Chapter 3 The Minstrel to the War Is Gone
The flimsy alehouse was packed now, with a carnival atmosphere. Excitement was in the air as men called for ale and clustered around both the singer and the captive. Lindir was circled by men who drank with more gusto than even these hard topers were accustomed to, as they laughingly tormented the minstrel. "Here boy, have some! Have all you like!" "Singin's thirsty work, eh? Call for a tankard – call for two!" Lindir's voice cracked and broke. He started again but no sound came forth. He dropped the lute and grabbed at a pot that was held temptingly close to his face. It was drawn back, and he followed it like a hound on a scent. The holder laughed, tripped as he walked backward, and fell with the tankard sailing through the air. Lindir lunged at another, but it, too, was held from him. His lute was kicked away but he spared no thought for it—he could no longer play anyway. As he sought desperately for liquid to ease his throat and restore his voice, if only for a few moments more, the circle parted to let him see across the room. He saw a knife raised to Legolas' ear while brutal hands held his head in an iron grip. Lindir shrieked with what was left of his voice, "NO! NOOOO!" The jeering crowd let him through and he had nearly reached Legolas when a fist knotted in his hair and jerked him to a halt.
"Sing, minstrel, it's his only chance to keep his ears!"
With the rough fingers still in his hair, Lindir fell to his knees, drawing breath with all his might. He opened his mouth and no sound came forth. Legolas cried out, unable to bear such a disfigurement without protest. Lindir sobbed and croaked, "In – in Bruton t-town, there dwelt – " He began to cough but the hand in his hair kept him upright. Legolas cried out again and Lindir heaved out, "a f-farmer, who had a son –"
In snatches and bits Lindir kept making noises that had words to them, though by no stretch of the imagination could it be called singing. Two men drew swords and placed them against Legolas ribs, waiting for the moment when Lindir would admit defeat. The minstrel was exhausted and now slumped defeatedly, gasping out phrases while yet held by the hair. He batted ineffectually at the hand holding him as he tried with every bit of strength he had to continue singing. "Done yet, songsmith?" The hand in his hair gave a rough shake.
Lindir jerked sharply and rasped, "I will die before I stop! As I rode out one May morning-"
His sharp movement combined with the way his hair was held caused one ear tip to peek through and the men close to him fell silent. The stillness spread through the room until even the men threatening Legolas stepped away from him to see the cause. The hand in Lindir's hair was joined by its fellow which swiftly uncovered his ears. Silence reigned for a few more moments and then pandemonium broke out. At that moment, into the cries of surprise and rage, a young man near the door shouted, "Wait! Quiet! There's something – something outside – "
One by one the men in the alehouse stopped and listened. And heard the sound of doom, for hoofbeats pounded toward them. Even before the inevitable question of 'How many?' could be voiced, it was obvious to all that an entire host was descending upon them. After the manner of their kind, they abandoned each other and each sought his own escape. But the horses were now outside the door and it was too late, even for a rush to the windows. The door slammed open, hit the wall, and twisted off its hinges to lie on the floor as a god cut off the afternoon sunlight. He appeared to take the rays into himself as he stood glowing, with a sword that seemed to keen softly with eagerness in his hand. He was as fair as the village was foul, and between armor and hair was as golden as the sun itself. He was majesty, nobility, and honor as he stood sweeping the room with piercing blue eyes. The very boards of the hut shrank from him. The men cowered, their weapons undrawn, for surely justice had come upon them from the Powers that ruled the world, and indeed, perhaps they were correct in their thought. As the menacing being took one great step into the alehouse, two more—dark to his light—appeared on his right and left. One shouted, "Legolas!" and the spell was broken. Men scrambled like rats to escape from any hole, some simply running into the walls, others diving for the tiny windows. Only a few had the hardihood to stand and fight. The three elves began swift and bloody work, and they were terrifying as they dealt death as if they danced.
