Just a tiny bit early as I will be out and about tomorrow...lucky all of you!
It was indeed many more days of travel before the buildings of Imladris shown through the trees and the haunting, beautiful, and melodious singing of the elves could be heard brightening the air. The journey had not been too difficult, with the minor exception of the torrential rain that fell on the second day out of Bree.
The day had begun well enough, if a bit on the overcast side. The four travellers broke their fast with some leftover game meat and a bit of travel bread, then saddled and mounted their horses: Gildor having Gîltass ride with him on his tall grey mount, and Arador riding with Marcaunon on his brown steed. The entire time, there was a sense of urgency about Gildor, who had taken the night watch stating that he had no need for true slumber until they reached Imladris. Gildor had hurried them through breakfast, only taking the time for a mouthful of bread before seeing to the saddling of the mounts. As he did so, he would occasionally cock his head to the side and pause in his actions as he looked up through the leaves that moved in a heavy breeze, before shaking his head and going back to what he was doing. Once they were mounted and moving, Gildor finally gave voice to his unusual actions.
"It seems that we will be travelling in foul weather today. The air is laden with moisture and the winds are turning violent in the treetops. I would wish to get as far down the road as possible before the upcoming storm renders such travel impractical. If naught else," Gildor continued on with. "I have no desire to ride out a storm under the heavy boughs of the forest lest they come crashing down on our heads. Perhaps we will be able to reach the shelter of Amon Sûl before the weather turns too foul, as the hill is only a half's day ride from here. Although uncomfortable, as it promises no true shelter, it would be by far the safer option as there are no great trees near it and the dells below would offer somewhat of a barrier from the winds."
"Indeed, Weathertop is our most promising destination" Arador agreed, twisting slightly as he reached behind him and retrieved a bundle of fabric that, after a bit of shaking out, revealed itself to be a pair of cloaks, one being much larger than the other. "I had hoped to avoid such a storm, 'though this is the season for them. Such is our luck apparently."
He did not say a further word as he swung his cloak over himself and fastened it securely, Gildor doing the same with his own cloak, both adults ensuring that the elflings were also well covered, both in their own smaller cloaks, as well as seeing to it that the younglings were enclosed by the much larger cloaks of the adults seated behind the small bodies.
It was just as well that they did so, as the winds that had been seemingly content with playing amongst the top most boughs, began to pick up shortly after that, sending heavy gusts whipping down the East-West Road. At first the gusts, while fierce, were sporadic, but as they rode, the winds increasingly blew from behind them. Arador felt Marcaunon stiffen slightly in his arms, then heard, although very faintly to his less sensitive hearing, a low rolling rumble of thunder in the distance. A gust of wind followed right after, but this gust felt as though it had come from the depths of winter: laden with cold and the promise of ice.
The trees surrounding them had been creaking and groaning out their protests at the harsh treatment the wind was giving them, but Arador now heard the alarming sounds of branches being shaken loose and crashing downwards. He gave his mount a slight nudge, urging it to go from a fast walk to a trot, the shivering and tiny whimpers of distress his charge was giving off encouraging his decision. For while he had no desire to risk straining his mount as cold, unstretched muscles might do to it, they had been walking long enough that he felt confident a trot would not be that much of a risk in the face of the storm that was baring down on their necks. Gildor obviously agreed with his decision, as the elf said not a word against the increase in speed, but instead spurred his mount up alongside.
Arador grabbed his precious charge tightly and hunched over him when the promise the wind had of ice came true in the form of hail that burst without warning from the dark, turbulent clouds peaking through the tossing, overhead boughs. He winced at the feeling of the hard ice pelting against his back, trying his hardest to ignore the loud cries of fear from Marcaunon, who was clutching his arm and convulsively tightening his tiny fingers around it every time Arador grunted from the sting of an impact. He was only grateful that the hail was neither as large as he had ever seen and that the leaf-laden branches overhead provided some form of protection.
And then, just as suddenly as it had started, the hail ceased its merciless assault.
Arador was cautiously straightening up when a bright flash tore through the sky, followed shortly afterwards by a deep, rumbling growl. He turned to Gildor, only to see Gildor turning towards him. Both nodded decisively at one another, then each turned their full attention back to their respective mounts and charges.
