1. The Stranger
It was growing dark and the sound of rapidly moving water ahead gave him pause. He was so tired. It seemed as if he had been running for weeks instead of days. He needed desperately to rest. Emerging from the cover of the heavy underbrush he stopped on the bank of the storm-swollen river. The storms that had earlier allowed him to loose the pursuing orcs had added their downpour into its volume and he knew that he could not now cross to the far side.
Searching his surroundings for possible shelter he noted a small island upstream consisting of a low rocky outcropping cut off from the bank by the rising water. It was covered with various bits of debris from broken trees caught against its upper and outer side and held there by the strong rush of water. If he dared risk crossing the thirty-five feet to it, would a further rise in the water level inundate it and its rapid current take him with it? After further study he decided to risk it. The water would mask his scent from his pursuers if they had managed to find his trail again and he preferred the solidity of the rock between him and them in an attack.
Moving farther another fifty yards or so upstream he shifted his bow, quiver and the pack off of his back and gasped as the pain from the arrow wound high in his left shoulder pierced through him. He pulled aside the rough padding he had packed against it to absorb the bleeding. It had started again. It would have to wait until he gained the island before he could risk the time to deal with it. Stifling a groan he replaced the padding and resumed his preparations. Laboriously pulling a broken piece of tree stump towards the water he lashed his gear to it. Then attaching a line between it and himself he pushed the stump into the river and cautiously entered its icy water.
Barely managing to keep upright, he gauged the speed of the water and let the current slowly pull him as he worked his way towards the uppermost point of the island. Before reaching it he stepped into a hole and was briefly pulled under. Cursing to himself as he felt the weight of the stump pulling him further out into the river he fought to recover his balance and managed to grab hold of one of the tree branches from the debris piled on the outer side of the island. Pulling himself closer he hooked a leg over a larger limb and worked his way carefully down its length to a rock jutting further into the river. With painful slowness, he dragged himself up onto the top and fought to pull the floating piece of stump with his gear close enough in that he could retrieve it. Near to exhaustion now, he made one final desperate attempt with his knife and slashed the bindings to the stump releasing the pack from its companion. Pulling it free of the current he collapsed back against the rock and watched as the stump rolled and pitched in the churning waters beyond the island and disappeared from sight.
It was some time before he roused himself enough to study his refuge. Looking about he found himself on a small ledge nearly covered by the piled debris of trees. He crawled into its shelter and immediately fell asleep. It was mid-afternoon the following day before he was roused from his fog of sleep by the sound of angry voices from the riverbank on other side of the island. His pursuers had found his trail and followed it to the river. Unable to go any further they were arguing over what to do next. Finally separating into two groups one went up stream and the other down.
Breathing a very quiet sigh of relief he relaxed and took stock of his situation. A twinge in his shoulder reminded him of his wound. Sighing, he pulled his pack over and opened it. Luckily his bow and quiver of arrows had dried, but everything else appeared to be soaked and sodden. Almost desperately he sought the small bundle of ointment and bandages he had stuffed into his backpack at the last minute before he fled the ruins of the forest hut he had shared with his father up until the old man’s death six summers before. Relieved when he found the oiled skin wrapped package he unfastened the ties and to his surprise found its contents unaffected by the dunking of the pack earlier. Removing the padding, he found that while the bleeding had stopped the bandage had become stuck to the skin in the process. If he tried to pull it free it would start all over again. He would have to soak it off before he could reapply fresh dressings.
Finally with that chore taken care of he redressed the wound and ate a small meal of apples and soaked bread. Taking advantage of the late day sun he was able to dry most of his things while he considered his options. He could stay where he was for a few days, but he had no doubts that the enemy would eventually return when they failed to find any trace of him in either direction. He knew he could not cross the river to the other side and he was reluctant to return to the original one. If only he had a boat!
For some time he sat there staring at the river watching as an occasional bit of debris floated by. The current was slowing and water levels were dropping. His island would soon be an island no longer. As one large tree was thrown against the upper side of the island and remained partially entangled by its leafy branches with the debris there, he smiled. That was his answer. He could ride the tree down the river hidden amongst its leafy crown and his pursuers would never know!
