A Thing or Two About Elrond
Collection of oneshots involving everyone's favorite glowering elf. Interactions with Gandalf, Arwen, Celebrían, hobbitses, and others, from the beginning of the First Age to the end of the Third. Angst, comedy, whumping, fluff, h/c, and biscuits are all accounted for.
One of many lesser adventures involving Elrond, Gandalf, and Saruman – or, my uneducated take on the events that first caused Gandalf to fear what would happen in the wake of Elrond's theoretical death, and also a prelude to Saruman's actions in LOTR. Elrond-whumping. Non-Slash. This first story is beastly in length but I could hardly have had it cleft in two. Then it would have been a twoshot, and everyone knows twoshots are silly.
November the 10th
"Tell Lord Elrond about how mama kill't the troll!" exclaimed the boy with one eye; his name was Nelo, unless Elrond's memory failed him. Elrond raised his eyebrows at Nelo.
"Aye, she kill't it with her bare hands an' an ice pick!"
"A worthy campfire story," Elrond said, turning his gaze expectantly upon Makade, the boy's father who sat across the fire from Elrond. Makade had been amusing the party with memories of the dangers of Ettenmoor. Elrond suspected that this was the first night any of these people felt able to recall encounters with Ettenmoor creatures with enough enthusiasm to consider any of the stories to be a good yarn. That range, far north of his refuge of Imladris, had been thought to be unoccupied by humans after a myriad of wicked creatures claimed the lands. Thus it had been somewhat of a surprise when a ragged party of sixty men, women, and children had been spotted wandering dangerously close to the Trollshaws to the West of Imladris. Elrond had bidden them to Imladris for a respite, and there he had learned that they were the last 'hardy-as-an-oliphaunt's-foot' men of Ettenmoor. The invasion of the wicked creatures had finally become too much, and they now moved south, looking for a place to settle.
Elrond and the two wizards Gandalf and Saruman had counseled them to travel to Gondor's realm Isengard, as it was the closest safe outpost of men. As the men had no knowledge of the area, and as stories had come north to Imladris about the increasing number of goblins below the mountain Caradhras (near which they would be forced to pass on their way south), Elrond had volunteered to guide them along the safest route. He also sought an opportunity to visit Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel in Lórien to discuss the increasingly bothersome matter of Dol Guldor, and also to generally be a good son-in-law.
First task, however, was to get this band of people to Isengard. Saruman had volunteered to go as well, as soon as he'd heard that Elrond was to be their guide. The White Wizard had echoed Elrond's intentions on discussing important matters with the nobles of Lórien. Elrond was secretly relieved when Gandalf had immediately thereafter proclaimed his intentions of joining the party as well, for Elrond had never liked Saruman, from the moment the first meeting of the Second White Council had convened.
Thus it was that Elrond, Saruman, Gandalf, and sixty-odd Ettenmoor refugees had headed south from Imladris in the crisp of autumn, and thus it was that the same party was taking the night along the banks of the Glanduin in the shadow of the great Mountains of Moria, now more than halfway to their goal, spirits high. The night was cold but the people were hardy northerners – and Elrond was an elf – and no complaints were heard except from Nelo, who said his eye-patch wouldn't stay on straight. The lad had lost his eye on their journey to Imladris. The elven eye-patch he'd been given was doing what it was supposed to, but Nelo thought it felt crooked and nothing Elrond could say would supplant the idea.
The two wizards were not joining the party by the fire. Saruman didn't appear interested in conversing with the rough northern folk, and had asked for Gandalf's company instead. Light shown from within their tent down the bank a ways. Elrond regretted that the wizard was not to witness Makade's account of Nelo's mother jumping a troll from behind.
It was not wasted on Elrond that Nelo's mother herself was not present to tell the tale. Once Makade's story was done and the laughter around the fire had died into snickers and snorts, the elf watched grief pass through Makade's eyes, briefly.
"Good fire tonight," one of the men said. Murmurs of agreement from those huddled closest. Elrond thought for a moment before speaking, amusement in his voice.
"Nay, friends, this fire is smaller than those of past nights. Larger flames would attract unwelcome attention from the mountains." He gestured to the east for their benefit. The clouds lay thick atop them, creating the darkest of surroundings and he knew the people must be rather discombobulated in unfamiliar territory.
"Still," said one of the women, "this fire seems the warmest yet."
"Indeed," replied Elrond. "The first fire near which thoughts were warmed as well as food and feet."
"Well-said, elf!" shouted a man next to Elrond, thumping him heartily on the back and eliciting a cheer of accord from the others. He was beginning to realize that these people did everything heartily. They ate and drank heartily, marched heartily, sang heartily, argued heartily, and assuredly thumped their companions on the back heartily. They were crude folk with robust hearts. He didn't so much mind that they had taken to calling him 'elf'.
Smiling, he looked to the Wizards' tent, wishing Gandalf would come sit with them. Elrond knew these people were to Gandalf's liking as well. But the tent was closed, so Elrond tuned back to listen to the people begin to weave their memories into what he supposed would become a great tapestry of stories of the Ettenmoor that would someday be passed to their grandchildren.
Through a story of imps being told and through a chill westerly wind stirring the cane, Elrond first heard the cry. He swore his heart had not fallen so far for many years. Of course, he thought bitterly as he came to his feet, this happy moment would come to a more abrupt ending than it deserved. He gestured for silence; it was granted immediately. The air smelled of the marshlands to the west and of their horses, who were gathered near the circle of empty tents, and even his eyes could see no lights to alarm them of a danger, no glaring watchers from the forest to the east. And now no sounds save the wind in the cane, horse hooves shifting idly in the duff, and the very quiet murmurings of two very serious wizards.
"What?" someone finally ventured.
"Is anybody missing?" he asked, eyes scanning the crowd. All turned to their neighbor. Moments passed and no alarms were raised, and Elrond started to think about believing the noise had been a rabbit meeting the teeth of a predator. Then,
"Mishke… Mishke and Bezhég! Are they here?" cried a woman. The elf sighed. The young woman Mishke and young man Bezhég had been circling closer to each other for days now; Elrond had known it was only a matter of time before they would seek something warmer than a fire at night. He had warned the company to stay close while in the shadow of the mountains, but hadn't remembered to be wary of the fact that young humans thought they were invincible. Mishke and Bezhég were gone.
