Standard Bearer, The
19. Star of Winter
She turned her attention to the well-thumbed message that had come in the night she had returned from the hospital. This was not any better. Despite weeks of theories and postulation, they were no nearer to understanding the meaning. She tossed it down impatiently. She was fed up. Nothing had come out of the Dark Tower for weeks. No information, no sorties of soldiers, not even a solitary arrow. Now the endless rain and enforced inactivity were taking their toll all over the camp. Fights and quarrels were rife. It was almost enough to make you wish for a trebuchet attack to relieve the monotony.
A wet noise at the door announced Mardil, and he entered, shaking the water from his cloak like a puppy.
“Good morning.” She smiled at him.
“My lady.” He sketched a bow before bringing his satchel over to the table. He opened it to take out the messages that had come in overnight. “It’s cold in here.” He looked round, “Why haven’t you lit the brazier?”
She wrinkled her nose, “I can’t stand the smoke. All things considered I’d rather be cold than blind.” She sniffed slightly, “Anything interesting from last night?”
“Yes, there was an arrow message from the small North tower.”
Gildinwen perked up. This was more like it. The Alliance had one or two spies of their own in Barad-dûr, and attaching a message to an arrow and shooting it into their camp was the usual method of delivery. “It’s been some time since we’ve had a message through from there.”
“Yes,” Mardil nodded, “Several weeks since the last one.”
“Let’s have a look at it then.” She wiped her nose surreptitiously on the hem of her cloak. Elf-Lords, it seemed, did not supply their retinue with handkerchiefs. ‘Probably because Elves never catch colds,’ Gil thought ruefully to herself.
He dug out the message and handed it to her.
“The cipher looks true.” She said, holding it up to the lamp. “And the hand is the same.”
Mardil peered over her shoulder, muttering under his breath as he tried to decipher the code. “Here,” she passed it over to him with another sniff, “You take it.”
“Thanks.” He fished in his pocket, “And you’d better take this.” Grinning he handed her a large red handkerchief.
It took him only a few minutes to complete the translation, and his face was serious as he passed it to her.
“Well,” she said grimly, reading swiftly. “It was only a matter of time.” She rose to her feet. “I must take this to Lord Gil-galad without delay.”
Mardil face was animated, “So we’re going to war again.”
Gil gave a rueful grin, “It certainly looks like it.”
She swung her cloak over her shoulders, “Mardil.” Her voice was deadly serious. “Not a word about this, do you hear? Not to anyone.”
“Yes, my lady.” He nodded firmly, and she ducked out into the rain.
Lord Gil-galad was seated at his council table, flanked by Elrond and Círdan.
“My lords,” she bowed shortly and approached the table, handing the message, along with its translation, to the Elven King.
He looked at it frowning. “How reliable is this?”
“The cipher is one of ours, and it is correct. Other messages that we have received from him have proved to be reliable.”
“And the translation,” he looked at the writing, “it is by young Mardil. Do you trust it?”
“As if I had done it myself, my lord.”
He nodded, and sat back in his chair. “It seems that Sauron has finally had enough of our siege.” He allowed himself a slow smile, “He plans to try and break out.”
The two warriors were instantly alert.
“When, my lord?” cried Elrond.
“It is to be the next moonless night of this month.” He looked over to where Gildinwen was already consulting the calendar.
“Eight days time, my lord.”
“Good.” Gil-galad’s voice was strong. “That gives us time to prepare.”
“What else does it say?” asked Círdan.
“It will be from the North Gate,” replied Gil-galad.
The Elf nodded his white head seriously, “We will need to start moving soldiers up immediately.”
“Yes,” Gil-galad agreed, “but it must be done with great secrecy, else he will know that his plan is uncovered.” He turned to Gil, “Have messages sent to Elendil and Anárion, I am calling a council for tonight.”
“At once, my lord.” She hastened to obey.
Elendil and Isildur arrived shortly after sunset. Anárion was seated already. Besides them, and the Elves who had been with Gil-galad that morning, only Glorfindel and Master Farin were added. The spectre of the spy had grown large, and no risk could be taken that he might discover their plan.