"Hold one, dear one," Arador harshly whispered. "This is going to be a bit of a rough ride, but we must reach some form of shelter as quickly as possible."
He felt a tiny head nodding frantically against his chest. Taking that as agreement that Marcaunon clearly heard him and understood, Arador kicked hard into steed's sides, sending it into a gallop down the road. Hoping against hope that the road would open up to the tors that surrounded Weathertop before the main part of the storm fell upon them. All around them, as they rode at breakneck speeds, heavy branches crashed down and the wind began to howl, stirring up the bits of dust that the hail hadn't smothered and sending it to swirl and dance in the air alongside leaves and twigs. Flashes of lightning would break the darkness and gloom imposed upon them by the storm, deep crackles of thunder would soon follow, easily heard over the wind and branches and loud hoof beats.
A massive branch was flung to earth on the trail before them, only just missing Gildor as he raced on his fine elven bred steed before Arador, the elf barely having enough time to jump over the obstacle. Arador's only option to spur his horse onward, although he had enough of a warning to cue his mount, allowing him to feel the beast's muscles tense and bunch before a great lurch and a sensation of falling before, once again, they were on the ground and racing onwards. Arador was beginning to despair of reaching the safety the openess of the tors would provide when the trees began to thin, then vanish from sight entirely on his left hand side, leaving the road to wind its way through the low hills and dells, with only the occasional stand of dense trees, of the Weather Hills and the old forest on the right.
Arador could feel the relief spread throughout his body, leaving a feeling of lightness behind. It was only a matter of minutes from here to reach Weathertop. A heavy, dull roaring, faintly heard over the near continuous thunder and harsh winds, broke his hope of reaching safety before the heart of the storm reached them. Sparing a precious second, Arador quickly shot a glance over his shoulder and saw a heavy, dark curtain of rain chasing them down. He brought his focus back up front and braced himself, knowing that the rain would reach him before they could reach their destination.
And he was correct as he had only a brief warning of a few scattered, icy cold drops before the main body of rain poured over him, drenching him and leaving him completely cold and wet in less than a minute. Gasping in shock at the water's temperature, Arador could only give thanks that both Marcaunon and Gîltass were being somewhat sheltered by himself and Gildor as well as their own cloaks. Hopefully the little ones would not receive too much of a chill; for, even though they were of the heartier blood of an elf, Marcaunon and Gîltass were still only younglings and thus were more prone to taking harm from the elements than their older brethren.
Arador reined in his mount somewhat after the rain curtain had roared past. He may have wished to arrive sooner, but the rain, coupled with the dark sky, had seriously curtailed his vision and he had no wish to ride full speed into an injury. There for it took several minutes of plodding along in the deluge before he could make out the towering hill that was Weathertop. Sighing in relief, Arador turned off of the East-West road and road into the shadow of the tall hill, looking for the particular dell that numerous Dúnedain and their elven compatriots had used over the many long years.
He steered his wet, weary mount over the dips and swells, and through the scraggly underbrush, until he finally reached the low trees and gentle bowl that signaled his arrival at the familiar camp. Letting out a sigh of relief, Arador basked in the cessation of heavy rain and wind that the meager shelter provided as it toned the weather down to a somewhat more managable level of misery. Straightening in his saddle, it wasn't all that much of a surprise to see that Gildor and Gîltass had beaten Marcaunon and himself here. The elf had the superior mount, not to mention the far better senses.
Not bothering to halt his mount's placid trudging, Arador simply swung a leg over and simply dismounted on the move, taking care to keep Marcaunon in his arms as he did so. Once on the ground, it was a short, simple matter to lead his horse over to where Gildor's horse stood and tie him up alongside, making sure to leave enough slack so that if the horse desired, he would be able to graze a bit while they waited out the storm. Arador then moved across the small dell, seeking out the crude lean-to where he was sure to find his other two travelling companions.
Sure enough, after he had encouraged Marcaunon inside of the rough shelter and followed immediately after, he found Gildor holding tightly to a small, well-bundled lump as he sat on the ground.