A sharp cry ripped the sudden taught air, away near the foot of the mountain. It was not the cry of lust released. It had been pushed by fear. Everyone stood and voices started to bubble into an uproar.
"Hush!" Elrond said, and the voices ceased. Faces turned to him. "Make no noise. Let us not advertise our alarm." He glanced back at the glowing tent where the wizards were. It seemed far away now, and he wasn't about to shout to them. Another cry split his concentration – louder this time, and longer. The mother of Mishke gasped and held her hand over her mouth.
"Nelo," he said, searching the crowd, and finding the boy. "Go quickly to the Wizards and tell them I've gone after Mishke and Bezhég, towards the mountains. Everyone swift on foot and with blade, follow me. Quietly." He had worn light armor for the ride south but had taken it off before starting the fire, a decision he now regretted. At least his blade still hung at his waist. He had hesitated to bring it from the outset - such was his desire never to have to draw a blade again - but Gandalf had insisted.
A group of twenty or so men followed as he made his way swiftly towards the foot of the mountain, into the forest. He knew it was hard for the men to see anything at all but to his surprise they kept up well enough, though not very quietly. Another shout, this time a cry for help, told him they'd come much closer to where the youngsters were than he'd thought, and also told him that something unpleasant was still happening to the one who made the noise. There was panic, and there were tears.
He caught a foul scent.
"Goblins," he said quietly to those in earshot, and though he'd known they'd come upon the creatures, his heart still fell. They had discussed the issue of goblins already, a few days ago. The men were sure they would be able to take on any goblins encountered, especially since they were used to dealing with the cruel goblins of the North. What Elrond hadn't been able to convince them of was that the goblins of this part of the Misty Mountains were bigger, smarter, and altogether more creative in their cruelty than those of Ettenmoor.
They came upon the sight too abruptly for Elrond to stop events from unfolding.
A boulder field lay before them, reaching up the foot of the mountain, the aftermath of a rock fall years ago. Stones jutted from the ground like sharp tombstones gathering to mutter together, some like stepping stones and others the size of great chariots. Crouching, bound, atop one of the larger boulders was Bezhég – that much Elrond could clearly see. The moment the boy heard them at the edge of the woods he cried out in fear again, causing the men behind Elrond to rush forward towards Bezhég's voice.
"Trap, it's a trap!" Elrond shouted, and tried to grab back those that had ventured forward, but he knew it was too late. Confused now, some men plunged blindly into the boulder field, some crowded near the elf. Elrond cursed, not used to leading blind men over dark boulder fields that were no doubt crawling with hungry goblins. He could smell their reek and could hear their breathing and shifting out in the boulders – and in the woods surrounding them.
He jumped into the boulder field. The goblins exploded into movement. He had to reach Bezhég, he was the only one that could see well enough to get there safely. A dark shape tripped into his vision and before he knew he'd drawn his blade, he cut it down and pushed it into another, asking the forgiveness of all the Eldars for breaking his long period of non-violence.
"Men, stand and fight!" he yelled, knowing that if they tried to venture further into the boulder field their footing would betray them and they would fall to the appetites of the goblins. They had a chance if they just stood still and could see well in the dark and were, like him, sure of foot. The men were at a major disadvantage.
Another creature lunged from a crack in the stones and seized him with all four limbs, almost throwing the elf's balance before he sent himself backwards into a boulder, scraping the goblin off to the ground, after which he swiftly dispatched it, only to look up and find two more flying over the stones towards him. Elrond let a frustrated growl pass his lips before his warrior muscle memory took the two down. He could deal with a few goblins but he knew there were more in the mountain. Get to Bezhég. Retreat to the protection of the wizards. Surely the wizards would be on their way by now.
Even as he allowed that small hope and made for Bezhég, he knew there was no way a group of men could outrun a horde of goblins in the dark of the forest.
Four goblins sprang from hiding right before he reached the lad. He'd been expecting a vanguard and the goblins were not expecting to deal with an elf. One of them grazed his neck with its strange spiked bludgeon but fell quickly with the others. The elf knelt by the lad.
"Are you hurt badly?" Elrond asked, cutting his bonds. Bezhég shook his head. His arms were quivering. "Where is Mishke?"
"Oh," Bezhég whimpered, and tried to say something but it appeared his horror had frozen his words. From the edge of the forest Elrond could hear the sounds of a skirmish and was relieved not to have heard any death-screams of man, yet.
"Tell me, is she dead?" Elrond insisted, bringing the boy to his feet. Bezhég nodded, the whites of his eyes shining. Something leapt at Elrond from behind and he managed to angle his blade for the goblin to impale itself, which it did, and came sliding down to the hilt, face to face with the blade's owner. Bezhég let out a strangled sound at the sight.
"Elf?" the goblin gurgled, its cruel weapon frozen in the air. Elrond twisted the blade and threw the goblin to the ground, but it lunged clumsily again. Such was the appetite of a goblin that it would spring for food even as its life flowed away. A dark thought entered his mind: such was the appetite of a goblin for elf-flesh. It plagued Elrond to know that elf-flesh was 'the sweetest', according to orcs and goblins and other such unpleasant creatures.
A new burst of conviction moved him to grab the young man and make for the forest. Goblins were leaping across the boulders like colossal lice, and more than he would have liked were leaping directly at himself and his charge. Bezhég was none too steady on his feet and the half of Elrond's mind that wasn't occupied with defending them was concentrating on not allowing Bezhég to break his foot while being dragged over the boulders to the group of men.
Where are the wizards? Elrond thought desperately. The numbers of goblins did not appear to be decreasing. Three more down, four and five, Bezhég tripping and Elrond hauling him up and forward again. They were very close to joining the men now, but what then? What then?
For their part, the wizards had been having a perfectly irritating discussion about Elrond's value as part of the White Council. For some reason Gandalf could not yet fathom, the White Wizard had held a grudge against the elf since they'd all first met a number of years ago, not being helped by the fact that Elrond had held a grudge against the White Wizard since that time as well. They were both very reasonable and wise people and Gandalf simply could not understand the rift between them.
"Gandalf, my friend, I'm beginning to doubt the worth of Elrond of Rivendell as part of the White Council," Saruman had worried, and Gandalf had sputtered a bit before collecting his thoughts.