The moment the shack was cleared of its villainous inhabitants, the sons of Elrond set about gently freeing their longtime friend from his chains. The murmured apologetically as agony answered the releasing of joint and muscle from long-held positions. Elladan quickly drew ale to give to the prince and Elrohir whispered encouragement as he hoisted Legolas into his arms. Glorfindel quickly determined the prince was not permanently harmed, then began searching the room in mounting fear. As Legolas was carried into the cleaner air outside, Glorfindel put out a hand to halt Elrohir. "Lindir. Was he held here as well? Where is he?" Legolas opened his eyes and looked around as if puzzled. "He was here – dressed as a man. I lost sight of him in the confusion." The prince's head drooped and Glorfindel held back more questions, but began searching the hut more thoroughly. In a corner, behind an upturned table, the warrior found a filthy bundle that groaned when he prodded it. He turned the bundle over rather roughly, thinking this was a man of the place that he could question. When he gazed into well-known—if red and swollen—grey eyes, he gasped. It took a great deal to amaze the Balrog Slayer, but the elf that lay before him did it easily. Lindir whispered hoarsely, "'Fin?" and raised a trembling hand a little off the ground. Glorfindel cried out as he saw the mangled fingers covered in blood. He took the hand into his own and cradled it gently. "Ai, Lindir, what have those animals done to you?" He tried to straighten the clawed hand but Lindir screwed up his face in pain, though no sound came from his open mouth. Glorfindel released the fingers and laid the hand carefully on Lindir's breast. "It is all right, I will not hurt you again. Come, let us get you out of here. Some of my elves will have found us a spot near clean water and shade by now. We will tend you there, where we can give you a draught for the pain." He very gently raised his old friend in his arms and carried him from the hut. For Lindir, he kept his expression serene and comforting, but in his heart was rage against the villagers, and fear that the finest musician he had known in a life-time spanning three ages, had been silenced.
An hour later Glorfindel worked over Lindir while Elladan and Elrohir still labored over Legolas. Finally, Elrohir came and reported that they had done all they could. "He has some neglected wounds that are infected, but the worst damage is to his shoulders and hands. The swelling in his fingers has not even started to go down. Elladan is holding him against the bank of the stream, with his hands suspended in the cold water. That may help a little, but we cannot treat his shoulders that way. As abused as he is, he will sicken from the exposure. We must get him home as soon as we can. We have dosed him with enough sleeping cordial to keep him out for a week. How is Lindir?"
Glorfindel looked up from where he was sponging the minstrel's face. "He was apparently not suspended like Legolas. They must have known from the first that he was a minstrel for they have damaged his hands and throat." He indicated deep bruising around Lindir's neck and the wreck of his left hand. Elrohir knelt beside Lindir and lifted the hand that had now adopted a twisted claw-like form as its permanent position. "I can understand how they could crush or cut his finger ends but how did they twist his tendons like this? They are swollen, but not as though they were struck or crushed." He sadly lifted a few strands of the hair that now barely touched Lindir's shoulders. "Why did they…I will never understand this desire to humiliate….his was the longest in Imladris, I think. Even adar envied it."
Glorfindel spoke quietly, although the elf he tended was as unaware as Legolas, and for the same reason. "I fear greatly for his voice. I think he can survive not playing again, but if he cannot sing…he has made no sound since he whispered my name." Glorfindel's fingers now smoothed a salve to fight inflammation over the scratches and gouges on Lindir's face. "We will not start for home until the morning. Can you find some honey – there are many flowers in the meadow, there should be bees about. I would like to make a medicinal tea to pour down his throat and honey will help sooth it."
Elrohir said as he stood, "I am sure I can find some. Do you want to speak with Taurnil about those remaining in the village?"
"No, he knows what to do, and what is the good of having an adjutant if you do not leave them alone to do their work, instead of doing it yourself?" This was a gentle gibe at Elrohir, who had difficulty delegating responsibility.
"Yes, yes, you have made your point. I will go see about the honey, then."
Glorfindel smiled after him, then turned back to his patient. "Sleep on, Lindir. We will be home soon, and Elrond will know better how to help you. I pray Elbereth that he will." The ancient warrior sighed and began to clean the curled left hand of the minstrel.