The council chamber was warm and smoky from the braziers in the corners, and filled with the smell of damp wool and sweat.
“My lords.” Gil-galad’s sonorous voice cut through the chatter and speculation. “You are welcome.”
A ripple of acknowledgement ran around the table.
“Today, a message has been received from inside Barad-dûr.”
Surprise registered on most of the faces. Few were aware that the Alliance had spies inside the Tower.
“It bears the hallmarks of a trusted source, and we believe it to be genuine.”
The silence of expectation hung as heavy as the pall of smoke.
“Sauron is planning to try and break the siege.”
A surge of excited muttering was quickly quelled as they turned their attention once more to the Elven King.
“On the next moonless night, in eight days time, he will attempt to break out through the North gate and take the road to the Isenmouthe.”
“‘Attempt’ is all he will do,” growled Isildur, with a wolfish smile.
“Indeed, my lord,” replied Gil-galad, “That is what we must ensure.”
He turned to the maps. “I propose that the Elves are moved up to help buttress Elendil’s men to the West, and that Isildur’s soldiers do the same to the East.”
He turned to Anárion. “It is important that the West gate not be left undefended, and I would ask you to take that task, inglorious as it is.”
The man in question nodded grimly, “I am at your command, my lord.”
The King nodded, “Aye, Gil-galad, it is a good plan. Will you move up the horses and archers also?”
“Yes.” The High King confirmed, “All that can be spared. But preparations must be as secret as possible.” He sighed, “We believe there to be a spy among us, and we have not yet been able to identify him.”
“A spy?” Isildur’s voice was angry.
“Yes, my lord, sad though it is to think it.”
Elendil’s reply was more thoughtful. “We should not move the troops until the night falls then, that way there will be little time to send a warning.”
“Then it is so agreed?” asked the Elven King.
“It is agreed.” Elendil replied for the Men. Master Farin nodded silently for the dwarves.
“Good.” Gil-galad pushed back his chair. “Now, I hope you will all join me for some wine?”
Grins of assent greeted this welcome suggestion, and at Gil-galad’s signal, Gildinwen summoned Luinil to see to the guests.
Her head aching, she excused herself, and wrapping her cloak close about her body, she made her way home through the sleet and rain.
‘Some hot tea,’ she thought as her feet squelched and slid in the mud. ‘And some dry clothes.’ She would have dearly loved a bath, but she tried to put the image of the steaming water from her mind. ‘Six years,’ she thought, ‘how much longer can it take?’
The sound of raised voices brought her up short just as she reached the door.
“Get out!” Mardil’s cry was high and angry.
“Not until you’ve told me what I want to know!” the low voice was menacing - and recognisable.
She flung open the door to find Falcred pinning her assistant against the wall. Blood trickled from Mardil’s lip, and his face was white around the mouth.
“What is going on here?” her voice was quiet, but filled with a slow fury.
Falcred released Mardil and stepped back.
“Well?” Gildinwen looked from one to the other, holding her anger at bay.
Mardil looked embarrassed. Falcred’s blue eyes were defiant, his jaw set.
“Mardil!” she snapped.
“He...he...wanted to know about you.”
“And...and..” his voice dropped to a whisper.
“Out with it, lad!”
“He wanted to know about you and Lord Elrond.”
“Is that so?” She stressed every word, as she turned her eyes, flashing with rage, on Falcred. “Mardil, you may go.”
He left hurriedly.
In two steps she had crossed the room, and grabbed the man by the front of his jerkin. “Now hear this!” she hissed, her eyes inches from his, “Whatever you want to know, you ask me to my face. Do you hear?”
He met her look with a sullen silence.
“Well?” she spat.
Still no reply.
“Get out!” she pushed him away disgustedly, and he stumbled towards the door.
“Gil.” He straightened up, his face in shadow. “Listen to me. Please. I...love you. I don’t even care if...if..,” he couldn’t bring himself to say the words, “I still......”