"Preposterous, if I may say so, Saruman. Elrond is a most valuable member."
"But why, when we have those both wiser and more powerful sitting with us, do we need him? He is an extra voice weighing our decisions down, and he creates much dissent."
"Dissent is not always bad. And I disagree, Saruman. If any one of us is to be said to sire dissent, I would argue that you yourself – "
"Come now, Gandalf. I lead the White Council, what else is expected? I simply don't see the need for extra members. I repeat, the lord and lady of Lórien are older and wiser and not as caught up in the matters of mortals and family."
"Saruman – "
"I don't mean to say that the matters of mortals and family are unimportant – quite the opposite – but they have no place in our council."
"Do you not remember that Elrond was present during the War of the Last Alliance, one of the most important times of any age? There were so precious few survivors to recount what happened, we should be grateful to count him among our council members."
And so on.
Gandalf had every respect for Saruman. The White Wizard was very wise and Gandalf was not about to dispute that. But Saruman did have his strange ideas and skirmishes with the world and some of its inhabitants. Gandalf was sorry that Elrond was one such person, for Gandalf found that he rather liked the elf. He liked most elves but Elrond's company in particular Gandalf had warmed up to in the past few decades. He suspected it had something to do with the fact that Elrond's blood was a rampant confluence of many peoples, but he wasn't sure yet. He would defend the elf right now, though, if only because the elf was not there to defend himself against Saruman's disapproval. He had no doubt Elrond would have had a few sharp words in reply.
Eventually Saruman started on about the elves' paranoia about Dol Guldor, and then about how perhaps it was Lórien's responsibility alone to defend the West against any threat from Mirkwood, since Lórien was the closest to the supposed danger. Gandalf was bothered by such thoughts coming from the powerful wizard but had little time to argue them. Something disturbed his spirit and he turned his head towards the east.
Footsteps were running towards their tent, quick ones. A child's steps. Gandalf stood, interrupting Saruman, and drew back the flap as young Nelo came bursting in, completely forgetting any manners he'd begun to pick up about etiquette in the presence of wizards.
"Sirs!" he gasped. "He, ah, he said…" Nelo's words failed him through panicked breath, and Gandalf knelt next to the boy.
"What is it, lad?"
"The, the elf, the Lord Elrond! He said, he said he went up into the mountain!"
"What? What has happened?"
"Mishke and Bezhég, we heard 'em! They're by the mountain!" The child was making little verbal sense but Gandalf could guess by the welling tears what had happened. The two mortals were gone. Elrond had gone after them. It was dark and the men would be stumbling. The potential for goblins by the mountain was high. They would need help. Gandalf got to his feet, nabbed his staff, and shot from the tent.
The knot of people by the fire was worried, clenched together, murmuring. The horses whinnied and the mountain in the east, shrouded in the night, shifted its pitiless gaze down to its base. Something was about to happen. Something close.
"Saruman," Gandalf called, meaning to ask him to defend the people while he himself took to the woods to assist Elrond, but Saruman had left the tent for the horses already, and now mounted his steed. "Saruman, leave your horse!" he called, but the White Wizard was gone, speeding towards the forest. Perhaps haste was best at this time, but Gandalf knew a horse would be of little use in the thick of the upstart woods, surrounded by goblins, who were well-known for their love of horse meat. Gandalf went to the people, who stared at him with wide eyes. He attempted a smile.
"There now, everyone, Saruman's gone to find your missing friends. They will be back soon." His words had hardly fallen from his mouth when from behind them the horses screamed and Gandalf turned to the reflection of dozens of eyes, coming down from the north and enveloping the animals. Gandalf cursed himself, wondering how it was that he hadn't smelled their approach. Lunging forward and wielding his staff, he cast a terrible glow over the scene, which served to make some goblins shrink away, but only made others angrier at being denied a meal – though some of the horses had already been taken down, filling the night with their abrupt screams. In the distance he heard the beginnings of steel on rock and knew that Elrond had entered the company of goblins.
He realized there were very few men among them now that were able to wield blades – a few of the women carried shortswords but it wouldn't be enough to protect the company if Gandalf left them to save their mounts. He stood his ground near the fire and cast the glow as far as he could, wishing the horses to him and the goblins away. Some of the goblins followed and the Grey Wizard flung them back into the night. More came from the shadows. He could hold them, yes, and defend the people and the remaining horses now, but he was helpless for Elrond and the rest of the company. He trusted Saruman to bring them back safely.
Minutes passed like dark, sluggish clouds, and nobody returned from the forest. The goblins had ceased their attack on the company by the fire, but Gandalf dared not leave. He knew the numbers these goblins were capable of producing. Once the rest got back they would have to ride hard for the south and west, away from where goblins would venture. Which may be a far ways away, Gandalf lamented. Part of the reason he'd come was to observe the territories of the recent unpleasant creatures who had taken up land between Imladris, Mirkwood, and Isengard. He ordered the people to gather up any belongings, leave the tents (they would now have to double up on horses and would have no room for tents), and be ready to fly on a moment's notice.
Time crept wickedly as they waited, and it seemed ages passed before noises from the forest reached his ears again. Only moments, he told himself, and strained his eyes and the glow of his staff to the east. There, there they were! Finally, out came the men who had accompanied Elrond. They were moving none too quickly, however, and had with them some wounded. All were on their feet, which Gandalf saw with relief, as they'd have to ride hard very soon. Saruman, white robes glaring, moved with them, now without the horse, and instead supporting a wounded person, their arm draped over the wizard's neck. Gandalf muttered darkly to himself, counting the remaining beasts and wondering if they'd even all fit on the horses they had left. They would have to.
The fighters returned now, gasping and limping and holding their wounds.
"Is there anyone…" Gandalf began to ask them, but saw that, yes, he'd underestimated their injuries, and there were a few whose legs would not hold them now that they were back to the fire. One was the boy Bezhég, who looked to be loosing much of his nerve but also looked relatively whole. Two men hit the ground in rapid succession and Gandalf started towards them.
