Standard Bearer, The
23. A Treachery Revealed
For the first time in weeks she had slept undisturbed. Her fears at last laid to rest.
He blew gently over her ear and she smiled in her sleep. He whispered and she stirred. He danced his lips over her shoulder, inviting skin peeking out from beneath her shift. She purred and stretched, her feet pressing down against his. Gently he stroked the white scars left by the knife that had almost stolen her from him, then he moved his mouth to the smooth skin of her neck, nuzzling softly.
“Elrond.” She murmured, “Am I awake or still dreaming?”
“Definitely dreaming, my love.” He whispered, his lips continuing their ministrations
[Optional NC-17 love scene: The Standard Bearer - Extra Scenes: scene 5
‘The Sleeper Awakes’]
He stroked her hair, looking into her dark eyes and she felt the wind of joy rush over her, cleansing doubts, sweeping away worries, steering a course for the future.
She touched his face, delicately, lightly, as one might on seeing a great treasure for the first time. “I never dreamed that love could be like this.” She whispered, “You are the sigh of breath in my body, the singing of blood in my veins. The light of the stars shines on me from your eyes and when you kiss me, all the world disappears.” She clasped her hands to him. “Thank you. My beloved lord. Thank you for being, thank you for loving me, thank you for sharing all the happiest moments of my life.”
“Gil.” He touched his lips to her brow. “My little sleeper, my Elrhîw, you have given me the key to my heart. Shown me the way to myself and taught me not to fear. I was a fallow field but now I am sprung with life.”
A last kiss they shared, a touching of lips and of hearts, before duty called them to start the day.
The parlay would be at the North Gate. Elrond was to join up with Isildur, who would speak for the Men. A squire each only, would accompany them.
Many gathered to see the Herald ride out, hope and anticipation bright on faces and loud in voices. The horses’ coats had been brushed till they shone, manes and tails flowing like silk, and bright cloths were hung about them. Even the day seemed brighter, the air clearer. Halmir, his face flushed with pride, back straight and shoulders square, carried the standard of Gil-galad, silver stars fluttering against the blue sky.
When the Lord of Imladris came out, a murmur rippled through the company. He was dressed for riding but his dark tunic was of the finest silk, heavy with embroidery, and over it he wore his herald’s tabard. The silver and blue of the High King quartered with the white of truce. His hair was tied back, and his coronet shone brightly in the late morning sun. His face was alert and his eyes keen, their grey gravity tempered with the hope that he carried for so many.
Gil-galad stood waiting, hair and cloak gently floating in the breeze, his regal face filled with pride at the promise of his protégé. In his hand he held a white wand.
“My lord.” Elrond bowed formally before his king.
“Elrond Peredhil, Lord of Imladris. Take this stave of office, the symbol of the peacemaker.” He held out the baton. “I send you with my blessing. Treat with strength and wisdom. I bind myself to your pledge.”
Elrond took the stave reverently and replied in a firm voice. “I go forth in your name my Lord, to speak with your voice and do your bidding.”
He mounted up, controlling his eager horse easily, the wind fluttering the banner above his head.
Gildinwen stepped forward, taking a deep breath to control her nervousness. She was also dressed in the livery of Gil-galad’s house, Elrond’s Beleriand cloak tugging at her shoulders. The mithril band shone on her dark hair and her eyes brimmed with love and pride. She raised the stirrup cup to him.
“A safe journey, my lord.” She tried to speak the required words strongly, “And a successful venture.”
He took the goblet and drained it in a single draught before handing it back to her. The tiniest touch of a finger against hers, the fleeting brush of eyes, the faintest shadow of a smile and he was off. Colours bright, Gil-galad’s standard streaming above their heads, they spurred their horses North. To Isildur, to Barad-dûr and, hopefully, to peace.
Gil stood a long while looking after him, hugging the cloak about her and watching as the bright colours faded into the distance. When she could see them no longer she returned to her chamber.
She laid her cloak over the chair and poured a cup of water, tipping a little into the Elrhîw before she drank. The bud was full now, just ready to burst into bloom.
“Will you flower tomorrow, little plant?” she asked, leaning her elbows on the table to look at it. “An omen of peace?”