“No, Falcred.” Her voice was tight. “You listen to me. Really listen. I am not going to accept your offer. Not now. Not ever. Do you understand?” she sighed wearily, “You don’t really love me. It’s this wretched war. Once it’s over you’ll go home to Lossarnach, marry a lady of Gondor and forget you ever knew me.”
“No.” His voice was firm. “You’re wrong. I’ll never forget you.” He opened the door to leave, turning briefly towards her, “And you will be mine.”
Seething with exasperation she stripped off her sodden cloak and flung it over the chair. The room was freezing. “Stubborn, bone-headed fool.” She muttered to herself, sneezing as she fumbled to light the brazier. “Typical man!”
She filled the kettle and set it to boil while she removed her wet shoes and changed into a padded robe.
Sitting back on the bed, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and her cold feet tucked into dry socks, she sipped the hot tea. Her headache began to recede a little, but the general feeling of melancholy was more difficult to shake off. ‘I wish this was all over,’ she thought. ‘So I could get out of this awful place.’ But that started her thinking about the future, and she felt the shadow of the dream creep up again.
She did not notice Elrond enter until his hand caressed her head, and his soft voice spoke her name.
She looked up to see his concerned face, “Are you alright?” He took a seat next to her, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulder. She leaned into him gratefully.
“You are sad tonight, my love.”
“Just a little melancholy. It will pass.” She handed him the empty cup, and he sat it on the table.
“Any particular reason?”
“No,” she smiled slightly, shaking her head. “Only the war, and this miserable place.” She sighed. “When did I last see anything green and growing, a tree or a flower?” She looked round at him, “I have never even seen you in the sunshine, only under this dark sky. My life is passing while we sit here, waiting. My youth fading with each wasted year.”
His arm tightened about her, and his lips brushed her hair.
“Sometimes,” she continued, “I think I’ve never really known myself. All my life has been duty and taking care of others. I’ve never questioned it, never thought about what I wanted, or made any choice of my own. The path was always clearly laid out for me, and it never occurred to me not to follow it. No question but that I would heft the responsibility of family, tradition and house onto my shoulder and march off down that road of duty - stalwart and uncomplaining.
“I have sailed the sea of life in a rudderless ship, doing no more than cling on as I am tossed this way and that. I have never once tried to take control of my fate.”
“That is not true, Gil.” Turning towards her, he took her face in his hands and looked deep into her eyes. “When you sailed out of the night and into my life, you changed it forever.”
“Nay, my lord.” She shook her head. “Even when you came in sight, I did not steer a course, merely cried out as you passed. With love you lashed my fate to yours, but if you cut me loose I would be purposeless again.”
He smiled down at her. “In the Misty Mountains, and on the highest slopes of Imladris, there is a flower called Elrhîw . It is a small, white bloom, often overlooked when compared with more showy blossoms. But it flowers in the darkest month of winter, when all else is bare, and is so hardy that it will stand any frost and snow.” He kissed her on the forehead, lingeringly, and whispered. “This will soon be over, my love. Sauron grows desperate, he cannot last much longer.” He clasped his long arms around her and held her close. “Then it will be time to talk of the future.”
That night she awoke once more with eyes wet and heart tight. She tried to keep it from Elrond, but he was not fooled.
“Gil.” He whispered, stroking her hair. “The dream again?”
She sighed into his chest, holding onto him. Why did it torment her so, every night? What was it trying to tell her? But she knew. The hard answer was there, deep in her heart, she just did not want to face it. ‘I have not the courage for this.’ But she must, for his sake, she must.
“Why will you not tell me?” he asked softly, sadly.
“I will, my love.” She tightened her arms about him, “When it is time.”
His lips were soft against her hair as he comforted her.
Sleep would not return, however, and she turned to talk.
“Yes, little sleeper?”
“May I ask you something?”
“You, and your brother, you are the Peredhil, the half-Elven.”
“And you were given the choice, each of you, as to which kindred you would belong to?”
“That is correct.”
“Why did you choose to stay with the Elves, and your brother to go with humankind?”
A long, long silence.