"Elrond," Gandalf said loudly, beckoning the elf towards him, wherever he may be. "Any healers," he added, and knelt down next to the first man. Blood came out of the victim's mouth and Gandalf, laying a hand on his chest, could feel the life energy slipping away. "Elrond!" he shouted. This man had deep wounds. Gandalf feared the worst. He also feared staying here longer than necessary. One of the women, in her waning years and grey of hair but still strong of body, appeared kneeling at Gandalf's side, and had with her a bag of gauze and herbs.
"Master Gandalf, I can help. Elrond is – "
"Yes, where is that elf?" Gandalf grumbled.
"He is behind you, sir."
The Grey Wizard turned to see only white robes flecked with red, gauzy in his face, and then Saruman's blasted flowing sleeves shifted and Gandalf could see that the White Wizard was lowering Elrond to the ground.
"Rot it all, no!" Gandalf spat, dread tearing at his heart. "By the blade of a goblin is not an acceptable way for an elf lord to die," he stated, but quickly and to his profound relief realized that the elf was not about to die; there was a wound, yes, blood stained the elf's entire tunic front dark, but he knelt next to Gandalf all the same.
"Elrond, how badly – "
"I will live," Elrond interrupted him. His hands were already peeling back the cloth around the bloody gash of the man on the ground. "Unlike this mortal," he murmured after a moment. "Too much blood…" Gandalf went to the other man, who was lying on the ground and staring wide-eyed at his dying companion, who Elrond gently eased into a state of peace before murmuring an almost inaudible blessing and closing the man's eyes.
The second man, luckily, had no mortal wounds. His leg had been ripped brutally and he could not walk on it, and he had some nasty chew marks on his right shoulder, but these were relatively simple to remedy and Gandalf let the woman healer and Elrond take care of him. The wizard stood, and together with Saruman started to urge people onto their horses. One other man fell in the process, goblin-inflicted wounds taking their toll. The wizard ordered another to take him over to the two healers. Gandalf could hear angry cries from the mountains, the sound of goblins boiling up from beneath, hungry.
"Up! Up, mount the horses, we ride now!" Gandalf shouted. He grabbed the reins of one of the beasts and made to step into the saddle when an urgent little hand clamped down on his arm. He turned. It was the woman healer.
"Sir, the elf is wounded," she said, pointing to where the newest addition of the wounded had been deposited. The last man looked like he would be fine, if his foot could be sewn back together soon, and if the compress he'd been given for his head wound wasn't lost in all this jostling about.
"I know. He will be fine. Elves are – … oh." Gandalf pushed past her. Elrond was still on his knees and looking none too able to get up. "My friend, you must stand, we need to move," he insisted. The wizard crouched and pushed back the blind of dark hair to measure the elf's face, and was not pleased with what he saw. Elrond was not as well as he had wanted Gandalf to believe. His skin was pale, very pale, and his hands grasped at something protruding from his torso. The butt of the missile had already been broken off close to Elrond's body. Everything Gandalf could see below the elf's neck was crimson. There was no time, however, for careful ministrations.
"Can you stand?" the wizard asked again, letting urgency force his voice. He didn't listen for an answer and instead did his best to pull the elf to his feet. Elrond reached out with one hand to steady himself on Gandalf's arm. At least his grip was still strong, though it left a great bloody smear on Gandalf's sleeve. The woman healer was trying to check beneath Elrond's other hand to see what it was that was lodged in his chest, and Gandalf scanned the grounds. Most were on horses now. Women and children rode together, there was Saruman sitting solo on another horse. The two wounded men on the ground still hadn't been claimed by anybody. Gandalf transferred Elrond's hand to the reins of his horse.
"The goblins," gasped Elrond through his teeth. Gandalf put a hand on Elrond's back in acknowledgment, gazing into the forest. He could hear their approach, no doubt only moments away from emerging. The wizard stepped into the mass of riders and animals.
"Who will ride with the wounded? Who is strong enough? Quickly now!"
After a moment a few riders had gathered close to volunteer themselves to take 'the elf', and Gandalf smiled that Elrond had so quickly endeared himself to these people. He turned to Elrond but the elf's head was resting against the horse's neck and Gandalf feared that soon he would be back on the ground.
White robes once again flapped in front of his face and Gandalf's gaze alit on Saruman, up on the horse, gazing down at them, and Gandalf may have been mistaken when he thought he saw a brief curl of the lip, but then again, the White Wizard's whiskers were obscuring his features and Gandalf wasn't about to stare at a time like this.
"I will take him," said Saruman definitively, and reached a hand down for Elrond to grasp, ivory sleeves stained red now, but the elf did not come forward.
Something in Gandalf's heart tightened a little.
"Saruman, ride out front," he urged. "Guide them south, now, while there's still time to escape! We will take the wounded and follow. Go!" With that he turned and helped the woman healer to haul the two men unsteadily to their feet, all the while hoping Saruman would take his words and run, but it was a moment before he heard Saruman's mount strike off into the dark. The weight that left his chest with that noise surprised Gandalf.
"I will take Elrond," he gasped, as he and the woman healer helped to push the wounded men into place in front of the riders of the other mounts, "as I am old and frail. Elves are not so heavy as men, it will be easier for me to keep him." Frail the wizard was not, but it wasn't every man Gandalf would venture to trust with a wounded elf lord. Including, apparently, Saruman, a matter upon which Gandalf would meditate at a later time.
A sharp war cry from the forest. Gandalf aimed his staff at the edge of the woods and saw hundreds of sharp teeth reflecting from the shadows, only temporarily put off by the glow.
"We must fly. Elrond, up now." The elf lord made an honest attempt at mounting the horse but clearly much of his strength was leaving him, and the thing in his chest was making movement terribly difficult. The woman healer and Gandalf managed to pull him into place – Elrond's man-blood lent him more heft than an ordinary elf, but still he was easier to maneuver than the other two injured – after which the woman jumped lithe behind the remaining solo rider. Gandalf mounted up behind Elrond, ignoring the fact that the pale horse's hide was already stained in front of the elf, and wasted no time grabbing the reins in one hand and kicking his horse into action, following the trail of the other riders as they fled, and Saruman's staff glaring bright in front. With his other arm he held out his glowing staff, doing his best to keep the goblins at bay behind them.
