10. The Fall of Eregion
Elrond sighed relieved, “It must be Lord Erestor, , escort them hither! He certainly took his time!”
The archer grinned and rode away. Elrond relaxed for the first time since they had left Eregion. Leading the refuges into the wild had been an all-consuming task. But he had been extremely worried about Erestor and to some extent about Glorfindel. But Erestor had really caused him much anxiety. The counsellor had promised to join Elrond in two hours. But even after a night’s slow passage, Erestor had not joined them. Elrond was worried that the counsellor had run off to join Glorfindel in the battle.
Elrond smiled as the group of riders came nearer.
“My Lord!” a rider shouted, “Come here!”
Elrond looked at the long line of rag tagged refugees before him and sighed, he would be more than glad to shift responsibility of this to Erestor and go back to the patrols. He asked one of the few mounted guards with him to take charge and rode away to meet the others. Maybe Celebrimbor had been finally convinced to leave the city. No, Elrond’s inner voice said firmly, not even Erestor’s velvet tongue could sway the smith’s decision to perish with his city.
Elrond felt a pang of fear as he neared the small group. Their mien was sombre. As he saw them clearly, the realization set in : Erestor was not there.
He rasped, “Where’s the Chief Counsellor?”
“My Lord Elrond,” a rider spoke up uneasily, “He bade us go when the gates fell. He was to have followed with the last of the smiths and possibly the Lord Celebrimbor. But when he had not caught up with us after nearly an hour, we rode back. Eregion was aflame, My Lord.”
Elrond shook his head dumbly. It was not real. It could not be real. Erestor could not have died in the burning city.
“I am sorry, My Lord,” the elf said hesitantly, “There was nothing we could have done.”
Elrond said in a low voice, “Join the rest. I need privacy now.”
The riders hastily obeyed. Elrond let go of his horse’s reins and buried his face in his hand.
“Is it this then?” A harsh feminine voice asked him, “Will a single loss break your will, Elrond Half-Elven?”
“Galadriel!” Elrond spat disgustedly, “Watching over everyone’s privacy will not lift your doom!”
“That I know, Peredhil,” the voice said solemnly, “Nevertheless condemned am I to watch things I rather would not see. Such as the object of your perverted lust hang on to life twenty miles to your east.”
Elrond sat up straight in the saddle and whispered, “What did you say?”
“My nephew’s mate is unhorsed and unarmed. He nears death even as you waste your time fantasizing on what could have been,” the voice replied.
Elrond asked doubtfully, “You were never inclined to support me or Erestor before. What has changed your mind? Or is it another plan?”
The voice laughed, “I bear you no love, Peredhil. And it gives me no great pleasure to bring you these tidings. But I lie not, for what could that serve me?”
Elrond did not bother replying to that accusation as he turned his horse around and rode into the night. To the east.
After nearly an hour’s hard riding, he reached a cliff. Spurring his horse on, he rode up to the edge. Before him he saw a reddish orange blur. Fire. Eregion was burning. His mare whinnied excitedly and tossed about her mane as she tried to turn. Elrond smoothed down her mane soothingly, but she refused to obey him and bolted suddenly, catching him unawares. His grip on the reins was loose and he held on to the horse’s mane not to be thrown down.
“Dance, Stop!” he coaxed soothingly to his disobedient mare.
It was futile. Resigning himself to her folly, he concentrated on staying in the saddle. She whinnied again. Elrond shook his head irritably. The Valar knew what was going on in his mare’s head right now. Another loud whinny answered her. Elrond looked up. Against the full moon, a solitary black stallion stood still, a slumped form on his back.
“Ebony!” Elrond murmured disbelievingly, he flicked the reins and this time, his mount obeyed him willingly as she galloped ahead towards the stallion.
Elrond dismounted and hurried over to the elf on Ebony’s back. He took note of the fact that Erestor’s breathing was still regular, though shallow. Gratefully thanking all the Valar he could think of, Elrond gently lifted Erestor and placed him on the ground. The counsellor’s robes and body was stained by soot and goblin blood. But there were no injuries other than a few burns and bruises. He set to work on them.
