I borrowed a sword. I have been forced to walk in the middle of the company, having refused to turn back with the others. My brothers are too distracted to command me home, the others willing to follow their lead. Thus I included myself, and now go forward with a bare blade.
In our flight, my friends and I had gotten farther than I thought, and it is some time before we reach the place where the Orcs came upon us. I had not spared myself, and we traveled quickly, though not at the run they would have gained had I not been present. The quiet that I hear, the agony in my brothers' faces, makes me choke on my guilt.
We find first the guards who had come with us. They are inspected, pronounced dead, and two of our number are left behind to keep watch. We press on.
At the place where I last saw her, we discover the first corpses and the first signs of battle.
"There was no one else," I tell them. "When we fled, she was alone."
"Someone has been here." Haldir is on a knee, examining the ground. "Not Orcs."
Hope brightens into being in my brothers' eyes. They want to hurry on, and perhaps I am the only one who sees the expression on Haldir's face. Perhaps I am not the only one who knows that something is very wrong.
We follow a spoor of death and blood. Hope grows as we go, for there is clear sign of battle. Haldir, however, becomes more and more uneasy, as if he is seeing something we do not or do not choose to see, and this begins to communicate itself to Rumil and the others, but not to my brothers. I can see that all Elrohir and Elladan can think of now is finding her alive and safe.
I, too, can think of nothing else. I regret every ungenerous thought I ever had about her. I wish I had not left her. I think again of her eyes when they met mine, of her look when she told us to run. For she is also a woman, and an Edain, and it was she who stood up while I, a daughter of the Eldar, ran for her life. We both were helpless, we both faced the same torture and excruciation, and it was I who broke and she who withstood.
Is that what they see, is that what we all see when we look at her, that speaks to us, that intoxicates us?
I think of my mother, who survived but never was the same.
Never again. Never again shall I be weak in the face of danger. I beg you, whatever graces watch over us, I beg you to let us find her. Let her survive.
Let her not be beyond healing.
Ahead, Elrohir and Elladan move quickly, as attuned to each other as ever. I swear, I swear that whomever she chooses, I shall be happy for her, I won't blame her for anything, whether it is Elrohir or Elladan, or even Haldir or Rumil or anyone else in Arda, I swear I shall not mind. Only let her be alive, let us find her in time.
And then we stop. I am confused, but bows are drawn and I grip my sword. Someone is coming.
From ahead, a shape appears from the shadows of the wood, followed by others. We lower our weapons, for these are not Orcs - these are Elves.
They stop, lowering their bows as well, and then I realize who they are. They are Wood-elves. I recognize their dress and the style of their bows. These are Elves of the Greenwood.
And in the back I see him, the cloaked figure walking slowly for the sake of the bundle he carries.
I cannot think how they came to be here, and I cannot care. Clearly they must have come upon the Orcs, perhaps even had been hunting them. If they had only come a little while sooner! But it does not matter, for she is safe, they have her, and I could weep. My legs will not hold me and I sink to the ground, hardly aware of the solicitous hand at my arm.
I see my feelings mirrored a thousandfold in my brothers. The way they stand, the way their shoulders move, the way their breath catches. They are speechless with relief. I see the worry ease from Haldir's face, even as he places a hand on Rumil's shoulder to steady him.
The Elf holding her comes closer, to the front, and beneath his hood I recognize him. He is Legolas, son of Thranduil, and I can see the spill of her golden hair over his arm.
"We must take her to your father," he says. He does not bother with introductions or greetings. "She is badly wounded, and I do not know how much longer she can bear."
Elrohir puts his bow on his back and goes forward to take her. Legolas frowns, and takes a single step back.
My brothers still, expressions changing. A tremor of apprehension makes me shake.
Legolas looks not at my brothers, but down at her, and I do not think I am the only one who sees his fingers lightly brush her cheek.