"Marcaunon, please come over here," Gildor calmly asked, raising his voice just enough to be heard over the elements. "I have no need for my cloak as an aid to keep warm, so it will be better served to wrap up two elflings."
Marcaunon wasted no time and scrambled across what little space separated them, whimpering loudly every time a loud crack of thunder was heard overhead. Gildor simply opened a fold in the fabric, revealing Gîltass's huddled form to the very obviously unhappy elfling. Marcaunon wrapped his tiny arms tightly around Gîltass and tried to burrow into the other. Gildor simply shook his head as he re-covered the two. Bending his head down to ensure that he was heard over the raging forces of nature surrounding them, Gildor began to sing a quiet, elven lullaby, rocking carefully as he did so.
Arador only listened with half an ear, trusting completely in Gildor as he cared for the twosome. The rest of his attention was given over to the storm, with a small part of his mind drawn against his will to the heavy, sodden clothing that was rapidly chilling his already cold body. Several quick sneezes burst from him in rapid succession.
"Your pardon," Arador smiled sheepishly, the back of his hand held up against his nose. "I should not be surprised given the condition I find myself in, but I must confess, I had not thought that it would start quite so soon."
They had ended up spending the entire rest of the day huddled in the lean-to, trying to ignore the leaks and the cold drafts. The storm had raged for the entire rest of the day, only petering out sometime in the night. After a bit of discussion between the two adults, an extra day was spent in the dell, trying to dry out as much gear as they were able and giving thanks for the elven made packs that they traveled with, as not much in them had gotten wet. The horses were also scrutinized to ensure that no harm came to them from the hard riding, then having to stand around in the cold rain with no proper shelter for them. Gildor felt that their muscles were perhaps a bit tighter than would normally be acceptable, but they had no hot spots indicating true damage. If they kept to an easy pace for the next several days, there would be no risk of permanent injury to the mounts.
And so that was what they did. It added on several days to their travel time, but not only was it better for the steeds, it was also easier on Arador. The Ranger had come down with a chest cold, according to Gildor, and so any heavy exertion had him gasping and wheezing for breath. The leisurely pace also stood in good stead for the elflings, who were worn out from the trauma of the cold winds and rains. Marcaunon also had been somewhat traumatized by the loud, staccato cracks of thunder, admitting to the adults that the noise hurt his ears and frightened him.
It was with no little relief that Gildor and Arador finally rode across the Bruinen Ford that marked the border to Imladris on the West. As they splashed through the shallow waters, both adults knew that they out watchers had spotted them, and the tiny cloaked bundles seated before them, and sent word onwards. Gildor was grateful for that: it meant that there would be someone ready to meet them at the gates who would take their mounts and see to their care, someone else would see to it that the packs were taken to the appropriate rooms, and someone would be there to escort them to Elrond, or Erestor if the Lord was otherwise occupied.
Gildor smiled slightly, looking forward greatly to the shock and wonder that would accompany the revealing of just who was under the cloaks. As they rode, the valley gradually opened up and allowed the riders glimpses of the buildings before they turned the last corner and there was Imladris in all of its undying glory. It was a truly breathtaking sight with the graceful arches everywhere open to the the seasons. The larger buildings blended in well to the surrounding nature with trees encouraged to grow alongside the structures. A covered, open-aired walkway allowed for passage between two of the buildings, tall stone arches supporting its weight over the river passing beneath that cascaded out and into the rest of the valley, 'til it was shallow enough to cross at the Ford.
Gildor relaxed as he heard the singing wafting throughout the early dusk and he savored the sweet, cool air as they rode over the narrow, stone arch bridge with the waters of the Bruinen raging underneath. He could not stop himself from humming faintly along to the familiar tunes as the tension he was under gradually lifted from him. They had finally arrived and the knowledge that they had done so safely with the precious treasures he and Arador had found was almost too much.
As they rode through the open gates and over to the stables, Gildor knew that he would have to find something active to do that would release the remaining bits of tension that being on alert for days on end had done to him. Perhaps he could find Glorfindel and persuade the other into a spar. Getting thrashed over the training grounds would certainly assist in dissipating the state of alertness he found himself laboring under.