Erestor whispered in a parched voice, “Water”
Elrond hastily pulled out his water bag and gently lifting Erestor’s head, poured the stale water slowly down the throat.
After taking a few gulps, Erestor opened his eyes and on finding Elrond hovering about anxiously, he smiled weakly saying, “Ever the saviour.”
“You gave me quite a scare,” Elrond said in an unsteady voice, “We are lucky that my mare’s taken to your stallion!”
Erestor clasped Elrond’s hands firmly saying, “Thank you, I thought I would wake up in Mandos’ keep and stay there for eternity.”
Elrond said gruffly, “Nonsense, I think your common sense is waning. There are no orcs on this road and they will not cross the flaming city. We are safe on these wild lands.”
Erestor shook his head and covered his face with his hands before saying brokenly, “I set the fire, Elrond, It was my hand that threw the torch into the barn and the stables and the smithies,” he coughed harshly, the smoke he had inhaled clearly impeding his lungs.
Elrond whispered, “Don’t talk if it is too painful on your lungs. Rest.”
Erestor shook his head and continued in a barely audible voice, “There will be no rest for me, not after what I did there,” his face darkened, “They had broken through the defence lines, the Wraiths creating havoc. I had already led out everyone or so I assumed. To slow the pursuit, I torched the barns. From there the flames spread to the stables and the keep. By then I was surrounded by orcs,” he took a shallow breath and leaned heavily onto Elrond’s shoulder, “When I fought my way to the courtyard, I heard a raucous cry of a Wraith. Turning back, I saw Celebrimbor and three dozen of his smiths standing surrounded by goblins. They were not even holding weapons. However I tried, I could not reach them. I saw them taken captive. The smiths were pushed into the fire and they burned to death before my very eyes. The stench, the stench of the burning flesh! Celebrimbor was manacled and jeeringly led away by the orcs. I could do nothing for it was not just orcs that outnumbered me, but Wraiths. I was saved only because I had a lit torch yet in my hands and the creatures fear fire,” he wrung his hands despairingly, “I should have atleast killed Celebrimbor. Death would have been a kinder fate to what Sauron will wreak on him.”
Elrond said nothing, but silently embraced Erestor, who finally gave into his emotions and sobbed defeatedly, “I wish that I were as brave as Glorfindel and as selfless. That I had courageously died at their hands instead of abandoning the rest to their fate as a coward.”
Elrond said sternly. “That is folly. Celebrimbor’s fate was never in our hands even before the battle had begun. It was destined that he would never abandon the city he built. And if you had not burnt the city, the refuges would have been pursued and slaughtered cruelly. We saved whomever we could and we cannot be held responsible for the rest. Our concern now is to get those whom we lead to safety.”
Erestor relaxed against him slightly and said, “The enemy will not follow. The army is regrouping, I guess. I suppose having a First Age Hero pays even if we have to endure his gloating. He defied the leader of the Wraiths, the Witch King himself, and the orcs were none too happy for that act, according to what I could decipher from their cursed language. I guess doing that will not exactly raise the morale of Sauron’s armies.”
They mounted Ebony and Elrond gently coaxed Erestor, who sat before him, to rest against him. They rode to meet the long retreat towards Lothlórien, as Elrond turned one last time, he prayed silently for the famed smith taken prisoner. Then he turned his back on the burning city.
Eregion was history.
Glorfindel woke silently as he always did and sighed wearily. It was dawn. They would have to ride out again. As he pondered the various army concerns, he suddenly realized that he was not alone in the camp cot. A hand rested around his waist holding him tightly. A warm chest and regular, deep breathing. He turned around wildly. And found himself face to face with a peacefully sleeping Aldor. Glorfindel’s features softened as he took in the care worn lines on the young human’s face. Clearly, he was too young to bear the burdens of chieftainship of his clan. Dark, matted hair fell tousled about his face. There was an overpowering scent of grime, blood and sweat. Glorfindel sighed again, though it was pleasing to lie in the arms of the young one and share the body heat, he had to be up and about. He gently pried off the human’s arm and sat up. Dizziness seized him suddenly and he fell back onto the human with a loud thump startling Aldor awake. Glorfindel cursed in Dwarvish.