“Ah, Gil.” He whispered, “You ask a question that touches the very heart of who I am, and makes me look in my secret places.” His arms tightened about her.
“Elros worshipped our father, Eärendil.” His voice was sad and fond. “I well remember when he came home to see his youngest son, born while his father was far on the Sea, and already taking his first steps. That was a time of great rejoicing and happiness. We watched from the dockside as the Vingilot sailed in. Shining from afar, she skipped over the waves, the light of the stars in her sails. At the bow, my father stood, proud and glorious, his hair flying in the wind, his legs firm on the leaping deck, a great adventurer returning in glory.” He smiled to remember it.
“Mother stood by me, her delicate beauty illuminated by the love on her face. Her eyes dancing with joy, her hand gripping mine tightly. Elros squirmed with excitement on her hip.
“Before the ship had even docked my father sprang to the quayside with a great leap, running up to gather us all into his strong arms. Kissing my mother, holding her by the waist and whirling her around. Hugging Elros and tossing him, squealing with delight, into the air. The days that followed were a happy blur of stories, presents, laughter and play.” His voice lowered, “It was the only time we were all together, and it was not to last.
“My father could never resist the call of the Sea. Even my mother’s love was not enough to keep him on land for more than a few weeks. Soon he was restless and longing, and she, with tears and recrimination, only hastened the parting. I alone took Elros to the quay to watch him depart, she remained shut in her chamber, weeping in the dark.
“When my father was gone, Mother would spend her days on the clifftops, looking out to sea, longing for his return.” A smile of sadness came to his face, “When I was younger she would take me - at first it was good, watching the birds and the waves, but it would get cold, and I would be hungry and still we would stay, even until night had fallen.
“When I was older, and Elros was born, she would often leave us alone in our quarters, not knowing where she was. When she returned I never knew how she would be, sometimes loving and gentle, wanting to play with us, at others cold and distant, heeding neither my tearful face, nor the hungry cries of my brother.” His lips were tight with old sorrow, “I learned not to ask for anything.”
Unable to speak, her heart aching to comfort him, yet knowing she could never wipe away the pain, Gildinwen took his hand in hers, and pressed her lips to it.
“On the day that the Sons of Fëanor attacked Sirion, we were, all three of us, together at home. It was a good day and Mother had been telling us a story. When we heard the shouting in the street, that the enemy was upon us, she took the Silmaril from its box and hung its chain about her neck.
“We ran, through the streets, and up the familiar path to the clifftops.” His voice was edgy now, and Gil’s heart overflowed into her eyes to hear it.
She sat up and took him in her arms, cradling his head against her.
“I tried so hard to keep up, but she ran too fast for me. Elros was so heavy and the ground so rough. Many times I fell, bloodying hand and knee, and each time I regained my feet, she was further away.” He tightened his arms about her, “I cried out to her again, and again. ‘Mother! Wait for us!’ But she heeded me not.
“The soldiers caught us easily. She was brought to bay on the clifftop. Maglor held me in front of him, a knife to my throat, and he called to her. ‘Give it up, save your sons.’” His voice was little more than a whisper now.
“But she would not. Sparing us no word, not even a glance, she turned and threw herself from the cliff into the sea.
“Maglor’s astonishment was so great that the blade fell from his nerveless hand. He sank to his knees in front of me, his eyes filled with tears of guilt and pity, and tore his hair in remorse, begging my forgiveness.” He grew wistful. “I heard later that Mother did not die. She was changed into a bird by Ulmo, and flew over the sea to join my father. But they sailed to Valinor, and never came to look for us.” He pressed his head against her, and she kissed it, holding him closely. Trying to comfort the lost child deep inside.
“We went with Maglor, and life was very different to what we had known. We had a nurse, and a tutor. Structure and security. Meals at regular times, and always the same warm, safe bed to sleep in. I learned to read, and play music.” His smile was happier now.
“Elros was captivated with tales of our father. The human spirit of adventure was strong in him. For me, I remembered things as they truly were, and in honour of the one who had been most like a father to me, I chose to be of the Elves.”
 Star of Winter
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.