He was drawn from his wandering thoughts when his mount halted. Looking up and glancing around, Gildor was pleased to note that the expected aid was already busy. As he dismounted, he lifted Marcaunon, who had chosen to ride with him that morning, before letting his steed be led off. Settling Marcaunon better in his arms, he could feel one tiny hand fist itself tightly into the fabric of his tunic and the other little hand slide upwards against his chest until it came to rest level with Marcaunon's face. Looking downwards, Gildor was able to catch a glimpse of the tiny elfling's delicate face. Marcaunon's eyes were drooping heavily and his thumb had once again found it's way past the soft petal-pink lips.
"'M tired," Marcaunon lisped around the digit, even as he snuggled in tighter against Gildor's muscled chest.
"Shh...I know sweet one," Gildor softly whispered as he gently rubbed a hand up and down the sleepy elfling's back. "Please hold on just a few moments longer."
Gildor then re-adjusted the cloak's hood so that the tiny face was completely covered. He felt the delicate body in his arms relax further as it became darker and could hear the faint breathing begin to even out and slow down. Resigned to the fact that Marcaunon was going to at least take a bit of a nap in his arms, Gildor merely tightened his grip and began to look around to see who had come to escort them.
A harsh, wet cough interrupted his scan of the courtyard. Turning to look worriedly over his shoulder, he wasn't surprised to see that Arador had curled his body around Gîltass, holding the child tightly in his arms even as his head was turned sharply to the side as yet another coughing fit burst from him.
"That, perhaps, is what we should see to first. Do you not agree?" announced the wry sounding voice that Gildor easily recognized as belonging to Erestor.
"Indeed. That would be my choice, as well," Gildor stated, turning back around.
"Come then, I will take you to where you may be healed. We may discuss more once we are there and Arador's comfort has been seen too."
Gildor and Arador strode off behind the dark haired, slender, and slightly short elf who had wasted no more time talking as he turned and immediately walked away. As they moved along the paths, Gildor and Arador both took care with their charges, ensuring that the fabric that enveloped them did not catch any breezes and flap open, revealing the tiny bodies to all and sundry. Gildor knew that all who lived here would treat the babes as the precious treasures that they were, but to reveal them before Lord Elrond had been informed that the Valar had returned a part of his family to him just wouldn't do.
Erestor could freely admit, as he led the two returning scouts towards the healing rooms, that his curiosity was burning fiercely within him. He was able to draw several logical conclusions from his brief, but thorough, visual exam that he did as he drew up to the two. Neither male had any wounds marring their bodies, that was readily apparent from just seeing them and how they moved. It was also easy to tell that they had no sense of alarm or concern about them from what they had been sent out to scout, instead both were acting normal and indicating that there was naught to be concerned over. The last observations that Erestor had noted were that both males were clutching the bundles of coarsely woven fabric within their arms as though each bundle contained one of the Silmarils. Also there was an air of immense joy and happiness about the two, and Gildor even had a hint of a smile toying about his mouth before Arador's coughing fit.
These small clues occupied his mind and teased him all the way to the healing rooms. Once there, he was going to lead the group into the first room, but Gildor held up a hand halting him. Looking at him in silent inquiry, Erestor was quickly given an answer.
"The lesser room at the end of the hallway would be better for this so that we may deliver our report with out any chance of someone overhearing us," Gildor quietly responded. "We have no bad news to deliver, but what we do have to say is sensitive, none the less. Also, while you would certainly be welcome to sit in on our report, no lesser healer would be welcome other than Lord Elrond as our finds concern him personally."
"Very well," Erestor replied, pulling back his hand from the door he was planning on opening and instead striding to the end of the hallway where a more private room was situated. It was the only room that did not have a window within the room as there were the occasional times where someone was wounded badly enough that the healers wished to keep the patient out of all drafts. Once the patient was heathy enough, they would then be moved out of that room and into one of the others that would give them natural light and fresh air to aid in their recovery.
Erestor opened the door and waved the two inside with a graceful gesture of his hands before pulling the door short after them as he went to find Elrond. On his way out of the hallway, he found one of the other healers and informed her that while there was indeed a patient waiting to be attended to, Lord Elrond had been requested, halting her from entering the room and finding out whatever it was that the two were keeping secret for now.
