Glîrnathron (Song Weaver)
The song is faint yet carries on,
The soul is silent yet yearns for dawn.
Awaken my voice call me to life,
Bear from me the memory of strife.
Grace has gone, has fled from me,
Far out of time, far beyond the sea.
I bear the scars of pain untold
My face reflects your heart gone cold.
The mud and flood silts along the low-lying plain were enough to spatter the horses and even their leggings, a distinctively damp and unpleasant situation but the Mirkwood elves pressed on, driving toward the north with as much speed as they could muster. Even the fleet-footed elven horses were hard pressed to any sort of speed in the muck; a rhythmic sort of sucking noise could be heard with each hoof pulling free of the muddy mess.
"It will be a hard winter for these people." Trelan murmured softly, noting the damage to crops and pastures they passed by on their journey. "The valley folk will suffer for it."
"Rivendell will offer aid if they so seek it." Raniean replied confidently. "Lord Elrond will not turn aside those in desperate straits." Raniean tipped his head back, exhaling sharply. The going had been much slower than he had hoped through the temporary mudflats the flooding had created. The horses were tiring once again and it would not be long before another rest was necessary. "We will have to find a place to ford the river."
Trelan's unhappy sigh was his only reply as his mount hesitated, his stride broken briefly by a hind foot struggling a second for release from the thick mud.
"If it was anything like this when Glorfindel and Legolas passed through here, they could not have gotten far ahead of us." Trey remarked, slightly exasperated. The resulting splatter of mud had splashed straight up the horse's hindquarters, some of it flinging high enough to land in blonde elven hair.
It was all Raniean needed to release his tension in mirthful laughter, fairly doubling over on the back of his horse, much to his companion's chagrin. Trelan's expression darkened with his own tensions for a brief moment.
But only for a moment.
A handful of cold, wet mud connected messily with the right side of Raniean's face, silencing the laughter into a shocked expression that met Trelan's bright grin. The scoop of mud came from the side of his plastered horse, and the shorter elf appeared rather pleased with his solution.
Raniean opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and then dissolved into nervous laughter once again. Trelan drew his horse closer once again, still grinning.
"We look like two mudhens." Raniean accused, and Trelan chuckled.
"Two is always better than just one, mellon nín, do you not agree?"
The two elves settled back into something more serious, more befitting their stations as sentinels of the royal house of Mirkwood, at least inasmuch as they were able while looking somewhat less than dignified warriors and somewhat more like a pair of muddy elflings.
"Legolas will think we have met with some misfortune." Raniean said, and instantly both elves sobered as they spoke of their friend and prince. Elrond's vision had shaken them both to the core and had not been far at all from their minds as they'd ridden on. Several minutes passed in uneasy silence as the flood plain abruptly broke away to form the lip of the steep riverbank. Down below, the lower but still swift waters rushed by. At last, Trelan's expression softened into a mischievous smile.
"You know, Ran…we shall have to tell him it was entirely your fault."
"My fault?" Raniean started to protest, when his grey eyes caught sight of something and he sat bolt upright, a slight squint coming to his features.
"What?" Trelan tensed instantly, his hand straying to the bow slung at his back. "What is it?"
The other elf did not answer, but suddenly leapt down from his horse and sprinted a little way forward, slipping and sliding down the muddy slope in his haste. Caring little for his appearance, Raniean suddenly knelt down and pulled something from the flood silt.
Trelan joined him a moment later, still astride his horse, and he leaned down to see. When Raniean straightened up, what Trelan saw fairly stole his breath away.
"Legolas…" Trelan whispered painfully.
In Raniean's hand was a battered arrow. Splintered, nearly split in two, but still bearing the distinctive fletching of their friend and prince, it was muddied and battered but easily identifiable. Trelan jumped down from his own horse, motioning for the others to join them. Already the shorter elf was scanning the area looking for other signs of Legolas and Glorfindel's passage, particularly paying attention for any signs of battle or struggle, but there were none. While it was quite true that the flooding could have carried such signs as weapons or corpses downriver, there was no indication whatsoever that anything of the sort had taken place in the close area.