The goblins took to their trail despite the light. The riders plunged at a full gallop into and across the Glanduin, which was thankfully low now in autumn, and the goblins followed gamely. Their arrows flew, and Gandalf was surprised it had taken them this long to get archers out in front. The vile weapons whistled past close, almost tangling his grey mane – still short and slightly crooked and not at all sharp, noted the wizard, relieved that at least when it came to missile weapons goblins were still near the bottom rung. The backs of the riders in front of them got closer and as they sped southwest and pulled from the shadow of the mountain the arrows stopped snatching at their cloaks and the noises of pursuit fell away. Gandalf gratefully pulled his staff hand around to grab the reins as well, now locking the elf lord safer between his two arms. Elrond had his fingers twined into the mane of the horse and was bent over its neck, not looking a bit like he was thinking of falling off.
"I thank you for not passing out, Elrond," Gandalf cried into the elf's ear. "I would not have had a limb with which to keep you on the horse!"
"Are you calling me heavy?" the elf wheezed as loudly as he could, but his voice was still almost stolen by the sound of their flight. Gandalf chuckled.
"On the contrary! The wind would have absconded with you."
The elf did not reply, and instead leaned to the side and spat blood. Gandalf's relief at having briefly evaded the goblins was replaced once again with worry.
"What have you been hit with?" asked Gandalf. "The goblin arrows are short and thin, and their points are not winged. It will easily be removed when we stop next."
"Not a goblin arrow," Elrond said, sounding rather peeved about it, but his voice was weakening. "…stuck, whatever it is…" One of his hands slipped from the mane, slick with blood, and he fell forward some with an ill-stifled cry of pain. His hands found the horse's neck and he pushed himself up again but his arms shook and Gandalf observed that the elf was measuring his breaths very carefully.
Elrond had lost a terrible amount of blood. The evidence of that was rather clear. What cruel deeds the missile was wreaking inside the elf were not known but Gandalf was not prepared to be optimistic. Guessing by the thing's position, Elrond's heart and main arteries had been spared but he could not say for certain that his lung shared the same fate, and almost assuredly a large part of the liver was destroyed, which would explain the amount of blood. Gandalf could do nothing, however, until they stopped.
Elrond's grip on the horse's mane failed again. The wizard took the reins in one hand and with his other drew the elf against him. Loss of blood and sharp autumn wind had finally provoked Elrond into a fit of tremors.
Heal thyself, Gandalf commanded, and there was a brief surge of energy from within the elf, a warmth beneath Gandalf's gloved forearm across Elrond's torso, but it lasted only moments, and when it gave up and slipped away Gandalf felt Elrond's spine begin to slacken.
"No," he said, "this is not your fall, my friend. Hold on." Elrond's hand found Gandalf's wrist and held on stubbornly, but no strength came to straighten his back. Cruel, cruel, Gandalf cursed to nobody. To live through the incredible Barad-dûr only to be brought down by mere goblins was simply not fair. To have established Imladris and maintained that refuge and stronghold with such fortitude for so many centuries. To have fostered and raised countless heirs of Isildur to their thrones, generations upon generations. To have been wed to surely the most pure and beautiful she-elf on Middle Earth and to have sired three children whose destinies Gandalf had felt mark the chambers of his heart upon first meeting them. How he knew this Gandalf would not guess at but Elrond, despite having already seen seeds he himself had planted in the far distant past grow to be immoveable ideas and chapters of history itself, was not done in the great garden of Arda yet. Vital things were left to be sown. The wizard could feel them, small fates curled and vexed and waiting within Elrond's core.
With apprehension Gandalf felt a great void yet to be hollowed, too. Heavy miseries will fall upon him, it told the wizard. Very soon and close.
Now Gandalf shivered. He feared for his friend, should this injury spare Elrond's life.
The elf had fallen slack now, and despite Elrond's negligible heft, Gandalf struggled to keep the reins, his glowing staff, and his friend in order before him. Gandalf looked behind them. No goblins in sight. Off to his side rode the woman healer and another.
"Halt with me! My friend is fading," he shouted over to them, and they pulled their horses to a stop behind a thicket of trees. Pathetic cover from goblins, but better than open field. Together they managed to take Elrond from the horse and lay him on the ground, where the glow of his ashen face disturbed their already troubled minds.
"What is your name?" Gandalf asked the man who had taken the reins of the other horse.
"Waubad, your lordship."
"Our lordship lies at our feet, Waubad. Call me Gandalf. Keep a watch for goblins. And your name?" he asked the woman healer.
"Bless you, Caree. I need to talk some sense into this elf. Would you…" he asked, gesturing to the wound. She nodded and began pulling away the fabric. Gandalf hung over Elrond and placed a hand to the elf's face. The temperature of the skin was haunting the uneasy realm between lively warmth and the first cold shadows of death.
The elf's eyes were half-lidded and distracted. He did not respond.
"Elrond Peredhel, I command your attention!" The eyes started to focus. Caree, who had exposed the wound, tweaked the broken missile shaft and the elf took a sharp breath, twisting. Both elves and wizards knew the importance of mentality when it came to healing, knew that the body would not heal until the mind gave it the freedom to do so.
"Look at me," the Wizard continued. "I have something of great importance to tell you. Great importance." Hopefully Elrond's stubborn sense of responsibility would drag him back to reality to listen. His eyes shuttered themselves tight for a breath, then opened, and found some focus in Gandalf's face. Gandalf waited, holding his tongue and peering into the elf.
"… what?" Elrond wheezed, with some exasperation. Good. He was back, for now.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew that you have absolutely no right to give up, Master Elrond." The elf's eyes shut again and he grit his teeth as Caree tugged at the shaft. "When your heart begins to stumble, so do the circles of the world," the wizard continued quietly, unsure if the elf was able to hear his voice.
"As they do when any heart stumbles," Elrond replied through his teeth, and his words struck precisely upon the deep chime in Gandalf's core, a place he forbade entrance to save for only a handful of trusted companions. The wizard brushed a dark lock from the elf's face.
"We are in accord, then," he said, and meant it deeply. He turned his focus to Caree. "How does it come?"
"It doesn't, sir. It's hooked in his ribs."
"Don't see any goblins yet, Gandalf," the man replied. Gandalf bent to take a look at the missile. Yes, it was lodged between two lower ribs. Yes, it had certainly lain to ruin a good part of the liver. No more blood had passed the elf's lips so Gandalf assumed any damage done to the lung was minimal. He wrapped his hand around the broken shaft and tried to maneuver it but found that what he couldn't see of the weapon must have been bigger than he'd assumed. As Elrond had stated, definitely not a typical goblin arrow. He stopped tugging at it (to Elrond's vast relief) and simply laid his hands over it, and concentrated.