“Are you all right?” Aldor eased him gently onto the cot and quickly getting off the mattress, he slipped on his discarded tunic, but not before Glorfindel’s sharp eyes had noticed a bulge in the leggings.
Glorfindel decided not to rake up the topic, for all he knew, maybe humans had problems with morning erections, so instead he said pleasantly, “Good morning, I am fine indeed.” He hauled himself up again, this time successfully.
Aldor smiled saying, “I expected a milder reaction when you woke up and found me still in the tent.”
Glorfindel acknowledged, “It was a shock, however I was more shocked on finding you in my bed and even more so in finding myself in your arms, Aldor.”
Aldor smiled nervously, “I only meant to soothe your nightmares. I…my intentions were just to leave you after that. But I was too exhausted, I daresay. I am sorry, Lord Glorfindel, I should leave now and leave you to your rest.”
Glorfindel took note of the human’s flustered features. He was no fool. The young human was attracted to him. In which case, he had a big problem if he did not handle this carefully.
He cheerily replied, “Yes, but please do stay away from the battle today. You seem genuinely worn out. And for my part, I wish to thank you for the company last night. It is much appreciated and was certainly sorely needed.”
“You called for ‘Res. I was unsure of--,” Aldor faltered.
Glorfindel smiled bashfully, “Erestor, It is he who usually keeps me company and sings me to sleep,” he grinned on seeing the human’s astonished expression, “when the nightmares assail my repose. He is more or less like a son or a brother to me, I guess and so I feel free to call him whenever the need arises.”
Aldor smiled, “Lord Erestor, I can’t picture him singing anyone to sleep! Luckily, you escaped that fate at my hands yesterday. Can’t carry a tune to save my life, I am afraid.”
“He has a beautiful voice,” Glorfindel said proudly, “it is a pity that he never sings in the public. And you are not alone, I sometimes think that it was my heroic singing endeavour that provoked the Balrog. I am hopeless in arts.”
Aldor guffawed and said, “I should be going now. Shall I send for your aides? It seems they were frightened yesterday.”
Glorfindel smirked, “And they were well to do so for I was in a foul temper.”
Galadriel watched her daughter chatter with Anoriel. The vision she had concerning Celebrían had been giving her sleepless nights. She had been careful to conceal her thoughts from her husband’s bond. She wanted Celebrían happy and whole. Even if it meant more manipulation. She decided on her course.
“Haldir,” Amdir said worriedly, “I need you to do something for me.”
The handsome marchwarden bowed.
“Haldir, I have been thinking of Oropher’s marriage offer. He seems quite adamant with that. And unlike him, so forgiving even when we were in the wrong regarding the wedding day mishap. Why?” Amdir said quietly, looking out at the mallorn trees.
Haldir said respectfully, “Sire, Oropher is indeed quite eager to seal the engagement. He is known for being possessive about his son. Yet then, how come he is so enthusiastic about an arrangement that shall definitely lessen his ties with his son?”
Amdir sighed, “It seems they are in love with each other from what my daughter says.”
Haldir said thoughtfully, “Mayhap she thinks she is in love with him. My Lord Amdir. Remember, she has led a sheltered life in our land under your talans and hence has no idea of love and marriage. The Prince Of Greenwood was the first stranger she met and I fear the enigmatic and mysterious aura that surrounds him has allured her as it has done so many others before.”
“So,” Amdir said frowning, “You stick to your accusation that he is unfettered in the ways of pleasure?”
Haldir said firmly, “Unfettered and wild and fickle, My Lord. My brothers can tell you their personal experiences if you want. Age, position, gender, he considers them to be factors of no importance. Rumour mills say that he has slept with almost all of the court at Lindon.”