Three weeks later, Legolas was well healed but Lindir was a more stubborn case. He spent hours each day under the supervision of one of the healers of Imladris, stretching and flexing his hand. The tendons in hand and wrist had thickened and shortened as a reaction to the inflammation that developed due to the strain of playing for so long, but it was believed they could be coaxed into assuming their old shape and strength. Elrond himself had carefully pared away the rough scar tissue that formed on Lindir's fingertips, performing the procedure in several steps over the three weeks. It appeared that Lindir would play as well as ever, if the damaged tendons could be induced to become pliant again. His voice was another story. He had been kept silent for the first week, and allowed to whisper partway into the second. By the end of three weeks, Elrond encouraged Lindir to try to sing. He told the minstrel, "I do not want you to try your full voice, or to sing for more than a moment. But even a note or two will give you assurance that your voice will return, and with your mind at peace, you will heal faster."
Lindir insisted that the day was too humid to try his throat and Elrond was forced to desist. Another two weeks passed and Legolas returned to the butts to work out the last remaining stiffness in his shoulders, but Lindir would not try so much as one note. Friends encouraged him, Elrond ordered him, but he remained silent except for a soft whisper. He refused to enter the Hall, and though he had met with Legolas on many occasions, he refused to meet the prince's eyes, or hold more than a brief, "I am fine now, thank you for asking" sort of conversation. It appeared that Legolas was no more anxious to speak with the minstrel, so each avoided the other.
Glorfindel, who was the sort to believe that you should let people work out their own problems without 'everlastingly picking at them', was finally forced to seek out his friend and try his own hand at getting the minstrel to sing. He found Lindir in a garden by the river, and chided himself for the frisson of uneasiness that ran down his spine at the sight of Lindir gazing into the dark water. He sat down beside his friend and his heart was gladdened at the sight of the warm smile Lindir gave him. Not being one to mince words or choose them carefully unless he was at council, he simply stated, "I was terrified they would kill you before we could arrive."
Lindir patted the warrior's arm and whispered, "I knew you would come."
The minstrel turned his head away.
Glorfindel said tensely, "We have played chess, and I have said nothing. We have walked to the waterfalls and I have said nothing. I have read with you in the library and I still said nothing. Enough! Sing, Lindir."
The minstrel simply stared at the river.
"I understand that you are frightened that you will never sing as you did before. You think that if you do not try, you will not have to face that possibility. I did not know you for such a coward."
Lindir winced and got quickly to his feet. As he turned to walk back to the house, his whisper drifted back to Glorfindel. "Then you do not know me so well as you thought."
Glorfindel did not sigh sadly at the words, nor tenderly contemplate the troubled spirit that uttered them, nor did he run after Lindir, begging him to listen to reason. Glorfindel had had enough. Glorfindel, in spite of his easy-going nature, his complete lack of hubris, and his inclination to let time take care of many problems, was first and foremost an elf of deeds.
Legolas sat on a boulder that was part of a beautiful rock formation next to the Bruinen. The place was far from the house and he wondered why Glorfindel had insisted they meet here. Just about the time he had decided he would wait no longer, Glorfindel pushed through the surrounding thicket, towing Lindir behind him. For a moment Legolas was caught once again by the impression that although Glorfindel was only a little taller than Lindir, and was certainly not as broad as a man, he always seemed to look bigger than other elves, especially when his blood was up. His 'gentle push' sent Lindir staggering into the center of the open space. Glorfindel pointed to a boulder about ten feet from the prince and said, "Sit!"
He turned to glare at Legolas before taking a seat on another boulder several feet from the other two. He now could see the faces of both elves and they could see his; his frown was a terrible thing to behold. Legolas and Lindir both waited in some trepidation for the Vanya to begin speaking, though when he did, his voice was mildness itself. "Lindir, you were my first friend when I came to Imladris. Everyone else was frightened of me, or awed to idiocy, or sycophantic, or some other such nonsense. You came up to me and said, 'I am Lindir. Do you like music?' as if you had no idea of my history. We have spent many an hour together since that day, and I am not going to stand here and watch you deny your very soul in some misbegotten attempt to atone for imaginary wrongs!" Glorfindel's voice had risen as he spoke until both Legolas and Lindir were leaning away from him.