"They must have crossed further upstream." Raniean concluded as they found no other signs of either elf or any other creature within a reasonable distance for close combat. "The river is still too deep and too rapid here." Trelan, standing with arrow nocked and senses alert for any possible enemy, nodded once as the rest of the cadre regrouped on Raniean's signal. Two of their number came up and inspected the arrow as well, a sorrowful look crossing their faces as they realized the violent force that would have been necessary to splinter the arrow in such a manner.
"Whatever attacked them may have done so from that point." Trelan agreed, glancing once again at the shattered arrow, a feeling of sick dread in the pit of his stomach. Replacing his own arrow in his quiver, the smaller elf leapt lightly upon his horse. "Let us be away from here…I…I can't stand it, Ran." The taut worry in his voice was obvious even to those who did not know him well.
With one last glance, Raniean also mounted his horse and together the small band of elves turned eastward up the riverbank, looking for clues of where Legolas and Glorfindel had taken their crossing. It was not much further upstream before they found a natural ford, enhanced slightly by what looked to be the beginnings of a stonework footbridge. Unfinished, the narrow expanse of laid stone jutted slightly into the water, as if to be the start of a support perhaps. Water rushed along over the top of it as it met the running river, and there was no indication of how far the stonework actually extended.
"This must be it." Raniean said, looking back at his friend with a slight lift of his eyebrows. "It's the most sensible place to have crossed, especially with all the high water." He made a signal with his hand, indicating that they would continue forward here, and then guided his steed out onto the stone shelf.
Raniean's horse discovered the edge of the stonework abruptly as he stumbled ever so slightly into the natural riverbed beneath his hooves, but the horse did not falter, and neither did Raniean. The water was high enough to run along the sentinel's ankles, but it had well receded from its earlier flood stages. He could hear the hoof-beats of the animals on the stone behind him, and he urged his horse forward.
Even before the entire cadre had crossed the ford, Trelan had leapt from his horse and was intently studying the surrounding area, seeking indications of Glorfindel and Legolas' passage. Raniean joined him quickly, and their horses were not slow to take advantage of the break, climbing the slight rise in the riverbank to nibble at the tender grass on higher ground.
As with the area in which Raniean had discovered Legolas' arrow, there were no signs of battle or distress and Trelan frowned a little. Something obviously had happened for the arrow to suffer such abuse, and they both knew that Legolas was far from careless with his weapons.
"Ran! Over here!" Trelan suddenly called out, having come some little way up the riverbank now, this side somewhat steeper than the bank they had just left. The flooding on this side had not been as severe and some paces away the smaller elf had discovered hoof prints. Raniean moved quickly to catch up to his friend, and leaned down to see, and the two sentinels looked at one another, puzzled.
Two sets of hoof prints, surely but instead of to the north, they traveled away to the west, following the river.
"This leads away from Talathfen, according to Erestor's directions." Raniean stated the obvious, a deep frown marring the fair elven features. "These may be other riders…"
"There are no such signs in the mud heading north." Trelan pointed out, gesturing back to the general area where they had crossed over, where the rest of the cadre was riding up the riverbank. "These are the only prints visible. They had to have come through here."
"Perhaps…" Raniean exhaled softly. He uncurled the fingers of his right hand, still clutching the near-shattered arrow. "We lose little by following the tracks apace. If we do not come upon them or a sign of them we may yet turn to the north and travel on to the Dúnedain." Tightening his grasp upon the arrow once again, the blonde sentinel straightened up and called to his horse with a soft whistle.
Trelan's horse also approached, but instead of mounting the animal, he continued to walk a little ahead, knowing that Raniean would await the last of the cadre to cross the river before following. The horse followed languidly after his rider, content to be close by and even to take another mouthful of grass here and there. A prickle of warning swept up his spine, a whisper from nearby trees, and he listened.
"They did come this way." He pronounced suddenly, a certainty in his tone that surprised himself as much as Ran. "Come…we must hurry." Trelan did mount his horse now, and the entire cadre headed off westward, down stream, a fresh urgency in their pursuit. Raniean could see the tension in his friend and it rippled through him too.
The trees along the river were dismayed. Something was wrong…desperately wrong.
