Standard Bearer, The
18. Stay With Me!
“I know, Elrond.” Gil busied herself collecting the papers she would need. “Nor do I like doing it.”
“Then why must you?”
“We have been through this.” She sighed exasperatedly. “There is a spy in the camp. It is the only explanation for the Enemy’s unerring ability to attack us at our weakest points. This prisoner may hold vital information, and he must be interrogated.”
“But why are you taking this one personally,” His voice was annoyed, almost petulant, “instead of leaving it to the orderlies as before?”
“Because firstly, I cannot always ask them to do a task which I myself will not undertake, and secondly,” her face was grim, “given where Lord Brithiar picked him up, he is quite likely to have the information that we need.”
He came up behind her, sliding his arms about her waist. “You are a very stubborn woman!”
“We have been through that also.” She smiled, twisting her head to look up at him.
“Is Anárion bringing the prisoner here?”
“Yes, a room has been prepared.” She looked troubled for a moment, then straightened, and turned to face him, “Will you be here?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “Or next door with the others.”
“I hope I shall not have to be too long.”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead, and she turned and called for her assistant.
The youth ducked awkwardly under the lintel, his long limbs gangling, the fringe of dark hair falling into eyes now higher than her own.
“Are we ready, my lady?”
“Yes, Mardil.” She gave him the papers to carry, picked up her cloak and led the way out the door.
The room was dark. The only light from the lamp on the table. The prisoner was seated in a chair, hands and feet bound, a cloth gag twisted into his mouth. Lord Brithiar and Sergeant Gillow had been assigned by Anárion to oversee his custody, and they stood in the shadows looking on. Gil sat in a chair on the opposite side of the table to the captive, Mardil at her shoulder.
The prisoner was a man. His age probably not much more than her own. His face was gaunt and his eyes dark with a haunted depth.
She stared intently at him, without speaking, for a long while. The man’s eyes shifted and roamed. She motioned silently to Brith to remove his gag. He gasped, moving his mouth and tongue with relief.
“What is your name?” her voice was expressionless.
He tried to speak but succeeded only in giving a dry gasp. He coughed, harshly, “Water,” he rasped.
She motioned to Mardil, and he placed a cup of water in front of her. The man eyed it greedily, lifting his hands, bound together at the wrist, towards it.
She sat perfectly still. Forcing herself not to feel anything, not to show anything. After a little time he dropped his hands listlessly to the table and his head drooped. She pushed the cup over to him.
He hesitated before taking it, looking up at her for permission. By the stars, how she hated this. She nodded curtly. He grasped the cup and drank thirstily, draining it quickly.
She waited until he had lowered the cup, cradling it between his two hands.
“What is your name?”
He looked down at the table, twisting the cup awkwardly, his face writhing with indecision.
‘He looks so thin,’ she thought, ‘their food must be getting very low.’
“Please.” His voice was tortured, “Please, may I have some more water.”
She hardened her ears to his plea. “What is your name?”
He looked down again, his mouth moving silently.
He whispered again, and she leaned forward to catch the words.
He struck out, the slim knife awkward but firm between his two hands. The blade entered her left shoulder, lodging there. She leapt up and back, crying out sharply in pain and surprise, knocking over her chair. Dark blood soaked into her tunic.
Brith was instantly in motion, his sword flashing, felling the assassin.
Mardil flew to her side, concern naked on his young face.
“It’s alright,” she gasped, “It’s only in the shoulder, it.....” She frowned and stumbled, reeling. Her breath rasped and she fell heavily to the floor, twitching.
“Poison!” shouted Gillow, kneeling beside her and tugging out the blade. Blood spilled slowly after it. Mardil sprinted for the door.
“What can we do?” asked Brith intensely, wiping his weapon and sheathing it quickly.
Gil’s limbs trembled, sweat broke out on her skin, her breathing harsh.
“I don’t know!” Gillow’s voice was frantic.
Elrond burst into the room, followed by her page, and pushing Brith out of the way, dropped to his knees beside her.
“Gil!” He took her in his arms.