She sighed, it would be a long day waiting for his return. A stack of papers awaited her attention, but she knew she would never be able to concentrate. Better to have some company. Picking up the cloak again, she headed back outside. She would go and visit Galeria.
As she ducked out the door she nearly collided with a young man on his way in.
“My lady.” The soldier’s voice was anxious, his face tired and drawn.
“What is it?” she laid a concerned hand on his arm.
“It’s Tom. He’s sick. Very bad.” His eyes were dark with worry. “Lord Falcred said you would come and help him.” He looked pleadingly at her.
She felt a sudden fear. “What happened?”
“It was an arrow wound, just a graze, a couple of days ago. It seemed like nothing, but I think it must have been poisoned.”
“What are the symptoms?”
“He’s been shaking and sweating. Calling out nonsense, doesn’t recognise us or make any sense. I’ve been sitting with him all night,” His voice thickened, “This morning he’s worse. I worry he’s going to die.” He grasped her arm. “Will you come? Please?”
“Yes, of course.” She tried to smile reassuringly, “Let me just fetch my medicines.”
Falcred’s company were still stationed near the west road, but there would be no need to duck and cover this time. The Dark Lord’s arsenal was silent in honour of the truce. A grim faced Sergeant Gillow waited at the crossing point to escort them.
“Bregor.” She hugged him tightly. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you, lass.” he patted her fondly on the back. “Although I wish the circumstances were better.”
They made their way quickly across the first bridge, hot fumes rising slowly from the glowing pits beneath them. Gil stifled the urge to run, her neck prickling with remembered danger.
“Is he very bad?”
“Aye lass,” Gillow answered from behind her, “I’ve never seen anything like it. I would have sworn there was nothing amiss with that scratch he got, but ...” He shrugged helplessly. “Thank you for coming.”
They were picking their way over the road now, the gouged and pitted surface littered with rubble, stones and spent darts, a testament to the many battles fought here. Gildinwen felt the debris shift and crunch under her.
“How could I not, Bregor?” she turned to look at him, her eyes sorrowful, “After all we went through together.” Beneath her foot a stone twisted, and she slipped, throwing out a hand to break her fall.
“My lady!” Will turned and grabbed an arm to help her to her feet. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She looked at her hand, the palm torn and bloody. “It’s just a scrape.”
“Let me see,” Sergeant Gillow took her hand to inspect it, “Aye, naught to worry about. Here, let me bind it for you.” He fished in his pockets, dislodging an array of miscellaneous items, before producing a reasonably clean handkerchief. He wrapped it efficiently around her hand while Will retrieved the dropped articles.
“There,” the sergeant admired his handiwork with pride, “that’ll keep it clean until you can get a proper one on.”
“Thank you, Bregor.” She smiled, “I couldn’t have done better myself.”
The sergeant grinned briefly as he collected his belongings from Will’s cupped hands.
A crumpled scrap of paper caught Gil’s attention, a flicker of recognition edged with fear. She reached for it.
“Guard rota.” replied Gillow, repacking his pockets.
She smoothed it open. It was indeed a guard list, nothing special about it...except for the handwriting.
It was familiar. Ominously familiar. A dagger of dread and excitement pierced her. The coded message, the one that spoke of the western wall and the keystone. It was the same. She clutched it in her hand.
“Who wrote this, sergeant?” her voice was very urgent.
He looked at it. “Lord Brith.” He pointed, “There’s his mark at the bottom.”
And so it was. She felt the pieces of the puzzle start to slip into place. She shuddered, as a trusted member of Anárion’s council, he would have been privy to everything.
“What is it?” Gillow interrupted her train of thought.
She gazed at him intently. Was he in on it too? His eyes were guileless, his frown concerned. No.
She looked round at the younger soldier. His face wore the same look of worry.
Every nerve screamed at her to run at once to Lord Gil-galad, but Tom could not wait.
“Will, do you know my assistant Mardil?”
“Yes, my lady.” He nodded.
“Good.” She handed the paper to him. “Take this directly to him. Put it only into his hand. He will know what to do with it. Say that I will return as soon as I can.”
“Yes, my lady.” He took the note and tucked it into his jerkin, “Are you going to go on to Tom?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “I promise I will do whatever I can for him.”
The young man bowed briefly then retraced his steps back the way they had come.