Elladan paced quietly along the side of the room, his arms folded anxiously across his chest. Elrohir was sitting silently by the fire, as if chilled although that was not strictly the case. It was a chill in his heart rather than any physical affliction.
Elrond had remained in the healing trance for far longer than Elladan would have expected, soft Elvish tumbling from his lips in half-whispers, his hand remaining upon his mortal son's forehead. When at last the Elf Lord opened his eyes and returned to the world, with no further sign of life from Estel, Elladan felt his heart begin to race.
"Ada?" He whispered; the softness of his voice still loud enough in the room's silence to startle Elrohir, who also looked up. Elrond drew in a slow, shaky breath, his hand leaving Aragorn's forehead and coming to his own, covering his eyes and the tears that threatened to spill over. Instantly both twins were at his side, Elladan placing his hand upon his father's shoulder.
"I am prevented from reaching him." Elrond finally said, quietly. "It is holding me at bay."
"Estel did not hear you at all?" Elrohir could not disguise the fear that crept into his voice. "What is it? He's…he's not resisting you, is he?" There was another moment's silence, and Elladan stepped aside, retrieving some miruvor that Erestor had brought up some little while earlier during Elrond's long healing trance.
"Here, Ada, please." The older twin pressed a goblet of the strengthening cordial into Elrond's hand. The Elf Lord smiled wanly at his son before gratefully taking a sip of the miruvor.
"Hannon le." Elrond drew in a slow breath, sipped a bit more of the miruvor, and then gazed at Elrohir tenderly. "No, Estel is not resisting. I do not know what it is, ion nín. It is though a thick, heavy blackness veils him from my sight…I could not break through it. I do not know if Estel is able to hear me; if he is, he is unable to respond."
"Is he fading, Ada?" Elladan finally asked outright, needing to know the truth of it. Elrond's brief silence as he dropped his gaze ever so briefly to the goblet in his hand spoke more than actual words could have, and a choked gasp slipped from Elrohir. Elladan, recalling Erestor's words, slipped behind his twin and gripped Elrohir's shoulders, the firm yet gentle point of contact calming his brother somewhat.
"Yes, Elladan." Elrond's own voice was close to breaking, now and he fought to still shaking hands, even as he turned his gaze toward the pale face of his mortal son. "He is." There were several moments of shocked silence between the twins before Elrond elaborated. "I sensed…despair, a pain driving into him, nearly like a blade striking flesh. From that wound, it is spreading maliciously, as a poison does. Estel's spirit is strong; his will is strong but…" Elrond swallowed tightly, brushing his free hand affectionately against Aragorn's cheek.
"…but as with poison, it is tainting his spirit and stealing his strength." Elrohir finished, his voice hushed in worry. "Estel cannot resist."
"Not for much longer, I fear." Elrond confirmed quietly, looking from one twin to the other. "And more, I believe his human heritage has turned the burden of fading into true physical symptoms, including the fever and headaches he suffers." His fingers continued to stroke along his Estel's face, brushing dark hair aside.
Elladan considered his father's words. It made sense, as elves did not suffer physical illness and only knew such symptoms as a result of injury or poison. Most Firstborn whose spirits faded only bore the emotional pain that drove them to it. Estel, however, was not only the heir of Númenor, descended from Elros, but also was of the race of Men. Estel's distant relation to the Peredhil was overshadowed by his mortal blood, generations of mortal beings after Elros himself. While it was unheard of, at least in recent memory, for one of Númenorian descent to suffer the fading, it was reasonable that in such affliction Estel would exhibit physical distress as well.
Elrond felt the eyes of both his sons upon him, although his own gaze filled only with Estel, the fragile pallor, the stubborn but strained breathing, and the terrible pain he now knew was smothering the bright soul of his foster son. Impulsively he leaned down until his forehead touched that of his son's, his free hand cradling the dark head gently. It was a sight that very nearly broke both twins once more, and Elladan tightened his grip at Elrohir's shoulders just slightly.