Metal shrieks. The falcon tucks its wings and dives.
Gandalf's eyebrows sunk low. Surely curved broadhead arrows had not fallen into the hands of goblins. And yet he sensed twisted metal beneath his palms. Elrond's hand snatched at his sleeve.
"Gandalf…" was all the elf said but a look at his face made Gandalf turn and peer beyond the trees, to the north and east. Waubad faced him.
"I think I hear something," said the man.
"And I smell something," said Gandalf. Fleetingly he thought to stand his ground and banish the goblins, but he knew there was every possibility that there were too many of them, and he didn't think the others that had ridden ahead would know of their predicament until too late. A sharp breath behind him made Gandalf turn to see the elf lord pushing himself up.
"Down, back down," he said, but the elf resisted.
"We must leave." The noises behind them were getting louder – snarls, chain being jostled, rushes and canes snapping beneath claws. Gandalf sighed.
"Yes. You're right. I am sorry," he said, as he hefted the unsteady elf to his feet, "that we could not remove the blasted thing."
Elrond flapped his bloody hand in dismissal, silently forgiving all. Once again he was pulled onto the horse by the three other riders, who mounted up afterwards and shot from the cover of the trees, Gandalf's staff glowing, eliciting goblin screeches and further war cries. Strange that the goblins would follow them this far from their mountain home. Soon enough the brutes would have to fall back. Hopefully quite soon. They could keep ahead of the goblins without trouble but that was no longer Gandalf's chief concern. Elrond's spine had straightened again, whether out of abdominal pain or returning strength the wizard couldn't tell. Perhaps the elf's healing abilities were finally coming to surface here.
"Tell me of your wife," Gandalf said in the elf's ear, knowing that images of beauty did much for an elf's spirit to bolster the healing of the body. Elrond did not reply at first, but Gandalf waited.
"She is more fair," Elrond replied quietly, "than the elanor blossoms of Lothlórien… kinder to the eyes and spirit and more gentle to the touch… the purity of her spirit thrives in all things beautiful." Gandalf could feel the love Elrond had for his wife warming the elf from within.
"And tell me of your daughter."
"Arwen is starlight upon water at peace," Elrond replied without hesitation, and was silent.
"And of your twin sons."
"Vase-smashing scoundrels," he wheezed, but there was fondness in his voice, and Gandalf knew he'd set the elf's mind to meditate on good things. Gandalf and the other mount drew near to the main party, still riding, and they rode on for a long time until they had come fully into the embrace of the hills of Enedwaith and could no longer sense the shadow of the mountains behind them.
Saruman had sensed as well that it was safe to stop, and they circled around, staring to the northeast for long moments. No noises were heard and no foul air met them, though the westerly wind did not favor them this night. Now that they'd stopped, Mishke's mother could no longer contain her pain and started an unnerving wail that cleaved the air softly and filled many hearts with sorrow.
"We have outridden the danger," announced the White Wizard. "Break camp. We will stay here awhile and recover our wits. Get the wounded into a tent and out of the wind." The wind bit colder at them as night became deeper. The last folk of the Ettenmoor did as they were bid, and soon the few tents they'd brought were set, small fires were lit, the horses were secured (and well-guarded), and Gandalf was settled into a warming tent that sheltered the two men with debilitating wounds, Elrond, and Caree. The only light was from a single torch in the center of the tent, making it awkward and difficult to maneuver the shadows out of the way. Upon Gandalf's request Caree had gotten busy mending the two men. Gandalf stuffed blankets under the elf's back so he was half-sitting, and then began to ponder the most efficient way of wresting the broken missile from its stubborn position in Elrond's chest. Elrond himself seemed preoccupied with observing Caree's ministrations, though he said nothing and did not look worried, but did look slightly woozy. Mishke's mother was still wailing outside and the elf blinked each time her sobs started anew.
"As a far superior healer, Lord Elrond, your input on your situation would be most appreciated," grumbled the wizard, stumped. The only way he could figure on removing the shaft was in an unpleasantly destructive and painful manner, and he was hoping Elrond could bring to light another suggestion. The elf glanced down upon his chest and picked delicately at the slivers of the shaft, biting back a wince. The corners of his mouth turned down.
"This is no complex situation," the elf replied. "There is but one way out, as you have guessed. I am no stranger to such wounds; I would have it pulled without hesitation." He did not look overly bothered by the thought but did look faint. Gandalf had been fearing that answer. The tent flap opened and Saruman entered, having finally settled the camp to an order of his liking.
"How are our wounded charges?" he asked, and his gaze settled on Caree.
"Better, my lord. The men here will be well again, given some rest."
"Good. How fortunate that we have you on hand." Saruman turned to face Gandalf and Elrond and his eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "The arrow still vexes you, Lord Elrond. Why has it not yet been removed?" To Gandalf's great alarm, the White Wizard then tossed his outer robe to the side and started to push his sleeves up, all the while gazing down upon the protruding shaft. He meant to take things into his own hands. Perhaps it was better that way. Saruman was not one to dither about. Gandalf looked to the elf for a reaction. Elrond's face was stony but allowed a spark of fear to jump at Gandalf, and then the wizard heard words in his head:
Take it out now, the elf begged. I would rather your hands than his.
Gandalf wondered why Elrond did not trust the White Wizard.
Surely, thought Gandalf, Saruman had a firmer grasp than he himself did.
Saruman had poised himself above the elf, reaching for the arrow, and Elrond canceled his plea to brace himself. Gandalf placed a hand on Elrond's arm.
"It is a curved broadhead," he said to Saruman, as the other wizard peered close at the wound. Caree had drawn up to watch over Gandalf's shoulder, concerned, as Gandalf continued. "How the goblins got their hands on such a missile I cannot guess. It has lodged between two ribs and won't be removed easily."
"Yet remove it we must," said Saruman. He took the broken end of the shaft in his hand like the hilt of a sword and placed his other upon the elf's sternum, and Elrond had only time to close his eyes and make hands into fists before Saruman gave a mighty twist and wrenched at the arrow.