Gil felt her heart heavy as she followed Gillow across the second bridge. She tried not to think about the message. Later. Mardil would take care of it. She needed her mind here, to see what she could do for Tom.
“Here we are.” The sergeant stopped outside the door, and turned to Gil. “These are Lord Falcred’s quarters, he moved Tom here because they’re warmer than ours, and quieter.”
She nodded, and he pushed open the door.
The chamber was spacious and well-appointed, warm and lit by several lamps. Tom lay on a narrow cot, his face pale and still, a bandage around his upper left arm. As they entered a familiar figure looked up from his place at the table, and rose to greet them.
“Well done, sergeant.” Falcred’s voice was strained. He bowed stiffly to Gil, “My lady, thank you for coming.”
She gave a tentative smile. “How is he?”
“I have seen no change in him.” Falcred answered tightly.
She knelt beside the cot, placing her hand on Tom’s forehead. It was hot and clammy, his lips dry. She opened his mouth, his tongue was swollen and discoloured. It certainly looked like poison.
Gil unwrapped the dressing from his arm and examined the wound. It was clean and healing well. She replaced the bandage and stood up, her brow wrinkled with concern.
Two faces looked expectantly at her, the gnarled veteran and the handsome captain. Two pairs of eyes, each with their own shade of trouble.
“I am not sure.” She shook her head to try and clear it. “He certainly shows signs that could be poisoning, but I see no contamination in the wound.” She passed a hand over her brow, before unslinging her medicine bag onto the table and rummaging in it.
“Have you wine?” she asked Falcred.
“Certainly, my lady.” He moved to a side table and poured a cup.
She opened a packet of crushed herbs, the aromatic smell prickling her nostrils, and taking the cup Falcred placed on the table, she mixed them in.
“May I offer you some also?” he asked.
She looked up at his face, his eyes were intense, and almost sad, but his voice was careful with courtesy.
“Yes, thank you, my lord.” She smiled a little, then turned to the sergeant. “Bregor, would you help me?” she indicated the patient.
“Of course.” He hurried over, taking the inert form gently in his arms, lifting the hot head so that Gil could coax the infusion down the swollen throat. Drop by drop, one tiny trickle at a time, until at last it was all done.
“There.” She sat back on her heels and watched fondly as the sergeant settled the youth again. “I’ve done the best I know. It’s up to him now.”
Gillow stood, and gave her a hand to her feet.
“I’ll return in a day or two and see how he is.”
“What should we do for him in the meantime?” Falcred asked, holding out her winecup.
She accepted it gratefully, “Just keep him warm, and give him as much water as you can get down.”
She took a deep swallow, the soft, rich wine comforting. She looked down at Tom and fervently hoped the herbs would work. She would bring Elrond to see him, perhaps tomorrow. He would know better what to do. She felt a warm feeling come over her thinking about him. Would he be there yet? ‘No,’ her thoughts drifted, ‘probably not even at Elendil’s camp by now.’
Sergeant Gillow was speaking to her. She shook her head slightly, the sound cloying in her head, “I’m sorry, Bregor.”
He spoke again, but she still couldn’t quite make out the words, and somehow they didn’t seem important. Neither did the door opening and Lord Brithiar entering with two men. Or the fact that her knees were weak and everything was getting very dark.
“Gil.” Falcred’s voice came from far away in her ear and she felt his arm at her back. “Don’t worry, everything will be alright. Just relax.” It sounded like such a good idea. She felt so sleepy.
“My lady!” Gillow made to spring forward as she sagged into Lord Falcred’s arms, winecup tumbling unheeded to the floor, but a sharp blow with a sword hilt felled him to the ground.
“Well done, Falcred.” Brith’s face bore an expression of grim satisfaction. He looked at the senseless sergeant. “What do you want done with him?”
Falcred wrapped Gil’s Elven cloak about her, carefully covering her head.
“Bind and gag him.”
The older man looked dubious. “Better to finish it.”
“He will give us away.”
Falcred hefted Gil’s unconscious form into his arms. “What does it matter? We will not be returning.”
Mardil was tired but immensely satisfied with himself. Taking advantage of the day’s ceasefire he had been visiting some of the most remote sentry posts and had collected a great deal of interesting information.
The door to his lady’s quarters was ajar when he arrived, but on entering he found she was not there. Instead the room was occupied by a young soldier, slumped snoring at the table.