"Thala, muindor." Steady, brother. Elladan whispered just slightly. Elrohir nodded, feeling his twin's resolve to be strong through Elladan's presence, in his voice and in his touch. Patting Elrohir's right shoulder lovingly, Elladan knelt beside their father. Elrohir stepped aside a bit, giving his brother more room. "Ada…"
Elrond straightened away from the motionless Aragorn, sad eyes finding those of his eldest son. His hand left the side of Estel's face and came up to caress along Elladan's high cheekbone. He started to set aside the miruvor, but Elladan gently placed his hand at his father's wrist, staying the motion. Elrond felt his breath catch in his throat and he simply stared down at the cordial in his hand as if it were an unknown thing to him.
"I do not know how much longer he may linger." Elrond felt as if Elladan's steady gaze pulled the words from him, even as his heart cried for them not to be true. "He hears a call none of us may. Even if Legolas discovers what befell him, it may not be enough to undo what has been done to him."
"Ada." Elladan started again, the idea that had come to him refusing to leave his mind. "If it is indeed acting as a poison acts…can it not be treated as a poison is treated?" A slight hope entered the twin's voice as he continued. "A poison is counteracted by antidote. Perhaps Estel's strength may be revived by finding a…an antidote of sorts for the pain he suffers within."
Elrohir looked at his brother as if Elladan was grasping at straws; in all his life, he had never known a soul to return from the fading if it did not wish it, no medicine that would soothe the wounded spirit back to health. Elrond, however, sipped slowly at the miruvor when Elladan nudged the goblet toward him once again, and the Elf Lord's expression was thoughtful.
"Thus far, we have treated the symptoms." Elrond noted, following Elladan's line of thinking aloud. "The wound itself has thus far been unseen, and therein our hope in Legolas remains, for what pains his soul so I do not know."
"The Black Star." Elrohir finally spoke up, committing himself to this course of action as well. Perhaps this hope was more slender than a bowstring but he would not abandon it if it could mean Estel's life. "Whatever this evil is that Estel sees in his terrors…that is what has captured him and torments him so."
Elrond looked at the younger twin now, pondering Elrohir's words just as he had considered Elladan's statement a moment ago.
"The question remains, then ion nín…Who or what is this Black Star and why does it trouble Estel?"
The hood slipped limply from slender fingertips to fall upon Miluiel's shoulders, and for a moment, an eerie silence hung suspended between them. Legolas exhaled slowly, sapphire eyes focused entirely upon the slim woman sitting next to him.
"You do not turn away." Miluiel's voice was soft, but underlain with tension. "Even I must turn away sometimes." She gestured fluidly toward the nearest mirror, before dropping her gaze away from the Silvan prince.
"What did they do to you?" Legolas finally found his voice. He had no doubt as he watched her, that he was observing the handiwork of orcs. When Miluiel dropped her gaze, he found a small bloom of anger rising within him at their cruelty.
"Much." She whispered softly, and as her honey blonde hair slid aside, Legolas saw the delicate upsweep of her left ear, answering his suspicion that Miluiel was indeed Elven. "Too much to tell you everything. They did this…" Her slender hand brushed very briefly along her cheekbone. "…with a heated blade."
"By the stars…" Legolas breathed out. Where there was a hint of her former beauty on the ageless left side of her face, the right side of the elleth's face had been horribly marred, including the ear on that side, which had been blunted like an orc's.
"Laeriel." She said softly, still not raising her head. "Eneth nín…Laeriel." My name…Laeriel.
"Iston sen eneth." I know this name. Legolas said wonderingly, struggling to focus his spinning vision upon this elleth who had suffered so much. "Laeriel…i pen estathar Glîrnathron?" Laeriel…the one they named Song-Weaver?
Laeriel lifted her pained gaze to him, and a single tear wound its way down the scarred flesh.
"You would have been too young to remember me, Legolas." She replied softly. "It has been many years since I lifted my voice in Lasgalen."
"You do know me." Legolas insisted, something that he had felt at their first meeting when she had addressed him formally.
"I only met you once, caun neth." Young prince. "You were still a very small elfling. Aran Thranduil invited me to sing at the festivals. He said you were quite taken with my voice, which apparently since I was not your mother, was quite the compliment from you." Something that passed for a smile on her disfigured face appeared. "You were just learning how to walk."