The arrow did not come free; the action only renewed the flow of blood. To Gandalf's everlasting wonder, Elrond did not cry out. Saruman repositioned and twisted the thing at a different angle; a spasm moved the elf's body and Gandalf once again put his hand to the pallid face to give what comfort he could. The arrow was still stubborn, however, and after another twist and tug Gandalf could see that pain was taking its toll; Elrond's mind had been sent drifting. Maybe that was not so bad.
A heated snarl left Saruman's lips and his next wrench was very savage. Gandalf heard the crack of a rib fracturing and one of the tines finally emerged, bloody. The white wizard saw this and with one last tug drew the thing finally from the elf's chest. A thin, quivering strand of crimson stretched from its tip to the wound, sagged, and finally snapped to drop onto Elrond's darkened tunic.
"That was none too gentle, my friend," said Gandalf, relieved that the arrow was finally out but sickened by the process.
"Some things," panted Saruman, "cannot be so." He turned aside to lay the arrow down and accept a rag from Caree to wipe the blood from his hands.
"It is done, Lord Elrond," Gandalf said, and waited for a reaction. The ability of elves to withstand considerable pain was well-known to Gandalf, and so to see that pain had stricken Elrond from awareness was unsettling. The elf twisted slightly, teeth on edge, still caught in the aftershocks. He gave no sign of having heard Gandalf. His breath came hitched. "It is uphill from here," he tried again, though looking at the crater in the elf's ribcage, it would be no picnic of a hike. Elrond lay more still and his hands fell to the sides as Caree came forward again with a bowl of fire-warmed water and rags. His eyes did not open.
"Lord Elrond," said Gandalf again.
I live, the tired voice responded, finally, and from a distance. Let that be well enough for now. The elf sounded stretched, so Gandalf fell silent and leant his mind and hands to the task of damage repair. Saruman had left the tent after having done what Gandalf had feared to do. The arrowhead lay on the ground where it had been cast.
Outside, the woman still cried, though quieter now. With her grief in the background they cut away the ruined tunic and wiped blood from skin. The ribs were deemed fractured but not broken. Gandalf assured Caree that, as Elrond was an elf, the internal injuries that looked so ghastly right now would soon become less dire and there was no measure they could take to speed the process more, besides cleaning the torn area and covering it with gauze, if only to keep the blankets they placed over him from becoming soiled with blood.
Quick hours after Gandalf had bid Caree to retire for rest, during which the woman outside had finally fallen silent, the sun was approaching the eastern horizon and the tent was filled with the dim light of dawn's blue hour. Gandalf stifled the urge to take out his pipe-weed and instead whiled the time away pondering. The movements of orcs and goblins. His strange mistrust of Saruman before they had taken flight the night before, and his turn-about with allowing Saruman to, against Elrond's wishes, deal with the arrow. The mistrust between these two Wise. The veiled fates yet unfurled within the elf. The awful mountain Caradhras, and how though they'd left its shadow far behind, part of its darkness had clung to Elrond's aura. And how soundly the elf's words had struck him the night before, after Gandalf had reminded him not to give up.
He could not understand what lay between Saruman and Elrond. He was missing something.
These thoughts clicked against each other like marbles in his mind. He turned them over and over, yet he could not make them into pearls. Cold mysteries for a cold morning.
Elrond had not stirred, and neither had any of the other inhabitants under the tent. One stirred from outside, though. One of the humans shifted around in the morning cold and left their blankets. They made their way slowly to the tent Gandalf was watching over, trying ever so hard not to make a noise, and then tripping over a guy-line before poking his head into the flap. The boy startled to see Gandalf awake and watching with amusement.
"Come in," Gandalf said. The boy entered. This was Bezhég, the awkward, lanky young man who had gone missing last night with poor Mishke. His wild blonde hair was barely contained beneath a woolen cap. He had scratches on his face and a bandage wrapped about his wrist and he was limping somewhat, but his cheeks glowed and his eyes were bright, and sad.
"Sit," Gandalf requested, trying to keep his smile in check. The boy sat. "What troubles you at this hour of the morning?"
"Young man, you are the very picture of one troubled." Bezhég's face fell. Many thoughts crowded to be said – or confessed. He looked at the prone form of the elf, how grey his face was, and the boy's eyes bugged out a little.
"Is Lord Elrond going to live?" was his first question, and his voice cracked. The easiest of all that he wanted to say, no doubt.
"Elrond is quite alright."
"Good," he exclaimed with obvious relief.
A silence. Gandalf waited.
"B-because if he'd died I would have felt really bad."
"As we all would have."
"I mean me especially. If… If we hadn't gone out there in the first place…"
"They probably still would have come."
"But they would have come to the camp. You would have been there to protect us."
"True," said Gandalf. He wished now very much for some pipe-weed, but still he only sat, watching the shadows cast by the torch dance on the bodies of those in the tent. "Have you slept any this night, Bezhég? Or have you stayed up wrapping yourself in guilt?" The boy didn't answer. "What happened is the fault of nobody, only the tragic joining of circumstance." Gandalf didn't completely agree with what he'd just said but troubling the boy further would do no good.
"It's my fault Mishke is dead," he finally sighed, and a little sob sprang unbidden from his lips. This wouldn't do, and the boy clamped his lips shut in denial.
"If fault will be placed upon anybody," Gandalf said, "you may share the burden with Mishke, who agreed to accompany you into the night, and with your people, who paid no attention to your whereabouts. And with Elrond, who was to guide you safely to Isengard without incident."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better."
"I'm saying that to show you the folly in your thoughts. You must understand that no action is without consequence, and nothing takes place by itself. You may as well blame Durin's Bane itself for preparing such a mountain to host beasts such as goblins and orcs. Blame Durin the Deathless for founding the blasted place. Blame must then be flung far and wide, must it not, to account for all the forces that came together for this tragedy to occur. Blame Morgoth, if you want, for it was he who supposedly raised the mountains into being in the first place."
"Melkor…" rasped a voice and both Gandalf and Bezhég turned in surprise.
"Lord Elrond?" asked the boy. The elf's eyes were still closed and he hadn't moved any, but now he drew a small breath.
"It was Melkor, not Morgoth," he said, though his quiet rasp was not easy to catch. Bezhég looked visibly relieved to see Elrond awake. Gandalf, who had known Elrond had been awake but in a state of meditation, was merely slightly irritated.