“Hello!” said Mardil loudly, a grin on his face.
“What?!” The man started awake, looking round in confusion. He focused on the dark haired lad in front of him.
“That’s right.” He put his satchel on the table.
“I’m Will. Your mistress sent me to give you this.” He fumbled in his jerkin for the paper, “You weren’t here so I waited, and..” he looked shamefaced, holding out the missive. “I must have fallen asleep.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mardil, taking the note, “I’ve only just got back anyway. Where is she?”
“She went to our camp to see my friend Tom, he’s very sick.” Will rubbed his eyes, “What time of day is it?”
“Towards the second watch of the afternoon.” replied Mardil smoothing out the paper, holding it up in the late sun. “By all the stars!” he cried, then grabbed a hold of Will’s arm. “Come with me!” He dragged the soldier up and out the door.
“My lord!” Mardil could not contain his excitement, even in the presence of the High King.
“Yes, Mardil.” Gil-galad’s voice was indulgent, and he beckoned the young man forward.
Casting an apologetic glance at Círdan, Mardil stepped forward and handed the damning evidence to the Elven King. “The lady Gildinwen sent this, my Lord. It is a guard list signed by Lord Brithiar. The handwriting matches that on a letter we intercepted months ago.” He looked grim. “It would seem he is our spy.”
A commotion outside distracted their attention, followed by a guard entering and whispering in Círdan’s ear.
“Let him come in.” the white haired Elf commanded, his face serious.
All eyes looked to the door as it opened to admit Sergeant Gillow, his face ashen and anguished, blood caked in his grey hair.
“Sergeant!” Will rushed to his side, “What happened?”
“A trap.” Gillow’s voice was hollow with grief, “It was a trap and I led her straight into it.”
“What?” Mardil and Will raised their voices in a simultaneous chorus of questions.
“Silence!” Gil-galad thundered, rising to his feet. He pinioned Gillow with his eyes. “Speak. Tell us what happened.”
Bregor drew a shuddering breath. “One of my lads has been sick, mysteriously sick.” he added bitterly, “I came today to ask the Lady Gildinwen to tend him. Lord Falcred, he gave her some wine to drink.” His voice was quiet in the silence. “It was drugged. They took her. I tried to ....” He tailed off, tears coming to his eyes, “It was a trap, all of it. Tom’s illness, Falcred’s suggestion that I fetch her.” He dashed a hand over his eyes, “She trusted me, and I led her in.”
“Is Lord Brithiar involved in this?”
Gillow nodded, his mouth twisting with distaste, “Aye, my lord. He was there, it was his man that gave me this.” He pointed to his bloody scalp. “Falcred, he always liked her, but I never thought...” he shook his head sadly.
“Sergeant.” Lord Gil-galad’s voice was firm. “Do not blame yourself. You have shown only courage and integrity. Let us look now to helping her.”
The veteran nodded slowly. “Aye, my Lord.”
“There is something that I do not understand.” Círdan spoke slowly, “Why would they take her now?”
“What do you mean?” Gil-galad looked round at his lieutenant.
“We can assume that Brith was behind the attempt on her life. But it makes no sense to abduct her now, when at this very moment Elrond is in parlay at the North Gate.”
“Oh alas!” Mardil’s face lost all colour, and he clasped a hand to his mouth in horrified realisation. Then he rushed from the room.
Within minutes he had returned, another paper in his hand. He laid it soberly on the table in front of Gil-galad, next to the other.
“Here is the message that was taken. As you can see the hand is the same.” The Elves nodded in agreement, and Mardil looked around at them grimly. “It was sent some weeks after the attempt on the Lady Gildinwen’s life. An attempt that was thwarted only by Lord Elrond’s action. Brith was present. He was responsible for searching the prisoner.”
“That’s true!” cried Gillow. “It has tormented me for months how that knife got past the guards!”
“Just so.” nodded Mardil. “The message is not only in cipher, it is also in code and we could never understand what it meant. Until now.” He took a deep breath. “‘The defence of the western wall has revealed a weakness in the keystone.’” He looked up to meet the penetrating gaze of the King of the Elves. “She is the western wall.”
Gil-galad sat back in his chair, a deadly comprehension on his face. “And Lord Elrond is the keystone.”
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.