Her breath was fast and ragged, her skin clammy and her body racked with an awful shuddering. “Where’s the knife?” he cried.
Gillow held it out to him.
He took it and held it to his nostrils. “Wolfbane!” He flung it away.
Her breath was weaker now. “So cold,” she rasped, shaking uncontrollably, skin ashen and lips dry.
Mardil thrust a cloak at him, and Elrond wrapped it round her.
“Stay with me!” He clasped a hand to her face, his eyes intent on hers.
Her pupils were dark and dilated in the lamplight.
Halmir appeared by his side, Elrond’s casket of medicines in his hands.
“Oneberry.” The Elf-Lord’s voice was urgent, “A single pinch, in wine.”
Her eyes glazed, and a look of great fear came over her face, “My love...” a scraping whisper, “The shadow....It is upon me...”
“No!” he cried, clutching her, “Stay with me!”
Her breath gurgled out, slowing, fading.
“Breathe!” he cried, a look of anguish on his face, but no sound passed her lips. He drew back his hand and the sound of the blow against her face shocked the small room. “Breathe!” he commanded. With a terrible rattling groan she fought to drag in a breath.
Halmir held out a cup to Elrond, and taking it, he pressed it to her lips.
“Drink, my love.” He whispered to her. “Drink and stay with me.”
She swallowed, gagging and choking, the red liquid spilling over her lips and down her neck.
Almost immediately her breathing eased and her body stilled. The warmth began to return to her skin. Gently he wiped her face with the edge of the cloak. Her eyes cleared, focusing on him briefly, “Elrond,” she murmured, before drifting into a deep sleep. He sighed aloud with relief and rocked her in his arms. Beside him Mardil was weeping openly, Gillow’s arm about his shoulders.
Gildinwen had never thought that she would find her cramped room welcoming, but after three weeks in the hospital it felt surprisingly good to be back.
Elrond solicitously helped her off with her cloak. The wound to her shoulder was healing but stiff. The arm would never be as it was. She sat on the bed with a slow sigh. “Well,” she looked around, smiling though her face was thin, shadows dark beneath the eyes, “this almost feels like coming home.”
“Is that so surprising?” asked Elrond, pouring a cup of wine for her, “You have lived here for six years.”
She looked up at him with dismay, “No, surely it cannot be so long as that?”
He smiled his confirmation as he handed her the wine.
She shook her head disbelievingly, “It is just as well we did not know that when we first came here, we would never have believed it possible to survive so long in this forsaken place.”
He settled himself in the chair opposite her, stretching out his long legs, and cradling his cup in his hands. “I could never have done it without you.” His voice was soft, and his eyes tender.
She smiled at him, a little sadly. “Nor I you.”
He frowned, “You look tired, my love. Are you sure you are up to this evening? I am certain Lord Gil-galad will understand if you do not feel like attending.”
“I am fine,” her voice was adamant. “Some music and storytelling are just what I need.” She patted her flanks where her tunic now hung loose, “Not to mention some good food. Besides,” her eyes shone with anticipation, “I have not forgotten that you promised to play tonight if I was well enough to come.”
Numerous guests were crowded into Gil-galad’s council chamber, and many friendly faces greeted Gil when she entered.
“Welcome, Lady Gildinwen,” Lord Gil-galad’s voice was formal but there was no mistaking the warmth in it. “I am most pleased that you are among us again.”
“Thank you, my Lord.” She bowed, “It is good to be back.”
A soft touch on her arm announced Anárion, his face troubled. “I am indeed glad that you have returned, and wish to say how sorry I am for what happened.”
“Why should you be sorry, my lord?” she frowned, confused.
“It was my men who had charge of that prisoner, it was my responsibility to protect you and I failed.”
“Nay, my lord.” She spoke firmly, “We are at war, and all face danger together, no man can be everywhere at once, or see everything.” She looked up at him, “I hope that you have not held Brith and Gillow to account for what happened. It was as much my fault as any, I should have known better than to get so close.” Her voice slowed as she remembered.