Legolas watched Laeriel with some amazement, and if it didn't hurt so much, he might have shaken his head in disbelief. The Glîrnathron was something of a legend among the woodland elves, a voice like no other. It was a legend that he was not unaware of; his naneth had spoken of the old celebrations before the shadow had begun to take Lasgalen. She held the golden voice of the Song Weaver in reverence.
"It was said your voice was so enchanted that even the trees and the flowers responded to your singing." Legolas said softly.
"Perhaps that is too much credit, Legolas Thranduilion." Laeriel said softly, but her eyes still glistened as she looked away to the window. "But the willow that stands outside this room was dying when I arrived. I spent time with it every day as it was my only true company for many, many years."
"It was your pain it told me." Legolas' spoke with conviction. The nearby suffering the weeping willow had bemoaned to the Silvan prince had been the Singer's pain. No wonder! Laeriel had called it back to life. Slowly, only meaning to comfort, Legolas reached out and gently tipped her chin, bringing her gaze back to him once again. "It is my honor to make your acquaintance, Laeriel, also called the Singer. I too have suffered at the hands of the cursed creatures. You have nothing to fear from me; neither from my hand or my heart."
The sharp flinch from the slender elleth startled Legolas, and he was uncertain if it had been his words or his touch that startled her so. Drawing back hesitantly, the Silvan prince closed his eyes in a sharp wince. Instantly, he felt Laeriel's hands at his shoulders, persuading him to lie down.
"You need some patience, I think." Laeriel said softly, and without the hood to muffle it, her voice carried an inherent musical lilt as she spoke. "You're in no condition to be up."
Legolas could not help the sour look that graced his features; he was eager to shake off his injuries but it seemed the Valar had other plans for him in this place. He could only hope that the Valar would also see fit to keep Estel alive until those plans were complete. The archer was startled and very nearly annoyed when Laeriel actually laughed, albeit very lightly, at his scowl.
"You cannot seriously be amused at my predicament." He grumbled lightly, and Laeriel's voice quieted.
"Be assured, I am not, Thranduilion." She inclined her head in a show of respect. "Simply that your expression reminded me of something my naneth used to tell me about such frowns. She claimed that held long enough, such a look would freeze to my face and be there until the day I crossed the sea."
Surprisingly, Legolas' expression softened almost immediately, and he almost smiled, which resulted in a lifting of honey blonde eyebrows above rather emerald green eyes.
"Naneth nín pêd nad sui sen enni." My mother said things like this to me. He satisfied her curiosity.
Laeriel froze for a moment, her expression difficult to read with the disfigurement but to Legolas it seemed to be almost a sort of shock that descended upon her.
"I've made some food." She regained her composure and rose to her feet. "I'll bring you some. In the meantime, just stay in bed for the time being, if you please. I don't need to find you on the floor again." Laeriel smiled faintly but she was quick, Legolas noted, to leave the room.
There was no more wondering how she had become so skittish and wounded. As he watched her slip from the room, he frowned slightly as he considered her marred face and all that she must have suffered at the hands of the cruel orcs that had burned her. However, a single burning curiosity about his unusual hostess remained.
How had Laeriel Glîrnathron, the most celebrated voice in all of Arda, ended up out here in the Northlands, parted from her people and damaged in soul?
Glorfindel was eager to set out again before sundown, even as Eólin was preparing the men who would be accompanying them to the east. Still he did not begrudge the boy Madred a few more moments around his parents' table, carefully sampling a little of the homebrewed mead that his host offered him while the boy plied him with questions. It wasn't the smooth, sweet taste of the elven vintages in Rivendell, but much like the Rangers themselves a more rugged sort of flavor. However, the offer was generous and kind; the blonde elf would not slight the Dúnadan's hospitality.
Madred, a naturally curious boy, asked questions about the Elven realms, Elves in general and Glorfindel in particular. He seemed particularly enamored of the balrog-slayer's ears and braids, forgetting his manners long enough to stare openly, but there was such innocence in the wide eyes that Glorfindel was actually quite amused. At last, after several moments the friendly conversation between elf and human child reached something of an awkward pause when the eight year old blurted out his foremost curiosity about elfkind.
"How old are you?" Madred asked earnestly.