Glrofindel turned on Legolas. "And you! I have known you since you were breeched! I understand that you do not wish to speak of Lindir's business without his permission, but most of Imladris is still under the impression that his injuries were gained at the hands of those torturers, as yours were. We are going to clear this up right here and now! Legolas, why have you been avoiding Lindir as assiduously as he has been avoiding you?"
Legolas looked away from both elves and said quietly. "Due to my inattention I was struck from behind, with the result that Imladris' chief musician was forced into deadly peril, and took great harm. He is not accustomed to such deadly struggles and was distressed greatly, mind and body. It was my task to protect him, not bring him into danger. If you had not come in time, he would have been killed."
Lindir had tried to protest repeatedly during Legolas' recitation, but Glorfindel's upheld hand caused him to hold his tongue. Glorfindel asked Legolas, "That is all? This magnanimous wish that he had not come to harm? There is no anger?" Legolas lips pressed firmly shut. Glorfindel's bark made him jump. "Legolas! Are. You. Angry with him?"
Legolas resisted for a few moments, then burst out, "No!...Yes…Yes! Why did he come after me? As I hung there on that wall, the only thought that brought me solace was that he was safe! When I came to my senses enough to know he was there, in that outrageous disguise, my despair knew no bounds! It were far better that I should perish than he!"
Lindir was practically squirming in his anxiety to remonstrate, but Glorfindel held him silent while he put yet another question to Legolas. "Why? Why should your loss be preferable?"
"In Mirkwood alone there are three hundred warriors, all a match to myself in arms. What matter the loss of one fighter, if a treasure may be saved? A treasure that knows no equal?"
"Very well, you have had your say. Now Lindir. Why have you avoided Legolas?"
Lindir looked down at his tightly clasped hands as he replied, his voice still raspy from his ordeal. "It was thrice my fault that Legolas was taken. Once in that I should never have forced my company upon him. Twice - if I had one tenth the skill of any elfling in training, he would not have taken that fateful blow. Thrice because I could not rescue him as any warrior would have, before either of us was harmed. Nonetheless, I could not let him remain in the hands of those brutes, not while I lived."
Glorfindel looked at the guilty pair before him in disgust. "Valar spare me! What have I done to deserve two such self-immolating fools? Lindir, I will take you point by point. Were you the most despised traveling companion in the history of the world, you could not cause that ambush. I have traveled with elves so annoying that I wanted to kill them myself, and yet we arrived at our destination unmolested. Second point: Legolas, am I to assume you have never been bested by any foe, so long as you had another warrior by your side?"
Legolas snorted ruefully, "Many times I have had a troop at my elbow, and yet still escaped by the skin of my teeth. Those men were poorly trained, unorganized, and crudely weaponed. I would have taken them, or at least scared them off, but for that unlucky blow."
Glorfindel nodded. "As you have described the situation to me, I adjudge that to be correct. And before you look all downcast for not having luck ever at your side, remember that I took an unlucky blow, and died for it. Yet Elrond sees fit to make me his Marshall."
Legolas' startled eyes jumped to Glorfindel's, and he appeared struck by the Eldar's words. Glorfindel continued, "Now Lindir, as to this rescue attempt of yours. I say in all seriousness how could you have done better? You carefully considered the resources you had at hand—the greatest being your own talented self—and devised a plan that worked brilliantly."
Legolas finally succeeded in breaking into Glorfindel's words. "Lindir, if you had not come, I should have died in great torment. Because I was unaware at first, they delayed the commencement of their 'entertainment'. It was as you arrived that they began in earnest, and from that point on the pain was bearable and did me no lasting injury—but only because you were there to stop them. The only persistent harm was taken by you, in my defense."
Lindir said dully, "I wanted to take you from them by force, and spare you the suffering they inflicted. My whole life I have been surrounded by heroes, by elves of valor and prowess. From their examples I knew what I should do, but the execution was beyond my abilities. And that is not the worst, for I was…" Lindir's head bowed, but his cropped hair could not hide his flushed face. "…I was frightened. Every minute. Every second! Not merely frightened but terrified."