Once the door had closed behind them, Arador set his burden down on the foot of the bed and promptly sat himself down near the head, not wanting to find out what Elrond would do if his patient had the termity to think himself well enough to stand around waiting for him. As he watched, Gîltass squirmed his way out of the hooded cloak, then slid to the floor and began to explore the nearly empty and completely clean space after getting an encouraging nod and smile from Gildor.
Gildor began to unwrap his own bundle, swaying gently and humming slightly as he did so. Once Marcaunon had been uncovered, Arador could clearly see why the elf was doing what he was as the littlest elfling was clearly asleep, his mouth suckling around a tiny thumb and his cheeks flushed rosily with his hair a riotous mass of dark curls that went every which way. Gildor began to gently run his long fingers through those dark curls, letting the cloak fall to the floor without a care.
A quiet giggle drew the adults attention away from the sleeping toddler and back to the active child that was exploring the room. Not seeing the one that made the noise anywhere from where he stood, Gildor moved to the other side of the bed where a bit of movement near the floor caught his attention. Looking downwards, Gildor could see the bed linens swinging slightly.
"Are you under the bed little one?" Gildor asked.
"Yep!" came the proud, but muffled, response.
"May I ask why?"
Before the child could give any answer beyond that of a fit of giggling, the door swung open and Elrond entered the room, closely followed by Erestor, who bore the supplies needed by Elrond to treat what he had been told was a wet, hacking cough. Hearing the childish giggles tinkling brightly in the room caused both arrivals to halt abruptly just inside of the door with a look of shock on their normally composed features before both regained control over themselves once again. Elrond quickly strode forward while Erestor ensured that the carved and inlayed, wooden door was securely shut behind them.
As he strode forward, Elrond could not tear his eyes away from what Gildor's arms held once the scout had turned to face the entrance way and thus revealed what he was holding. Coming even with the blond elf, Elrond reached out a cautious hand and gently, hesitantly traced over the tiny, delicate features of the child sleeping safely in Gildor's arms. Elrond ghosted his fingers over the high cheekbones, down the bridge of the button nose, up and over the fine arch of the eyebrows, and finally allowed himself to touch the tips of the pointed ears that were sticking out of a mess of dark curls.
"How?" Elrond quietly gave voice to the question burning fiercely within him.
"That is quite a story," Gildor was equally quiet in his response. "And a rather long one. One that Arador and I will happily relay to the both of you while seeing to Arador's treatment.
"But first," Gildor gave a faint smile, "allow me the honor and privilege of introducing to you the foundlings Gîltass and Marcaunon, descended in the right line from the House of Thingol, King of Doriath and High King of the Sindar by means of his son and Heir, Dior Eluchîl. Marcaunon is the one sleeping in my arms and Gîltass is the one hiding under the bed for some unknown reason."
"Two elflings? And descended from Dior Eluchîl? But that could only be by one of my mother's lost brothers, Eluréd or Elurín!" Elrond was reeling from shock and so gracefully collasped on the bed behind him, still looking up at Gildor and the impossibility sleeping so peacefully in his arms.
A small hand patting his knee drew his attention downward where he saw a child with equally dark, wavy hair and silvery-grey eyes smiling cheekily at him with the same signs of mischief about him as his own twin sons showed. Letting out a huff, Elrond reached down and lifted the child onto his lap.
"As Gildor said, it is a long story," piped up the child currently seated on his lap.
"Well then," Elrond said as he carefully lifted Gîltass off of his lap and placed him on the bed beside him, thus freeing himself and allowing him to rise up. "Perhaps, if you would all be so kind, you might begin the story and enlighten me as to how this came to be while I see to the needs of our friend, Arador, here."
Elrond waved Erestor over from where he was standing with his back firmly against the door then began his check over of the ill Ranger as Gildor started his tale with how they had cautiously approached a small fire burning in the wilderness where no fire should have been.
And again and as always, thanks to those who've been following along with my story. I deeply appreciate all the reviews I've received as well.