"Madred!" His mother exclaimed, a light flush appearing on her features. "I apologize, Lord Glorfindel, for my son. His curiosity often carries him far beyond what is appropriate." She addressed her last comment more to Madred than to her guest, and contained a note of rebuke. Madred fidgeted slightly, understanding that he had earned his mother's disapproval, but he turned those yearning eyes toward Glorfindel.
"But, Eólin says that Elves are both aged and ageless. I don't understand…one can't be both things at the same time, can they?"
Glorfindel wasn't entirely certain; perhaps it was simply the warmth of the mead, perhaps it was the wide-eyed wonder of the child, but he found himself chuckling amusedly before Madred's mother could speak another rebuke.
"Your uncle speaks wisely, pen neth." Young one. The balrog-slayer paused slightly, before leaning down the child sitting beside him and whispered his years into the little boy's ear. Madred's eyes grew round at the tremendous number for one so young himself, and his awe of Glorfindel seemed to increase tenfold.
"Really?" He breathed out, and Glorfindel smiled warmly, and nodded slightly in affirmation. The child reminded him incredibly of Estel's curiosity at that age, and he felt a slight stab at his heart. He lifted a prayer to the Valar in his heart for Estel to remain alive.
"Do you now understand Eólin's words, Madred?" Glorfindel asked lightly, and the boy shook his head, drawing the blonde elf's amusement once again. "Do I look as if I could be that many years in age?"
"Nooo…" Madred shook his head again, this time emphatically. "There aren't any wrinkles!" The boy was gazing studiously at Glorfindel's face now, and between soft chuckles, the elf took the opportunity to explain.
"As it is with all those who are Firstborn. We appear ageless, yet we carry with us lifetimes of memories, aged beyond generations of Men." Glorfindel held the boy's amazed stare. "That is how we are both, old and young, at the same time."
"Ohhh…" The boy nodded sagely now, understanding dawning on him. Then he grinned. "I will have to tell Eólin that I have had my first lesson from an Elf."
"What do you say for such a gift, Madred?"
Eólin himself stood in the doorway now, and his expression was also amused. It would seem that his nephew had endeared himself to Glorfindel also. Madred looked over at his uncle briefly before looking back at the tall elf sitting beside him.
"Hannon le, Hîr Glorfindel." Madred said, prompted by Eólin but also quite honestly, Glorfindel could see. "Hannon le an sen ant." Thank you for this gift.
"The gift was mine to give." Glorfindel replied seriously, but Eólin could see mirth in the balrog-slayer's eyes. "Glassen, mellon neth nín." You're welcome, my young friend. "Perhaps one day your uncle will bring you on a visit to Rivendell, and you can see all that I have described to you for yourself." Glorfindel took a final swallow of the homebrew in the mug he held, and then rose up from the table.
"Tend to your chores, Madred." His father said now, and the boy reluctantly rose as well. However, disobedience was likely to earn him a punishment sterner than his mother's rebukes, and so Madred knew his visit had come to an end. Inclining his head toward Glorfindel, he placed his hand over his heart and swept it outward, something he had learned from Eólin as well.
"I Belain ego erin i râd na le. Navaer, Hîr Glorfindel." The Valar go on the path with you. Farewell, Lord Glorfindel. With that, the boy scampered past his uncle in the doorway and hurried off to do his nightly chores.
"We are ready to depart, mellon nín." Eólin informed the tall elf. "The horses are ready and the men await you. Halbarad and his scouts have already started out for the river."
Glorfindel took a few more moments to thank Madred's parents for their hospitality and kindness, and then followed the young Ranger out into the early evening air. The sun was making its journey to the west, hanging low in the sky but not yet tinting the clouds with color. In the lengthening shadows of homes, several Rangers had mounted upon sturdy horses, and Glorfindel's own mount had been prepared and seemed eager to be on the way. The two latecomers mounted their steeds and the gates were thrown open.
Thundering through the gates, and turning aside from the relative safety of Talathfen, the sun at their backs and the shadows growing ahead, the party of Men and Elf rode on for the east. Elbereth…Glorfindel thought to himself as they cleared the gates. Hear the boy's prayer and go before us. Help us to aid Estel.