"My dear crippled friend, they are one in the same," he huffed
"You disregard his fall from on high…" said Elrond quietly and now opened his eyes to glare at his friend. "Is an egg no different than an eagle?… Or a slain eagle no different from the earth upon which she falls?"
Gandalf, realizing Elrond's intention, smiled and shifted his gaze to the boy, who looked utterly perplexed. Possibly too perplexed, and too intimidated in the presence of two of the so-called 'Wise', to think straight. The wizard took pity.
"What Elrond is trying to say, my boy, if I may decipher his cryptic and no doubt fatigue-induced rambling for you, is that, in a word, you may either believe that everything is everything, or..." He stopped as he realized that no doubt these words made as much sense to the boy as Elrond's had.
"Are pickles no different than cucumbers?" Elrond continued.
"Quiet, Lord Elrond, you confuse the lad."
"A joint effort," the elf murmured. Elrond closed his eyes again and fell silent, a poorly concealed smile upon his lips.
"Really, my lad," tried Gandalf again, "what we would both have you understand is that we don't wish you to let these happenings weigh your heart. Grow from them and the world that now seems widdershins will reveal itself to you as a swift and resolute cycle. Though my words may mean little to you now, you'd do well to remember them, and come back to them."
Admirably, the lad's eyebrows knit together as he thought, committing the words to memory. Perhaps there was hope for the boy after all, thought Gandalf. Perhaps someday those words would come back to save him. Perhaps someday he will find that the words of the wise were sometimes simply the ramblings of the moment.
"Lord Elrond?" he ventured, voice small.
"Yes, Bezhég," was the equally small answer.
"Thank you for saving my life." Elrond's eyes opened, and all amusement had left them. He struggled once again to sit up, and Gandalf replaced the mass of blankets that had propped him up before. Gandalf did not think he should be shifting so soon, and the elf closed his eyes and took a shaky breath before reopening them and speaking.
"Your gratitude warms my heart," he started. "Please remember that it is not a heroic act to save another's life. It is simply a necessary action for one who wishes to be worthy of their own." He held the young man's gaze for a moment before closing his eyes again. The boy wanted to say something more but thought better of it. Instead he reached forward and set something on the blanket on top of Elrond's middle. The elf slowly picked the object up. It was the size of a chestnut, and had a leather cord looped through it.
"I carved that last night," the boy said, and the words almost tripped on themselves on their way out of his mouth. "It's supposed to be a bezhég leaf, from the Ettenmoor." The lad was blushing furiously now, possibly because he had dared to give a crude carving to an elf, when elves were renowned for such skills. "I-I figured… I'm… if you ever need anything… I'll help. If I can." He furiously scratched the front of his forehead, which conveniently hid his face from the gaze of the elf and the wizard.
Gandalf looked sideways at Elrond, who was observing the leaf carving on the cord with a look of true awe in his eyes. His smile then – not in mere amusement – was genuine. Small, but without a doubt true. He looked to Bezhég.
"Thank you. Thank you very much. This is beautiful craftsmanship." And he meant it, too. The lad fairly glowed. "I'll keep it near," he continued, and put the loop of cord around his wrist. Bezhég bowed his head and stood, bowed again, and abruptly left the tent. Gandalf raised his eyebrows at the exit, and looked to Elrond.
"He is crying now," Elrond said sadly, listening.
"Crying is better than being afraid to cry."
Elrond looked up from the carved leaf around his wrist and watched the wizard. Gandalf listened to the outside world while he waited for the elf to say something. People were starting to wake up. They would probably wonder if they were staying put or if they would move. Gandalf himself didn't know that; he would discuss the matter with Saruman when he came into the tent to check on Elrond, which would probably be quite soon.
"Thank you for riding with me last night," the elf finally said. "And thank you for sitting with me."
"Oh, it was nothing. I didn't do much, just kept you atop the horse. I couldn't even bring myself to remove the arrow." A shadow crossed over Elrond's face and Gandalf almost regretted bring up the subject, but now was a good time, now while Saruman wasn't there. "I'm sorry I could not fulfill your request to pull it out myself. But why, Elrond, and I have stayed up pondering this, why are you so cold towards Saruman?"
"He is cold towards me as well."
"You do not answer my question."
"And I will not." Gandalf looked at Elrond in question. "I cannot," the elf added. Then, finally, "I do not know yet. I cannot place my worry. I know not where it comes from."
"What do you know, friend?"
"I know that I am afraid for the White Council under Saruman's leadership," he sighed. "He sires much dissent amongst us." Gandalf raised his eyebrows, the words ringing familiar. The elf looked as if he would continue but instead bit back his words and let out a breath that shook, fatigue weighing his eyelids closed.
Surely dissent amongst the White Council was not the cause of the fear Gandalf had seen in Elrond's eyes when Saruman had prepared to remove the arrow. Something else was going on. Perhaps they would yet visit Lórien after recovering in Isengard, and there he would observe the interactions between the other members, and Elrond, and Saruman. Perhaps something would come to light. Perhaps it would become evident that Elrond and Saruman were, despite their sagacity, as likely to want to mix as water and fire, and their rift was nothing more than a natural repulsion, which, though rarer than most would believe, did occur now and again.
He let out a quiet guffaw. Wise. Such words they used for one another. Would that Elrond could spend the rest of his days in bliss under the safe canopy of Imladris with his wife and children. Would that Celeborn and Galadriel could lay under the great Mellyrn trees of Lórien and dream unbroken with the stars for the rest of ages. Would that Gandalf himself could while away his time left in Middle Earth at peace with his pipe-weed, sitting on a mossy stump and noting the white mischief of the hobbit folk and the dappled hides of spring fawns. And Saruman…
And what of Saruman?
A/N: LE END. We promises that the next one-shot will be considerably shorter.
Blooper for 'Heavy':
Not long after Bezhég has made his leave of the medical tent…
Gandalf: "You do not answer my question."
Elrond: "And I will not… I cannot… I do not know yet. I cannot place my worry. I know not where it comes from."
Gandalf: "What do you know, friend?"
Elrond: "That… *long pause*… pickles are funny."
Elrond: "There is no denying that pickles are inherently funny. Sorry, what are my lines again?"