He re-packed his belongings and climbed down to see if he could release the tree from its tangle with the debris. He would have to move fast before the water level dropped any further marooning the tree on the emerging riverbank. Using his sword, he winced as each stroke chopped through the various tangles. He regretted any damage it might suffer, but his skill in its use was sorely lacking. His ability with his bow would have to see him through this danger and so he was more willing to risk damaging the sword. The tree shuddered and started to pull loose. Quickly thrusting his pack onto the main portion of the trunk he climbed after it and with one final shudder the tree pulled free drifting out into the main current channel.
It continued on down stream its trunk leading and crown trailing behind. Once it stabilized and stopped rolling from side to side, he moved further back into the leafy canopy and improvised a platform of wedged branches and interwoven vines. He would not remain dry but it allowed him to remain covered. As the twilight deepened he cautiously moved back along the trunk and was able to stay above the water. During the night he managed snatches of sleep and with the coming of morning he moved back into the cover of his leafy bower. It was later that day the tree drifted pass the group of orcs camped on the riverbank. After a brief glance, they ignored it and continued arguing noisily among themselves. For three days he traveled in this manner until the level of the river dropped to the point where the tree was finally forced ashore and marooned against a bank late in the afternoon.
Tossing his gear down onto the bank he dropped stiffly from the tree. He had seen no trace of habitation or other life since passing the orcs. He needed to find food and go to ground until his wound healed enough to travel again. He also needed to find out where he was. As he moved up from the river’s edge he saw a large plain stretching out to the left across the river before him. In the far distance was a mountain range and from behind that he saw a large dark cloud of smoke rising high into the sky. He shuddered at the feeling of evil emanating from that direction and turned towards the right. There a series of low hills rising into a range of heavily forested mountains threaded with silver streams of water that chattered and danced down towards the plain and joined the river he had just left.
Sighing he gingerly shouldered his pack and began moving toward the shelter of the forested slopes. As he crossed the grassy lowland he noted the rabbits and various wild birds that scattered in front of him. In spite of his weakened shoulder and limited ability to hold his bow at full extension he quickly brought down a brace of pheasants and a rabbit. After cleaning them and burying the refuse, he again started towards the mountains. He would make a safe camp before he cooked them. As he moved into the lower reaches of the mountains he found a richness of berries and assorted nuts and grabbed handfuls that partially satisfied his hunger. He followed a game trail that led up through the forest to the heights where he located a small stream and in the middle of a nearby thicket he made camp. The smell of the cooking pheasants and rabbit soon had him salivating. For the first time in over a week he went to sleep with his stomach full.
It was the sudden silencing of the cacophony of the forest citizens the next morning that awoke him. As he rolled over and started to sit up he stopped cold, staring at the sword poised at his chest. Following its length he looked into the steel grey eyes of a tall grim faced elf. They studied each other for some time before the elf spoke to him in a language he did not understand. He shook his head and gestured his puzzlement. The elf tried several others before he finally answered.
“You speak Westernesse.” The elf answered with surprise in the same language.
“Why shouldn’t I?” He responded.
“You are an elf, yet you do not understand your mother tongue.”
He stared at the elf. “I am not. I was raised by my father, and he was a human.”
“Who was your mother?”
“I do not remember her. My father said she died after I was born.”
The elf continued to stare at him for a while then slowly lowered his sword. “You are wounded.”
“Orcs, five days ago.”
“Where?” Demanded a second elf that appeared behind the first.
“Up river. I was lucky to escape. They attacked my home while I was out hunting and destroyed nearly everything. I discovered the burning ruins when I returned. By the signs they left I knew I could not overcome their number if they found me so I packed up what I could salvage and left. They picked up my trail soon after and then we clashed in a brief fight that left me with an arrow in my shoulder. I was able to use the cover of a storm to loose them and make for the river. I hoped to cross and make for the settlement near the Old Forest Road, but the rain had raised the level and made that impossible. I had to hide when they succeeded in following me to the river”
Suspiciously the second elf stared at him. “Yet you passed through them without attracting their attention.”
