking out of me, if that's what you're saying."
"Hmmmmmm." The slighter Orc did not pursue this, standing and craning his neck to snuff the air. "I do not think we are followed. I have not caught a whiff of Golug this past half hour."
"I will have to rely on your judgment as I have not smelled one myself."
"What, never smelled an Elf?" Incredulity changed at the grunt of confirmation, turning immediately to smugness. "Nor seen nor fought with one before, I suppose. Well. There are fewer of them these days…I suppose it isn't really so surprising a deficiency on your part. Green warriors and untried Uruk-hai…" He gasped abruptly as a fist closed around his neck, jet-black talons pressing dangerously near his jugular.
"Care to continue?" came a low purr.
Nazluk was stubbornly silent for a moment before jerking his head in the negative. The heavy hand left him and the Orc sucked in a ragged breath. Fingering the skin Kurbag had touched, he shivered.
"I am hardly untried. I have raided any number of Men's homesteads. I just haven't gone south before. It's been an interesting trip." He stood and stretched, content that they were in no immediate danger. The sharp cracking sounds of his strong back made Nazluk wince, but Kurbag sighed in evident pleasure. "Been a good one, too, save for tonight's spot of trouble. If Molurtz is our only loss it won't be so bad. He always was a bit of an idiot. Well? What do we do now?"
Disclaimer: Tolkien's works, characters and concepts are copyright J. R. R. Tolkien. The story Treed and the characters and events introduced in "Chapter I: The Sound of Trouble" are all copyright The Lauderdale (cartoon6 at hotmail dot com). "Chapter I" published January 5, 2006 and last edited December 25, 2012.
Golug had its origins as First Age Orkish for the Noldor. Here it is used as a contemptuous term for Elves in general.