Legolas glanced at Glorfindel and saw his own dismay reflected in the fair countenance. He then turned back to Lindir, his voice gentle yet decisive. "You have been surrounded by heroes, but you have not listened to them. Or perhaps the fault is ours, for not telling that which we would rather forget. You sing ballads of the Balrog Slayer, yet part of the tale is untold. Tell him, Glorfindel."
"Do you think I faced that demon without terror that turned my blood to water? Do you think I retreated to the Fountain that hideous day, without fear? The very air stank with it! My own as well as my fellow warriors'!"
Before Lindir could respond, Legolas interposed quickly, "My first foray, I rode home distraught that my father would know I had been afraid. When, a month later, I dared confess my weakness, he told me of his fears in his many battles. He told me that the only shame is in allowing your fear to keep you from doing that which is right."
Glofindel walked to Lindir and stood before him. "I have always been proud to say that you are my friend. But never so much as now, knowing you walked boldly, alone and unarmed, into that vipers' nest. There are many brave elves that I consider to be heroes: Fingon and Ereinion Gil-Galad and Elrond and Ecthelion and more. To that list I add Lindir of Imladris."
Legolas stepped up beside Glorfindel, and his smile was the one that warmed the heart of any that looked upon it. "Lindir, my father once said of an elf he admired: 'He would march into Orodruin with a bucket of ice.' Such a feat could not be more valorous than the one that you performed."
Lindir looked back and forth between the two who stood before him, as red blazed across his cheekbones. The urbane master of Elrond's Great Hall asked diffidently, "You think I am brave? Truly?"
Both elves nodded solemnly. "Truly."
Lindir was overcome. He tried again and again to speak, but could find no words to express his feelings. Suddenly he leapt to his feet, threw his arms out to the side, and lifted his face to the sun. "I must…I cannot….to show….so happy…I must…" He gasped and gulped, then opened his mouth and sang. The sound was rusty at first, but in a few minutes had smoothed into something that at least resembled the exquisite tone and timbre for which he had long been acclaimed. It was not long before his voice quavered and broke, but before the last note faded away, he was embraced by his two companions. The setting sun's rays caused the droplets upon their cheeks to sparkle like diamonds.
Two weeks later, Lindir sat in the Great Hall, once again in his rightful place. He had not yet performed in public, but his voice grew stronger each day and he knew he would sing for his lord again soon. Legolas sat beside him, and they laughed together in easy camaraderie. Suddenly Legolas broke off and nudged Lindir to direct his attention to Glorfindel. The warrior, dressed in formal robes and looking magnifent, was standing calmly in the center of the Hall. Lindir whispered, "What is – ?" but Legolas hushed him. "Listen!"
Glorfindel patiently waited as the great vaulted space gradually quieted. When at last he had everyone's attention he said in a clear, carrying voice, "Tonight we have been priviledged to hear poetry and song." He bowed gracefully right and left to the performers, and every maiden sighed. "However, before we begin to seek our rest, I would ask for your indulgence. I have composed a lay and would like to perform it if I may."
The room immediately buzzed with excitement, for though possessed of a lovely voice and great skill in composition, the ancient elf tended to eschew solo performances, preferring to sing with his friends or not at all. Again the room became still, though the air quivered with expectation. Glorfindel unrolled a scroll and said quietly, "The Daring Minstrel."
The muscicians struck up a stirring air and Glorfindel began to sing.
The daring minstrel ventured forth,
A princely captive to deliver.
Though elven born, engwar he seemed,
He carried neither sword nor quiver
A/N The song that include the lines: "Auralennt rides at the fore, of those sent by the Mariner's son" and the final last tiny bit of a verse are my own poor efforts. All the rest of the songs are traditional ballads of England and Scotland.
The title comes from one of the finest ballads ever created: The Minstrel Boy to the War is Gone. Most people have heard of it, but here is a taste in case you haven't:
The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
in the ranks of death you will find him.
His father's sword he has girded on,
and the wild harp slung behind him.
"Land of song!" cried the warrior bard,
"Though all the world betrays thee -
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard.
One faithful harp shall praise thee."
Though in the song the minstrel goes to actual battle, I have always wanted to write a story where a minstrel went to war with his voice. The Teitho contest gave me the motivation to finally get it written. I hope you enjoyed it!