“You are generous,” he smiled, “as always.”
She shook her head, tiredly, “And besides, Mardil is your man, and if not for his quick thinking.....”
Familiar voices from the direction of the doorway caused them to look up. Elendil and Isildur entered the room, animation on their faces and greetings on their tongues.
“How has he been of late?” she asked Anárion.
He nodded slowly, pursing his lips, “He has flung himself into the war. I would not say it has helped him forget, but he knows that our victory must come before any other concern. For if we win not through, all will be lost.”
“Gil!” It was Galeria. Her face smiling beneath concerned eyes. “You look tired.”
“I am a little,” Gil replied, “but nothing some wine and good music will not cure.”
“You must get plenty of rest.” Galeria’s voice was firm, “The effects of wolfbane can last many weeks, and your shoulder injury itself would be a cause for concern.”
Gildinwen smiled, “I promise to go straight home to bed once the evening is over.”
Now that the last of the guests had arrived and been seated, the musicians took their places, Elrond among them.
“Will you do me the honour of sitting with me, my lady?” asked Anárion, holding out an arm politely.
She looked over at the table where Galeria had been seated. Glorfindel and her brothers were laughing and joking.
Galeria groaned, “They are being particularly boisterous tonight. I think you would be wise to accept Lord Anárion’s kind offer, it will be less exhausting.”
Gil smiled fondly, and turned to the man in question, “I shall be honoured, my lord.” She took his arm gratefully.
Never mind how many times Gildinwen heard the Elves sing, she always forgot just how beautiful their voices were. Songs of the land of Valinor, odes to ancient heroes, ballads of eternal love and stirring tales of battle and victory.
Throughout all Elrond was silent, but at last he stepped forth and a hush fell on the company. In his hand his harp was still wrapped, and as he placed it on his knee he spoke softly to it, a whisper that none could hear, “I had not thought ever to uncover thee in such a place, but my love is snatched from beneath the shadow of death, and I would ask you to give voice for it.”
He drew off the cover, and among both Elves and Men the silence became yet more still, for this was the Harp of Maglor. He who had been among the greatest of the singers, and at whose knee Elrond had learned. For a long minute he sat, the silver strings waiting, then his fingers touched them and the very air came to life.
Starting softly, the notes touched both the ears and the heart, bearing away the listener, each on his own tide, each to his own secret shore. Gildinwen felt from them such a touch of love that tears came unbidden to her eyes. The sound so fragile, so utterly beautiful that she scarce dared to draw breath lest it be disturbed. As the music rose, she was lifted, borne upwards, a wind of feeling beneath the wings of song. A great peace came on her, a oneness, a completeness. As the notes continued to soar there came a yearning, a longing, to drink the music into her heart and soul, to become part of it. Then the finale, the chords piercing her with love and loss as they grew and faded, each more achingly lovely than the last, brief and beautiful as snowflakes in the sun. And at the end she felt as though she had passed beneath a mountain waterfall to emerge clean and awake.
She was very tired indeed when they returned at last to her quarters, and even more amazed to find Mardil bent over the table, hard at work.
He looked up in surprise as they entered, and hastily rose to his feet, “Forgive me, my lady.” He apologised, offering her the chair, “I did not realise it was so late.”
She waved her hand in dismissal, as Elrond guided her to the seat. “Do not worry, Mardil.” She picked up the document he had been studying. “Anything interesting?”
“Yes, indeed!” he nodded animatedly, “I have decoded the words, a new variation on the Dinwar cipher,” he added proudly, “But I think the message itself is a code.”
She lifted the paper and read:
‘The defence of the western wall has revealed a weakness in the keystone.’
“How very intriguing.” She picked up the sheet he had been scribbling on to examine his notes, but Elrond snatched it from her hand.
“That is quite enough.” He said sternly, thrusting the papers at Mardil, “Take these, young sir, and yourself, off to bed, and let your mistress get some rest.”
Mardil retreated sheepishly out the door, and Elrond turned to her. “And as for you...”