“Will he remain faithful to his bonded?” Amdir pondered, “We need to think deeply before we proceed with this, Haldir. I would not have my daughter hurt.”
Oropher laughed as he watched his bedridden son flirt shamelessly with the young healer who assisted Thalion.
“My prince, would it not be more prudent to save your energy for the healing process?” Thalion barked, “She will not be going anywhere. You can say your sweet dialogues as much as she wants then after you are on your own legs.”
Thranduil said smoothly, “That is what makes you so jealous, Thalion. Let me give you a few basic lessons in the arts of seduction.”
Thalion spared him a glower before murmuring, “’Tis your stubborn Adar who needs those lessons.”
Oropher met his son’s jade green eyes, so like his own. Thalion and the young maid had left, he realized, leaving him alone with Thranduil.
“Ada,” Thranduil began.
“We are not debating my celibacy again, my son,” Oropher cautioned him, “Do not start with that.”
“I only wish to see you happy,” Thranduil said quietly.
“You are my happiness. When you are happy, I am content,” Oropher sat down on the side of the bed and threaded his fingers lovingly through his son’s unkempt, golden hair.
“Ada, then why do you insist that I should marry to be happy?” Thranduil raised his eyebrows.
Oropher smiled, “My son, leave your diplomacy lessons for the debating tables. I am hopeless in these word fights. You should marry because you need to have a person to understand you, to care for you, to love you, to cherish you.”
“I have all of these in you, Adar-nin,” Thranduil said quietly, placing his head in his father’s lap and closing his eyes contentedly, “What can a mate give me that you cannot give?”
“I take it that the question was rhetorical,” Oropher teased his son, “For I do not think I can warm the Crown Prince’s bed or give him heirs, can I?”
“I have ample bed partners, Ada. We both know that. I don’t need to marry for that. And heirs, well, I don’t see the burning necessity of the Crown Prince producing heirs when the King is capable of breeding dozens himself,” Thranduil retorted.
Oropher said playfully, “You are determined to come back to the topic of my celibacy. My son, I would love to break my chastity if it will make you happy. But you have not left any man or women between here and the Havens whom you have not shared a bed with. So how can I bed them?”
“Well,” Thranduil pondered aloud, “There is always Gil-Galad, Galadriel and Glorfindel.”
Oropher snorted, “None of them are Sindar, my son and I have a reputation as a Noldor-hater. So I am doomed to remain celibate.”
Thranduil opened his eyes suddenly, “Cousin Celebrían. She is a worthy women, Ada. I think we shall have a double wedding since you persist on me marrying.”
Oropher rolled his eyes, “Yes, Thranduil, Galadriel will be mighty pleased about that. Really my son, the girl’s my daughter almost. I happen to have some decency left even after raising such a wild spirit like you!”
“Oh right!” Thranduil muttered shifting in his father’s lap to make himself more comfortable, the enormous quantity of liquid that the healers had made him drink causing him an urgent need to relieve himself, but he delayed, not wanting to end these carefree moments with his father, “Don’t start that! But I still think Celebrían is a good match for you.”
Oropher poked his son’s hard erection causing Thranduil to yelp. The Sindar King asked in a falsely-curious tone, “Why, my son, do you grow hard in my presence?”
“I have a confession to make, Adar-nin, I have a craving, a desire so base that I do not think that you will ever forgive me : I am excited by your proximity,” Thanduil replied in a seductive voice, “Your scent draws me like a moth to the flame,” seeing Oropher’s very poor attempts to conceal a guffaw, he complained, “Adar! I need to get out of this bed to the bathroom or else bring a chamber pot hither! A certain part of my body is bound to malfunction if I don’t relieve myself now! It’s Thalion’s fault. The old dotard made me drink gallons of his foul brew!”
Thranduil smiled as his father gently eased him off his lap and walked to the bathroom to fetch a chamber pot. He had achieved his aim of lifting those lines of care from Oropher’s visage.