Trelan hunched forward miserably on his horse, gathering his cloak around him, shivering although the day had been quite warm, and Elves did not suffer the cold as other races. Two more arrows, found fairly buried in mud further downstream had not aided his fears and the trembling was born of sheer anxiety. Just a pace or two behind on his horse, Raniean watched his friend almost as closely as he watched for signs of their prince and Lord Elrond's seneschal.
"Sîdh, Trey." Peace, Trey. He said very softly, just barely loud enough for Trelan to hear, and no one else. "They could not have gone much farther in this direction."
"It is almost as if they sought something." Trelan agreed absently, his eyes still on the two sets of hoof prints that followed the riverbank, intent on the task at hand despite his mounting worry.
As soon as the words left his lips, Trelan pulled up sharply, bidding his horse to stop, so abruptly in fact that Raniean nearly ran his own steed into the halted animal.
"What was that for…?" Ran exclaimed, and then stopped as he saw what had the smaller elf's attention. The prints turned away from the river, and started up the slope away from the riverbed. "They must have passed the night on higher ground." Raniean mused, dismounting to kneel down and inspect the tracks more closely. A slight frown crossed his features as his hand passed over one hardened set of tracks.
Forgetting his trembling, Trelan slipped down from his horse and bent over the drying mud.
"What do you see?" He wanted to know. Raniean paused before answering, pointing out the sets of tracks as he did.
"One of these horses was riderless." He said with certainty. "See how these hooves sank deeper into the mud than the others? And the same horse travels steadily westward, while the other stops and pauses for grass, and meanders behind." Raniean frowned slightly, peering at the indentations in the ground. "I can't believe I missed it before."
"But I see no evidence of travel by foot." Trelan said, looking around intently for any sort of indication that one of the two elves they sought had dismounted his horse and carried on upon his own two feet. Even Elves might leave such signs behind, light of foot and stealthy as they could be, if one knew what to look for.
"Raniean!" One of the other elves in their cadre dared to call out, and both Raniean and Trelan bolted upright. The elf had ridden some distance apart from them, some yards downriver, and the pair of sentinels rushed to join him. Trelan's eyes widened and he felt his heart lurch in his chest.
The room had gone silent again; the careful watch over Estel continuing as the sun began to set, throwing the western horizon into a riot of scarlet and purple. Elrond had not yet moved from his youngest's side, and not even Erestor would have been bold enough to ask him to do so.
Elladan had taken up his place at Estel's other side, the elder twin holding the motionless hand between both of his own, speaking to Estel of memories past; pranks played on Glorfindel or Erestor, archery lessons that had not quite gone as planned, Estel's first winter in Imladris. The memories seemed to tumble out one after another, and Elrond did not have the heart to stop him.
Especially, since Estel's unnatural stillness seemed to have…eased, somehow. His breathing had slowed but it had the quality of simple rest about it. Perhaps his son had gained another respite from the pain; Elrond could not believe the battle to be so easy.
Elrohir had not been able to stay still. He had alternated sitting with his mortal brother, to sitting before the fire, to pacing along the far side of the room and now his disquiet had driven the younger twin to the balcony. Elrond could not find it in him to stay his son's restless anxiety as he felt it keenly himself.
For long moments, the only sounds were the crackle of the fire and Elladan's voice, quietly retelling some humorous story involving the twins, Erestor and…a snake. Elrond suppressed a smile; his old friend and advisor was not fond of the reptiles. All attention however temporarily diverted from Estel when Elrohir sucked in a startled, shuddering—and pained—gasp.
Elrond was instantly on his feet, his father's heart instinctively understanding that his son was hurting. Quickly the Elf Lord moved out onto the balcony, reaching for Elrohir, who was literally shaking where he stood.
"Elrohir…" He began softly, placing his hand upon the younger twin's arm, but then he stopped dead in his tracks as he realized what had prompted Elrohir's distress. Down below in the courtyard, thirstily drinking out of the center fountain was a horse, riderless and bearing only what appeared to be a courier's pouch slung around its neck, lathered and apparently having come at great speed. Recognition dawned on the Elf Lord and his hand fell from his son's shoulder, grasping the balcony rail tightly, until his knuckles turned quite white.