He lifted her gently and carried her over to the bed. Setting her down upon it, he gently took her feet, one by one, and slipped off her shoes. Then he reached up to unfasten her robe, but she stopped him.
“I’m cold,” she said, assailed by a creeping doubt.
“Come then,” he pushed the blankets back and she lay down. He dimmed the lamp, and settled himself beside her, taking her in his arms, and drawing the coverlets about them.
“Is that better?” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her, and holding her close.
She pillowed her head against his chest but made no reply.
He pressed his lips against her, “Oh, Gil.” He murmured, “I have missed holding you so much.” He stroked his hand over her hair, and softly down the side of her face. It came away wet.
“My love,” his voice was tender, “what is it?”
She buried her head in the pillow, “Nothing,” her voice was muffled.
“Gil,” he coaxed, touching her lightly on the shoulder, “Whatever is the matter?”
Still she did not reply, unable to stop her tears from leaking out.
“Come,” his voice was gently pleading, “you must tell me.”
She turned her face towards him, cheeks wet, hardly able to explain the sadness that was on her, “I fear.... “ her voice tailed off, and she turned away from him.
“What, my heart? What is it you fear?” His strong arms were about her again, “Tell me. I will keep you safe.”
“I fear..” her whisper only just above silence, “that I am now so changed that you will... will...no longer...”
“Oh, foolish woman.” He turned her to face him, and traced a hand over her face, “Yes, you do look a little different.” He ran a hand gently over her bandaged shoulder, and down her back, the shoulder blade and ridge of the spine prominent under his fingers, “and you feel different, but your beauty is more than these things, and it remains.” He pressed his face against her hair, “You smell the same.”
She smiled despite herself.
He touched a long finger to her chin, and tipped her head up, bringing his sensitive lips to kiss hers, lingering gently. “You taste the same.” He kissed her again, softly over the eyes and face, each caress chasing away a little more of the fear. “On a summer’s day the clouds chase and play across the blue, but their changing does not make the sky less beautiful. A tree will bud, bloom, fruit and fade to gold with the seasons, and it is all these different faces that together make the one, wonderful whole. The beauty that one sees with the eye is such a small part of what you are to me. You are every look you have ever given me, every word you have spoken, each touch, each kiss, every precious moment that we have had together, and all those to come. You are the dreams, the thoughts, the hopes, the joy and the love, that you awoke in me, and that we have shared every day together.”
Her face was wet again, but this time the tears were of happiness, and he bent to taste them. “Come, my love,” his voice was welcoming, “Sleep again in my arms, for they, and my dreams, have been empty without you.”
She laid her head on his chest again, and closed her eyes. “My beautiful dreamer.” she whispered, then, “Elrond?”
“Yes, little sleeper?”
“The herb that you gave me, the antidote to the poison?”
“Yes.” He could hear the sleepy smile in her voice, “In Lamedon, it goes by the name of True-Love.” 
The lamp was guttering when Gildinwen awoke. Starting from her sleep with a cry. She sat up, looking round her, confused, her face full of trouble, and her heart sore. She fought to push away the sorrow that threatened to engulf her.
“Gil,” His voice was all quiet concern as he reached out to her, “What is it?”
“Elrond?” she touched his face, reassuring herself, “Are you alright?”
“Yes, my love.” He was puzzled, “I am fine. Is it a dream that has troubled you so?”
Relief swept over her. Just a dream. She felt the fear and sadness subside, all but a sharp splinter that remained, cold and unyielding in her heart. “Yes, yes. A dream.”
“What was it?”
She frowned, touching her forehead, “I...I do not know. It is gone now.” She shook her head to try and clear it, but she could remember nothing, only the shadow of sorrow on her heart remained.
She laid down again.
“Hush.” He stroked her hair and back, soothing her. Gradually she quietened, and
slept once more.
 Paris Quadrifolia, known as Herb Paris, Oneberry or True-Love is traditionally thought to be an antidote to poison, especially Aconites (Wolfsbane), but it should be noted that there is no scientific proof for this, and the herb itself is considered a poison.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.