“I caught a ride on a passing tree.” He smiled wryly.
The two elves continued to study him judging the truth of his words.
Finally the first nodded, “We trailed you from the river. The floods often drop unexpected things at our doorstep so we check to insure that it includes no nasty surprises.” He sheathed his sword and whistled towards two horses that stood off to one side.
“I am Elladan and this is my brother Elrohir.” He waved at the second elf that responded with a graceful nod.
The stranger sat up and studied his visitors before returning a slight nod in acknowledgement. “I am Iorlas, son of Ingold. We lived and hunted the woods of western Mirkwood and the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains south of Eagles’ Eyrie.”
“Is that where you made your home?” Elrohir asked as he reached in the pack hanging off his horse’s saddle before returning to the injured stranger with a small bundle. Elladan unsaddled the horses while his brother tended to the wounded Iorlas. He carried their saddles and other gear over to the fire and laid them out beside it.
Iorlas nodded. “For the past sixty years. My father died six years ago and I stayed there after that. I did not seek the people in the villages across the river because they had never welcomed us before. They always considered us slightly mad for preferring the depths of the woods and so we seldom had contact.”
“Yet you headed toward them after the orc attack.” Elrohir settled down beside him and reached toward Iorlas’s injured shoulder. Pausing he gestured asking silently for permission to attend to it.
Iorlas frowned. “They deserved warning. The orcs have never come so close to us before and they would be defenceless and unprepared if the orcs decided to cross after the river returned to normal.” He winced as the elf gently removed the dressing and studied the wound. “It is only an arrow wound. It has started to heal.” He protested as Elrohir gently probed his shoulder.
“It was an orc arrow and such wounds can fester beneath the skin if all pieces of it have not been removed or if the arrow had some poison on the head.”
Elladan soon had a brisk fire going and prepared a hot breakfast for the three of them. As they ate, Iorlas became more and more nervous as they glanced at him and continued to discuss him. Finally noting his increasing discomfort, Elrohir smiled and apologised.
“Please excuse our discourtesy. We were discussing what would be the best choice for you to take and how we can assist. Do you have any family you wish to seek out or any friends?”
Iorlas shook his head. “My father had no other relatives and my mother never informed him of hers.”
“Then you are free to go where you wish. Would you care to accompany us to our home at Rivendell?”
Iorlas sat silently for a while considering the offer. “I would be grateful for the opportunity. It will give some time to consider my future.”
“We will rest here for today then, and depart in the morning.”
A rustling in the nearby bushes caused the horses to turn their heads towards the sound. Both elves rose to their feet and drew their swords only to relax and laugh as a great, golden male wolf emerged and sat down in front of them. After sheathing their swords, both elves bowed in mock acknowledgement and waved him over to the fire.
“Iorlas, this is Celldae a friend of ours.” Elladan introduced the wolf.
Celldae strolled over and casually sat in front of the startled Iorlas. Each stared at the other, the stranger in shock, the wolf in judgement. Reaching a decision, the wolf sneezed, then lie down beside him and quickly fell asleep.
Swallowing hard he stared at the wolf before finally asking the amused elves with wonder. “You are friends with wolves?”
“Yes, our father found lost two cubs some years ago on a hunting trip and brought them home to raise. Ever since then there have been a pack or two of their descendants ranging the lands and through the halls of the last homely house. They are our friends and act as another wall of protection against our enemies. One will often show up and travel with us coming and going when they please.”
Iorlas slowly reached out a hand and stroked the soft golden coat of the resting wolf. “He is beautiful, I have never seen one like him before.” Celldae opened one eye briefly in response to his touch and thumped his tail against the ground before returned to his slumber.
“He has accepted you into our circle. None of the others will bother you when you meet them.”
“How would they know?”
Elrohir shrugged. “I do not know. They just do.”
Iorlas- pronounced E-or-las, means leaf (Westernesse)
Ingold- a Dunedain hermit
Celldae-pronounced Kal-de, means Running Shadow (Sin)-one of the golden wolves of Imladris
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.